Tuesday, April 26, 2011

The Fall of The Phantom

April 15th, the 21st day of the 2011 California Wild Turkey season at 6:15 am marks the moment in time that I defeated a bird who was a most difficult adversary. I call him The Phantom Tom. PT for short. I had hunted him numerous times over the past four seasons and never got a glimpse at this bird. He always roosted in the same tree, overlooking a strip of meadow grass that sloped down a hill. He could see in all directions anyone who might be coming to challenge his dominance. To take over his kingdom and steal his queens. He had a booming gobble that was very recognizable to me. It had a sort of raspiness. A confidence projected through his gobble that warned all other males to stay away, while gently coaxing the girls to his love nest. I would set up on him time and time again, but he would always do something that was unexpected. I patterned him by the sound of his voice, but each time I set up to cut him off after fly down, he would change it up. 

I consider myself a pretty good turkey caller, not one to win a competition by any means, but I have brought in my fair share of birds of the years. PT would always hang up 50 yards for a while before disappearing silently. I tried setup after setup. Boss Tom decoys with hens. A breeding pair. Hens only. A Jake and a hen. A breeding Jake. A lone hen. Fighting Toms……the list goes on and on. I never tried the absence of decoys…until the 15th of April.

A couple days before, I had hunted PT with a Jack Williams from Outfittershack.com. We set up just 50 yards from his roost, got him gobbling all crazy like, set up a Tom and a hen decoy and waited. Fly down came and he hung up just out of sight while gobbling his mad little head off. We worked him for about an hour and a half to no avail. He made his silent escape. After discussing what in the world his problem was, we decided that maybe the decoys made him nervous for some reason.

Two mornings later I arrived full of anticipation. I was to duel with The Phantom again. Match wits with a gobbling machine. I got my gear on, but left the decoys in the truck, and headed out into the mountains to find The Phantom. I neared his normal roost and right away he thundered out his gobble like a semi truck driver at a cute girl. I quietly snuck into the woods. At this point I was already 50 yards from his tree. I wanted to see exactly where this bird was living so I made my way in ever so carefully, ever so quietly. I stepped on a branch, CRACK!!! “GOBBLE GOBBLE GOBBLE!!” He fired back. He was directly above my head about 40 yards up a tall pine. And there he was in all his featherless glory. And that’s when I noticed the little meadow directly behind his tree that I had never seen before. I quietly backed out of the woods, away from his castle and back out into the big meadow where I always set up in the past. And made my way around to the other side of his little meadow.

I set up about 15 yards from the edge of the little meadow. I found a big pine to sit against, The Phantom was gobbling his mad little turkey brain off at all the noise I was making. He must have thought I was a hen scratching in the leaves because He never busted out of there. I got my face mask on, my gun up and into place, resting on my knee and I waited for fly down.
12 minutes later he stopped gobbling. I wanted to hear him gobble some more so I made a couple of soft yelps with my mouth call and scratched in the leaves with my hands, “Gobble gobble gobble.” He fired off. And wouldn’t you know it, he performed a series of hops and glided down to land 20 yards in front of me and went into full strut. He was spitting and drumming and looking all mighty. He was showing off the fact that most of the feathers were missing from his chest and he was emphasizing the scars from old and new battles that raked his bloated chest. This bird was indeed mighty. He was indeed the king of the valley. He was indeed the ugliest, most horrifying turkey I had ever laid eyes on. He was old. At least 6 or 7 years of age. He was majestic.

 I clucked, he gobbled! I yelped and he went nuts looking for this hen that he hadn’t bred yet. I enjoyed his display and let him play it out. When that time came, where he was beginning to suspect that there might not be a hen around, I placed the bead on his ugly majestic head and pulled the trigger. The Phantom has fallen.

I couldn’t believe that after all of these years of hunting this bird he was finally in front of me. I walked over to him to admire this bird who had probably bred every hen in the valley, and thanked him for a wonderful 4 years and for the meat he would provide. I looked him over and petted his feathers. He had a beautiful full fan, an 11 inch beard and 1.5 inch spurs. I later would weigh him and he would be just near the 25lb mark. He was missing all of his chest and neck feathers, but he was the most amazing bird that I had ever seen.

