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Save the Lifestyle

Sarah Eckelkamp

Deer Hunting

It's November 10 – opening day of rifle season in Missouri. Typically lows in the 40's, but today, it is 14°… but that's okay, because I have plenty of layers planned for my attire. Plus, the anticipation of deer season this year has fogged my reality of how chilly 14° can feel when you're sitting still for hours on end.

Sarah's Deer HuntLast year, I sat with my husband in his stand for the first time to experience what deer hunting was all about. The thrill of seeing a deer sneak out from behind his stand, combined with Mother Nature's never-ending beauty, made my first observation of deer hunting exciting; even without having a rifle in my hand. Fast forward to this year and I planned to, once again, "observe," since he hadn't gotten a deer last year, and I didn't feel like I had witnessed the whole shebang. "Observing" quickly turned into "crossing my fingers that my husband gets a deer opening weekend and then maybe I'll borrow his rifle for the second weekend and I'll have a shot at it." Thanks to my supportive father surprising me with my own rifle, plans quickly changed once again to "opening weekend: I'm ready to pull the trigger!"

As my plans evolved from observing to hunting myself, my eagerness also quickly grew. After sighting in my rifle earlier in the week, I was intimidated by the distance my Dad told me I could shoot, so I was ready to prove to myself that I could do it on a live target. When my first doe came into shooting range, I was more than ready to take a shot. When my husband whispered into my ear that I left my scope cap on, my first chance had quickly come and gone. For the next couple hours I was beating myself up for messing up the opportunity. I was replaying it all in my head and making sure if I was given another chance, that this time, I was for sure ready.

With my eyes peeled to the same spot in the field where the past five deer had appeared from, I hadn't seen a new doe come in from my left. She was almost in front of me before I even noticed her. I got in position, clicked off the safety, and lined up the crosshairs just as I'd read about on QDMA's website just days before. I pulled the triggered and she dropped. I couldn't believe it. She had stood broadside, right in front of me, and lined me up for the perfect first shot!

Sarah and Dennis DeerWhen I returned to the cabin, my four-year-old couldn't have been more excited. Question after question came flying out of his mouth: "Mom, is your pack full of meat?" "Are we going to get your knife now?" "Are we going to have it for dinner?" "Can we go see it?" "Can I hunt with you next time?" And that's when I realized, the best is yet to come. I got addicted just in time to get my son hooked, too. He's old enough to share in the excitement with me and also knows where his food is coming from. I have no doubt, when he's old enough, he'll be sitting right next to me and/or my husband in a stand and the memories will only get better. I'm thankful my Dad, brother, and husband all shared their hunting passion with me enough to get me started, so I vow to do the same to the next generation.

Turkey Hunting

There's plenty of hunting blogs and stories on the internet, so why is this one that you should read? If you've never hunted before, read on. Until recently, I hadn't either. You might come away with a reason to try. If you have hunted before, you can probably relate, appreciate, sympathize, and laugh along with some of my experiences and it's always fun to hear about other hunter's experiences. Every hunter's experiences are different, unique, and eventful, so no story will be the same or have the same ending… that's what makes it stimulating, right?

I never grew up in a family that hunted, so therefore, I didn't hunt myself. I was always a runner, ball player, and dancer. It wasn't until I started working for ALPS Brands in 2009 that I wanted to gain a knowledge of the "hunting basics." What made people want to hunt? Why get up early? Sit for hours? What was thrilling about that? There must be something, I thought. There's a reason people thirst for more. If I was selling products to hunting enthusiasts, I figured I should know a little bit about it myself. It started with just hearing stories from people in the industry talking about monstrous bucks that they walked miles to track down, or the sneaky gobblers that kept them on their toes since daybreak that originally piqued my interest. The smiles on hunters faces as they pulled out their phone showing off pictures and videos of the proud moment they pulled the trigger was fascinating.

Sarah's First HuntFast forward a few years and NWTF starts their Rise & Fly Campaign. Being a huge supporter of NWTF, ALPS Brands owner Dennis Brune (who happens to be my Dad) challenged all of his employees (which included me) to take part in the Rise & Fly campaign in some way. Whether a veteran hunter took someone new on their first hunt, or a newbie agreed to go out hunting, Brune agreed to give every employee a day off work to accommodate their hunt. With me being 8.5 months pregnant with my second son, the timing didn't work for me to commit. But that didn't mean I wasn't willing to give it a try sometime. It was actually probably the motivation I needed to give it a shot and see what it was all about.