This fight with The Phantom is one that I will remember for the rest of my days. His Tale fan, wings and beard will sit in my game room in a place of honor to remind me of the greatest hunt of my life. The hunt that lasted four seasons.

I want to say thank you to my wife for putting up with my obsession with The Phantom. Without her support the hunt would not have been as enjoyable.  I love you babe!

Wednesday, April 13, 2011

You Just Never Know!

3:30 am comes really early when you have to travel 2 hours to get to your turkey hunting area. It was 6 degrees when I left the house. The truck had a layer of shimmering ice that lit up and seemed to glow under the motion sensor light that I triggered as I came out of the garage. It was pretty. I’m always a bit apprehensive when I’m going to hunt with someone that I’ve never met, which was the plan for this morning. I agreed to take someone to my secret turkey hunting spot in the Sierra Nevada foothills in California, which is a big deal. I gave him directions to the spot the night before and told him to meet me at an intersection close by. I’ve invited people before and they didn’t show up, either because it was too early or they wanted to sleep, so I was kind of expecting there to not be a truck waiting for me at the intersection. 

I was wrong. Low and behold, as I pulled up to the intersection (which is very remote btw) there was a truck awaiting my arrival. I was surprised, a little excited, and a tad apprehensive. But after making our greetings and a little discussion, I knew we were going to have a grand old time.

Twilight… 5:45 am. No birds sounding off. We make our way out into a field and start to walk the edge hoping to hear a bird thunder. 6 am I crow call very loudly…Nothing…6:05am I crow call again…nothing. I’m starting to get a little bit nervous at this point. There have always been birds here before…This is Phantom Tom’s classic hangout, but nothing. No gobbles. Silence. I tell my hunting partner for the day that usually the birds are across the field roosted up in that tree over the grassy area. I couldn’t understand why the birds weren’t gobbling. Maybe the recent heavy snow pushed them to a lower elevation? I don’t know.
6:10am, I decide to do something that I almost never do while the birds are on roost. The crow call wasn’t working. Owl hoots didn’t work. I slid my box call out of its holster. Held it up high.  And made a God-awful, super loud, raspy old yelp. A couple of seconds float by of silence and suddenly as if out of a loudspeaker, “GOBBBLLE GOBBLLE GOBLE!” Roared out from the tree over the grassy area to accost our ears. At that moment all nervousness disappeared and excitement took it’s place.

We hightailed it across the field and got into position. My partner set up his video equipment, I set out the decoys, a strutting tom and a hen, and we both found a tree in good position. We sat silently for a while, listening to the tom (I’m pretty sure it was the old Phantom Tom) gobble his turkey head off at every sound. I scratched the leaves on the ground and the bird fired off. A crow cawed and the bird fired off. I gave a quiet little hen tree yelp and the big guy double and triple gobbled. This bird was hot! We didn’t call anymore for about the next 20 minutes. He just kept gobbling and gobbling only 50 yards away from us. We didn’t hear any hens and that was encouraging. So we thought we had it in the bag.

 I heard him fly down off the roost and land up behind our set up. We both started to do a series of yelps and cuts and he gobbled just as much. I was expecting to be shooting a big old tom any second. An hour later, he made his way over a ridge never to be heard from again. 

What the heck went wrong? I knew this was PT because he had done this to me like 10 times before. I have hunted this bird every way possible, and still he manages to hang up, or come in unseen, or simply vanish. We were discussing the situation and figured that this old bird must not have liked the strutting decoy that I had set out. I’ll try something different next time.

Not wanting to quit hunting just yet, we decided to walk and locate another bird, to no avail. Whatever gobblers were around earlier must have vanished with old PT. We walked the old logging roads calling all the way back to the trucks. Nothing. Or as my 4 year old son says, “Nuffin!”

My buddy opted to go and catch his sons’ baseball game since the birds weren’t making any noise. He had wanted to get this hunt on film to post on his website business outfittershack.com, which is a great place to get any outdoor, hunting or fishing equipment that you would ever need, but it wasn’t happening this day.
We spent some time talkin turkey, but he eventually left to see his son’s baseball game. I decided to stick it out because, well, you never know. Right?

I made my way up the old logging road in my truck to another area known to hold some birds. It was about 8:50am when I stopped at the top of a ridge and called from my truck with the same box call from earlier. And wouldn’t you know it, another Tom fired off maybe 300 yards away. Needless to say, I put my vest back on and facemask and made my way closer to cut the distance. I called periodically with my mouth call just to get a response so I could locate him. I got to a little intersection of two logging roads, yelped and got a very loud Gobble just 50 yards out. I quickly found a seat and got ready. 

Just as I sat down I saw a couple of heads bobbing around on the road in front of me. Hens. 6 of them eventually passed in front of me. Next in line, 3 jakes. And following closely behind, the biggest bird I’ve ever taken, heck the biggest bird I’d ever seen came strutting out in front of me. And since we weren’t getting this on film I didn’t hesitate to pull the trigger. I harvested that bird at 9:02. That hunt took a total of 12 minutes from beginning to end. He had a beautiful full tail fan. A 12 inch beard and spurs that were 1 ¼ inches long. He ended up weighing in at a whopping 23lbs. I put all of these details into my iPhone SCI application and the bird scored a 44! Whatever that means. I was ecstatic. I got the bird back to the truck and took a few pictures of him before heading back home.

I learned many lessons during this hunt. I learned that even when you think it’s a done deal, that’s not necessarily going to happen. I also learned that even when you don’t feel that the birds are responding, you’re frustrated from un-participating birds, don’t stop hunting. Keep trying. Because you never know what will walk out in full strut.

Tuesday, March 29, 2011

Thundering Snow Bird

A strutting Rio Grande Turkey
“GAARROBBLE!” The turkey roared not 50 yards out ahead of me. It was that misty time between darkness and full sunrise in the mountains. I was set up on a ridge top comprised of a mix of hardwood trees and pine. The underbrush was mostly Manzanita interspersed with small pine trees and Aspens but they were all covered with a foot of new snow. I looked to the decoy that I had set up about 15 yards from the tree that I was sitting under. “If he comes in he has to see it.” I thought to myself.  “GAARROBBLE-OBBLE-OBBLE!” The bird fired off again and again. This bird was hot! And ready to come in to my set-up. I hoped.

If you ask turkey hunters what type of weather they have hunted turkeys in you’ll get a lot of answers such as, “I have hunted these birds in all sorts of weather conditions. Rain, lightening storms, wind storms, and the three of them all together!” You don’t ever hear about hunter’s hunting turkeys in a snow storm. It’s just not a reality for many hunters around the country unless you happen to live in a mountainous state such as California, Colorado, Wyoming,  or Washington. I happen to live in South Lake Tahoe California and have some secret spots in the lower foothills at an elevation of about 4500 feet.  So occasionally, or for the last three seasons, it has snowed on those locations and I have had to adapt my normal bad weather hunting strategies to bag one of these big ‘ol Rio Grande snow birds.

On a normal bad weather turkey hunt a hunter usually depends on their water proof camo, water proof turkey calls and unyielding patience to ignore the drips on your head get the job done. It’s different in a bad snow storm situation. You’re not just preparing to bag a bird. You’re preparing to bag a bird and to survive the elements at hand. 
Turkey tracks in the snow

 Sitting in snow, in temperatures that are in the teens can be quite dangerous if you’re not ready for those conditions. Warm camouflage, warm boots, warm gloves that can defeat the elements are absolutely necessary. Sorry folks, but netted camo bug suits just aren’t going to cut it here in the mountains. You have to be able and ready to fend off the ultimate enemy to a mountain turkey hunter, hypothermia. If you become hypothermic in the mountains, there is a good chance that you might just slip into the void less sleep and never wake up. It’s a serious matter. You have to be prepared and that means first and foremost, dressing warm and avoiding the matter completely.