The following year, I had two experienced turkey hunters willing to take me out for my first hunt and do the calling and teach me the ropes. I didn't even have intentions of pulling the trigger myself. I just wanted to know what all the fuss was about. My first two experiences can be summed up pretty quickly. We heard a few gobblers in the distance, but never saw a thing; not the most exciting ten hours of my life. Due to lack of excitement, maybe that's where the road ends for some "first timers," and it's where the first season ended for me too. I knew, however, that there had to be more to a hunt than getting skunked. People wouldn't have a passion for chasing ol' Toms if every hunt ended the way my first one did, and that's why I knew I had to give it another chance the next spring.

Sarah and DougSo, there we were, the night before the 2018 season, listening for sounds of gobblers getting ready to roost. It would only be my luck that the only place we heard them coming from was the only field we didn't have a blind set up in. Maybe experienced hunters would shake their head at this, but what we did next was probably the most eventful part of that hunt's whole experience (now I'm probably giving away how my first hunt of 2018 ended). My dad, husband, and I all walked a blind, by moonlight, about 1/2 of a mile, to get closer to where we believed the turkeys were roosting. Encountering a skunk along the way, that we had to break for, was the most action we saw… because the next morning during our hunt we, once again, saw nothing. We heard them gobble in the morning and they immediately headed in the opposite direction, probably laughing at our attempts at calling. I was beginning to wonder if this whole hunting gig was a big hoax or if the Missouri gobblers were really that much smarter than us. It was then that my competitive nature set in and I realized, I couldn't let a turkey outsmart me! My dad thought I for sure was going to give up on the whole idea of hunting after another outing with no excitement… but I told him "one more time!"

A few days later, we were again waking up before the sun rose and walking to a blind; this time to a new spot on our family's farm. "Gobble gobble gobble" was the sound we heard the whole walk to the blind. I'm talking, non-stop, Toms gettin' after it and making sure we knew they were there. "Okay!" I thought. "This is exciting! Today's gonna be the day!" And it was the day we finally got to see some action. Although I was never in a position to shoot, I had a Gobbler sneak up to my left and gobble so loud in my ear, that I about jumped out of my chair. If that doesn't get your blood flowin', not much will. Another group of 4 appeared about 10 minutes later and my doubts about the "excitement of hunting" went straight out the blind window. "C'mon Dad! Call them in. Give me a shot!" I thought. He tried his darndest, but there was something those birds didn't like about our setup. This was the moment I decided "this season isn't ending without a bird down… I don't care how many more times we have to go!" Because we had been having a late spring, my dad recommended we wait another week (the last day of the season) to go again. I told him, I'll be ready again in 3 days, and we'll use the last day of the season as our "back up" in case we can't seal the deal. I think my exact words were "I won't be getting turkeys if we don't go out and try!"

Back at it, 3 days later, only to not see OR hear a single gobble or yelp. Wow! From one extreme to another; that's what keeps you on your toes. You know at any second, even without hearing a single sound, one could be right there. At every moment, you think your luck may turn, but ours' never did. It's a good thing we saved "the last day" of the season for a back-up so we could have one more try this season!

The last day of the season had come. What was the final day going to bring? We had had a roller coaster of a season and were hoping to end on a high note. We left the farmhouse at 5:05 and quickly headed to our blind. It was a quiet walk until I reach for the zipper on the blind door and I heard "gobble gobble gobble" loud and close. Could it be? Was today going to be the day I had a bit of forewarning to be ready so I could seal the deal? The tom was extremely vocal. I was counting down the minutes and seconds until daybreak when he'd fly down… and that's about the time he got quiet. He talked back and forth with us every-so-often for the next hour or so, but we never did see him. When there wasn't much action going on during the season, I always found myself giving the birds nicknames and this tom got himself nicknamed "The Big Tease." We heard a few distance gobbles to our left and to our right, but nothing that was close enough to call in. And that's where my journey ended for 2018. Anti-climactic? Maybe. But that's part of the game. Turkeys are anything but predictable. There is a happy ending to this story though, there's always next year, and I'll be back!

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