I had hunted this bird for the past two seasons. Last season was in the snow, same as this one. He was as smart as they come and he had this strange ability to come in unnoticed and depart unseen. I called him “Phantom Tom” because I never really got to see him. I heard him plenty. And I heard him fire off just yards from my set-up every time but he never offered me any kind of shot! He was smart, and this time was no exception.

I could hear Phantom Tom (PT) really well as I sat there under that pine tree in a foot of snow. It seems that sound travels faster when it snows. Or maybe all the other noise is just quieter. But PT’s gobble seemed amplified. There was a gusto to his gobble, like he was putting all that he had into each gobble. He was gobbling from the gut. He was gobbling from an inner passion for a hen. Any hen. 

I began my first calling sequence. A series of quiet tree yelps. He gobbled like mad. I waited 10 minutes and called again, a few tree yelps followed by a few yelps and cuts. He fired off some more gobbles. I began to yelp again and he cut me off with a double gobble. This bird was hot. I was fired up. I didn’t even feel the cold anymore. I knew it was Phantom Tom because he was the only gobbler who roosted on this ridge. I anxiously waited for him to fly down, come strutting into my set-up, kick the Primos B-Mobile decoy’s butt, pop his head up and give me that perfect shot that we all dream about. It didn’t happen. Phantom Tom outsmarted me again. After fly down he came towards my set-up but he seemed to just circle me while gobbling. Again he stayed just out of sight, circling and gobbling, until finally leaving me depressed and confused, crossing over the ridge onto private land. Maybe he’s not the dominant bird in the area and got spooked by the strutting decoy. I don’t care. If that’s the case, then next time I’ll put out a lonely hen and see what that does. I’m after a thundering mountain snow bird that’s evaded me for three years and given me memories that are precious. I feel like it’s not just a hunt anymore. It’s more a relationship now. A type of hero/nemesis relationship where one can’t function without the other. But with a lot of luck, I’m hoping to break up with that bird this season.

I had many more encounters with PT but he always seemed to outsmart me. To always be one step ahead of me. This got me to thinking about the behavior of these snow birds. Over the past three years I have had to turkey hunt in snowy conditions, and I have observed that the behavior of the turkeys isn’t much different than the turkeys in milder climes. However, they are a bit more timid on the ground, they wake up later on the roost, and they like to keep their distance.  I’m pretty sure that the colder weather and ungainly footing offered by the deep snow keeps these birds on the roost longer. And I think that their timid-ness on the ground might be due to feeling more exposed against the white background. I have also noticed that turkeys don’t seem to mind snow up to about a foot deep, but once the snow get’s deeper than that it tends to push the birds out of the area. That’s what I’m experiencing this season so far. The season just started here in California with more snow than ever. There is currently two feet of snow over the area that PT normally calls home and I haven’t heard him gobble as of yet but I’m hoping that I get the opportunity to break up with this wily old bird soon.  I don’t know if this will happen or not, but I do know that whatever it is that makes these birds slightly different than the rest, it definitely gives them more of an edge on us hunters.
Author with a Snow Bird not PT

Tuesday, March 22, 2011

Going Out for Supper

The trail I had been hiking down for the last 45 minutes was covered in roots, different types of vegetation, rocks and was criss-crossed with long spiky vines from the wild blackberry bushes that are so very prevalent in this area.  I was nervous, and I was trying to hold my anxiety at bay. I wasn't alone in this hike, but it was still 2 hours until sunrise. 
We were hiking in the dark with no flashlight. Only the light of the sliver of moon guided our path. I don't like the dark very much when I'm out in the woods. My imagination goes a bit crazy with thoughts of crazy people on the prowl, the hunter becoming the hunted. Thoughts of the mythical Bigfoot finding me in the dark and tearing me limb from limb haunt my imaginative pondering while roaming the woods in the dark. I was anxious.
"Crack!!" It was heard throughout the area. I had stepped on an old rotted oak tree branch that had fallen across the trail. "Shhhh", my mentor scolded. "We're entering into the area that we are going to hunt. Keep quiet." We proceeded on, my mentor Chris, leading the way into the tangled woods, off the trail, to places only he knows about. "I call this the rats nest, because you can't get through it, but the deer can. The stand I set up for you is right down there. Just follow the path I laid out for you and when you come to a stick blocking the path turn left. Walk three hundred yards and look up. You should see the stand." Seriously? I should be able to see it? There's no other markers than just a stick? I have to do this in the dark? By myself? The thoughts and questions were racing through my anxious mind. "Where are you going to be?" I asked him. "Over there to the east of here about 1 mile down the ridge line." He said with his woodsman confidence that just seems to always shine through.
Chris is a quiet man. He is a confident man who has taken many deer and turkeys from the woods to feed his family with. He is an expert outdoorsman. Confident and skilled in the ways of tracking, knowing where the game will be and when it will be there. He knows about plants, which ones are good to eat and which ones you should avoid. He's an excellent marksman, both with the shotgun as well as the rifle and bow. He's tall with short blond hair, has a strong physique and tan skin from being out in the woods so much. He often looked at me in a manor that spoke of a quiet wisdom. Like he knew something about me that I didn’t. I respected this man right away and knew him to be honorable.
Chris is the person who taught me how to hunt. He taught me everything that was necessary to enter into the woods and come out with game. He welcomed my wife and I into his home and made us a part of his family. He is married to a wonderful woman named Mary Jo and they have two wonderful children Cory and Eric. He showed me the ways of the woods, the ebb and flow of nature surrounding us. He taught me, and showed me that every part of the natural world has a pattern of living and dying.  In order to sustain itself it must be controlled. And that control process is through the food chain. Killing, gathering, eating of plant and animals. All things will die. This is the man who left me alone in the big oak woods at night. Did he know that I was afraid to be by myself in the woods in the dark? Probably. I never informed him of that personal flaw in character, but he probably knew the same he knows that deer have entered the back bean field when that bean field is acres away from his house. I’m sure he was making me find the stand in the dark by myself, either to help me get over my fear, or just for a good laugh to himself. He’s entertained by such things.
“A mile away. Okay sounds good. Which way’s east?”  I thought to myself. I was looking in the direction of my stand and I turned to ask him, but he had simply and silently slipped off into the night, disappearing into the dark oak woods which were almost home to him. I suddenly felt very alone. Almost helpless and frozen in time and space. “Get it together man and let’s find that stand before Bigfoot finds you.” I said to myself. And off I went. Down in the direction he showed me. There were a hundred if not thousands of sticks crossing the path but I happened to see an impression in the ground next one stick in particular. A track! A test! Did Chris make this impression to test me on my tracking ability? Who knows? I turned left and walked three hundred yards. It took me all of 30 minutes from that point to find my stand. It was silhouetted to the sky about 20 feet up a tree. I climbed up, attached my harness to the tree, pulled up my compound bow, settled in and waited for the sun to rise.
There are many things that goes through a person’s head as they sit in a tree in the big woods for eight hours straight. All my senses become heightened. I can hear more sounds than normal. The chirp of a pissed off squirrel. The calls of nearby cattle. The grunt of a mature buck looking for a mate. The wind moving through the trees. I start to pick out different colors. What colors belong? Which ones don’t? The concentration it takes to listen, spot, and feel to find game is enormous. It’s enormously taxing and it’s enormously relaxing as well.
There are many ways in which a person can hunt deer. This is what we were obviously doing. Hunting deer. There is the spot and stalk method, where you spot the game with your binoculars before they see or smell you then stalk in to where the game is located to try and get a shot. There is the road hunting method, which I don’t particularly like. There is the ground blind method, where one sits in a camouflaged  tent or fort on the edge of a field and waits for the deer to walk by. And then there is the tree stand method, where you choose very carefully the tree in which you want your stand to be situated. In this style of hunting you want to take into consideration wind direction, deer trail location relative to the tree, tree rubs, scrape locations, bedding areas, feeding areas, and how you are going to get into and out of the area without being noticed by the resident deer. A lot of thought and planning and strategy went into Chris’s placement of this stand, and I admired that. I trusted his knowledge and experience.
The light from the sun was starting reveal my surroundings to me. I was on an oak ridge situated on a rather large bench where two ridges joined together, and there was deer sign everywhere. My breath quickened and my senses started to become alert. I heard what sounded like a squirrel moving through the oak leaves covering the ground. A little flick, a twitch of deer ear amidst the bracken of the “Rats Nest” clued me in to the fact that it was a deer and not a squirrel moving those leaves. My heart started racing and my breath quickened. I grabbed my bow, knocked an arrow, and waited for the deer to reveal itself fully. “Please be a buck, please be a buck.” I prayed hoping that it would be a deer that I could shoot and bring home to my family. The tag I had from the Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources was for an antlered deer only. The deer that stepped out from the entangled slope of madness was a doe. An antler-less deer. A deer that I could not legally shoot. I relaxed, as deer after deer after deer came out from the entanglement and walked pass my stand. All does. I didn’t get a shot at any bucks that day, nor for the rest of the time I was hunting, but I did get to experience and admire God’s work and creative hand in those beautiful animals.
“Mmmhmmm.” Chris cleared his throat at the base of my tree. How he got there without me knowing was beyond me, but spoke volumes of his mastery of the outdoors. “Let’s go get some supper. Did you see anything?” he asked, “Ya,” I replied “A whole lot of does.”
Hunting for me isn’t just about killing an animal for food and nourishment for my family. It’s about the experience. It’s about the memories and friendships that are built. It’s about connecting to a deeper part of myself that needs to be able to provide good, wholesome food sources of protein and vegetables for my family. Humanity has lost some of its natural ability to hunt and gather food. It doesn’t really surprise me at all when all you have to do is go to your local market and buy all the meat, veggies and processed foods that you want when you want it. I see a huge disconnect between people and the food they eat. Most folks don’t know where it comes from. They would rather someone else do the killing than to have to do it themselves. Yet many people argue about how unethical hunting and killing animals is. Our society is used to having things just given to us. They don’t want to know where their beef comes from. They don’t want to know that the steak they’re eating was frolicking around a pasture content with life a few days earlier. My hope is that we can bridge that disconnect by educating and by practicing good hunting ethics.

Wednesday, March 16, 2011

Wild Boar Bacon Recipe

I just got back from hunting California's Wild Boar in the hills of Northern California. It was a successful hunt. I managed to fill the freezer with 200 lbs of wild boar meat which will sustain my family at least until next winter. So the question pending for me was what was I going to do with all the meat I had just procured? Sausage? Ground pork? Chops? Ribs? Bacon?? Yes, yes and yes!
While I was sure that I could make all those normal cuts of pork and it would be fairly easy, Bacon seemed to offer me a bit more of a challenge. I'd made Bacon only once before with my brother in law out of pork belly from a pig raised on a farm. It turned out horribly. Acrid and vinegary flavor made it very unpalatable to the taste buds. I never made Bacon again. Until just a week ago.
I decided to give it a go one more time. I started with a basic brine, 1 cup of salt to 1 gallon of water, and then added the flavors that I wanted the bacon to have; garlic, pepper, onion, Worcestershire, and brown sugar. I was hopeful that this would work, yet hesitant because I didn't want to waste the wild pork belly that I had worked so hard to get.  It turned out amazing! I brined the belly for 2 days, then rinsed the meat off and hung it in a clean area to dry under a fan for 1 hour. After that I cold smoked the bacon for 2 hours using apple wood chips and not letting the temp get above 100 degrees. After smoking the bacon I vacuum sealed the meat, froze it and sliced it very thinly on a meat slicer. I am not sure that I can go back to eating store bought bacon again, it's that good! I am posting the full recipe below:                       
Wild Boar Bacon
2 good sized wild boar bellies

2 gallons of water
2 cups sea salt
1/4 cup curing salt (pink salt)
1/4 cup whole peppercorns
1/4 cup garlic powder
1/4 cup onion powder
1/4 cup Worcestershire sauce
1 cup brown sugar

Mix brine ingredients and soak pork belly for 2 days then take the belly out and rinse under cool water.

Hang meat in clean area and dry with a fan for 1 hours until pelicle forms

Cold smoke for two hours using apple wood chips.

Freeze, slice thinly and enjoy!

For a really great experience try making some home-made caramel candies and top each caramel with a bit of this Wild Boar Bacon. I like to call them Wild Lardon'amels! Genius!



It wasn't until I was 24 years old, and an intern pastor in Osseo Wisconsin that I began to truly understand what it means to harvest your own food, to provide for your family, friends and to have a healthy revrence for nature and the outdoors. I learned quickly the benefits and emotional struggle that comes from being a hunter/gatherer in this day and age where all one has to do to get protein is to go to the grocery store and buy a rump roast.
There is a surreal sense of limbo for me when I am out in the field. I experience a unique transformation from husband, dad, pastor, friend, to provider. It's a strange and amazing transformation of role. To go from spiritual caregiver to provider at first had it's emotional struggles, but I realized that providing food in the form of unadulterated protein and organic flora for my family and friends to share not only saved me some money, but it also gave me a great sense of accomplishment. The role of provider is one that I now wear proudly.
Osseo is a very small town in Wisconsin,  to become accepted into the community and culture is no easy feat. I was the new guy in town, everyone knew it, and to make things worse, in their eyes, I was from California. The land of movies, make believe, and in their words, "hippy surfers." I did in fact surf, but I gently explained to them that I was not a hippy (whatever that means). I could see that I was going to have a hard time proving my worthiness. I felt like an explorer, facing a tribes rite of passage to gain acceptance. This is indeed what I had to experience before they would acknowledge me as one of their own. As in most rural areas, hunting is a culture, a way of life. The contrast between my upbringing in a city of plenty and this outdoor journey into manhood would awaken my soul.
If you have had any exposure to the Midwest, you know that to become a man, a boy has to kill a deer. The process that these 12 year old boys had to go through with their fathers looking over their shoulders, was nothing short of miraculous! Five weeks of hunter's safety class where we were grilled constantly about hunting, fishing, trapping, shooting, safety, ethics, good shots vs. bad shots, tracking, trailing, this and that, that and this, all leading up to a final exam. To pass that exam was paramount to every 12 year old boy in that class and to their fathers. To not pass the test meant not getting their first deer and becoming man, and to possibly have to live up to the ridicule of their peers.
I had to kill a deer.....it was the only way for me to be inoculated into the community. It made me uneasy. Hesitant. I had never hurt an animal let alone take it's life. This was difficult for me. Out of respect for the community and the culture of the town added to my personal journey, I took up the challenge. And like I handle all challenges, I did it with passion and intensity with the willingness to learn all that I could so that I could make the best possible shot to kill the deer as fast as possible.
I killed my first deer that November...It was an intense experience. It was one wrought with emotion. I was happy that I had been successfull and that I was able to provide for my family, yet I was sad that I had taken a life. I cried beside that 11 point white tail buck. I thanked him and I thanked God for the life that was given. For the meat it would provide. I respected the animal. It's burned deeply into my psyche. I was granted acceptance from the community and was forever changed. I had been blooded. Marked with blood on my face that symbolized the fact that I had shot and killed my own food. That I was accepted. I was a man.
With every subsequent hunt I feel a twinge with strong memories of that day.  
My wife and I ate that deer in it's entirety over the next year. I tanned the hide for leather, and used the meat for food. From that experience I realized that the meat I buy in the store has been killed by a person. And while that is good and all,  I decided that I wanted to be the one "harvesting" my food from then on.
Being a provider is now a part of my identity. I have two small boys and a wife that I pass these skills onto and provide for. Providing doesn't mean only shooting animals, it also means identifying and foraging for wild plants that are healthy and nutritious. I find joy in being able to provide and in practicing those skills so I can be a better provider. I like the idea that all a person needs to survive and live a healthy life is all around us. We just need to open our eyes and find it all.