Evangelistic hunter

I probably shouldn’t admit this, but I have a habit of accepting all friend requests on Facebook. Nine times out of 10 it’s from a middle-aged guy with some sort of dead critter in his profile picture. Sounds about right. Accept.

So I was taken aback the other day when a fella launched into an (albeit calm) attack on hunting and my friends who hunt.

Stranger still, he posted his comment on an image of my son dressed as a sheep for our church children’s nativity. I could better understand if it was on a photo of me with a deer or turkey.

You can read the exchange between Phil and me in its entirety on my Facebook page; just look for the post of a cute little kid dressed as a sheep.

Instead of ignoring him, I thought perhaps, because the ensuing conversation was on a non-hunting-related post, my explanations would go beyond preaching to the choir. Maybe this conversation had a greater purpose.

I didn’t delve into a “Praise the Lord and pass the ammunition” response. He approached me as a British gentleman, and I answered as a Southern Belle. He entered into this conversation on my turf, and I rolled out the hospitality.

Here’s the exchange, edited for content and to fit this screen.

Phil: I have actually no idea as to why I am a friend on Facebook, still it is super. I am British, I make no apology for that, but I am asked if I know all these people. I naturally decline as they seem to spend most of their time killing animals. What is the kick in that? I did leave South Bend, Indiana, as it seemed full of folk with guns, low on IQ.

Me: Not sure how we connected on Facebook either. I’m always open to meeting new folks, and maybe our meeting happened for a reason. I hunt, as do many of my friends on Facebook and beyond. I don’t associate hunting with a low IQ, and I don’t expect everyone to understand why people hunt. It’s an individual decision; everyone has his or her own reasons. I’m proud to be a hunter, because I find more satisfaction in serving a meal of venison that I put in the time to harvest than I do grilling hamburgers made from beef wrapped in cellophane from the grocery store. I hunt because I enjoy the intimacy it offers in regards to nature. More often than not, I leave the woods empty-handed but just as fulfilled that I spent time in the beauty of the outdoors. I hunt, because in the United States, hunters foot the bill for 80 percent of our state wildlife agencies’ budgets. Those agencies do the research it takes to maintain healthy habitats and wildlife populations for everyone to enjoy, whether they hunt or simply watch wildlife. I don’t expect everyone to want to hunt. Most of my family doesn’t, and that’s cool. But I’m always willing to share why I do…and it’s not just for kicks. It’s deeper than that. And I’m pretty sure most hunters you ask will have the same sort of personalized response. Thanks for taking time to “listen.”

Phil: Thank you for your lengthy explanation. I respect your response. I do find it difficult to understand “I hunt because I enjoy the intimacy it offers in regards to nature.” Killing a healthy animal for no reason than “to be able to do it” is sad. Just fight it head on; do not hide behind a weapon. Then you would lose. I am glad you enjoy killing animals; for me, it is visiting different places, cultures and exploring. I respect all you and your friends, perhaps a simple difference of opinion. Take care. You are polite and responsive.

Me: We have something in common. I like to visit different places too, and hunting allows me to do that. You really get to see the land and people, not just touristy stuff. But we have a differing opinion on killing animals. I believe animals were put on this earth as part of an intricate food chain. I believe God gave man/woman dominion over them. I don’t feel bad about taking the life of an animal I’ll eat. It’s no different than eating chicken or beef from a store. But, actually, it is. I’ve taken responsibility and look head-on at my quarry instead of ignoring the fact that the meat in the grocery ever had a face. A life was taken either way. Hunting is a very emotional experience, and my enjoyment doesn’t come from the act of killing. The joy comes from the hunt. It’s hard to fully explain until you’ve been a part of it. I certainly respect your decision not to hunt. And even more so, I respect that you have engaged in this discussion in a friendly manner.

Phil: I can see that you are an adventurist. I am forced to agree, as I just returned from shopping and indeed am eating pork for my supper. So yes, it was raised and killed for me. I must say I think it very sad when an animal with young a female mother is killed. It destroys the next generation and the offspring die. That surely is self-defeating, however, I love this interchange of ideas, thoughts and being meat eaters.

At this point, I figured I’d made some significant headway with Phil. I’m sure he’ll never hunt, but maybe he understands why people do a bit more than before. I thought my witnessing on behalf of hunting took hold, until this morning’s entry by ol’ Phil (this time, edited for young eyes):

Phil: Seems to me all your so-called friends just kill animals, so live well. They are all @$$holes. They even have a photo, with a gun. Pr!cks, of the lust of death. Sorry they are not educated, smart. In Great Britain, we would call them %!@#heads. Sorry they are sad @$$es.

Sorry, Phil. You’re no longer my “friend.”

Celebrate Thanksgiving with Bob and Tom in Turkey Country

Started this morning on the Bob and Tom Show again, but this time I had a head’s up and wasn’t blindsided by the madness. We chatted a bit about Thanksgiving, turkey hunting, going to my Aunt Nanci’s, stuff like that. No random comments about hotness or turkey necks. It was really subdued compared to the last time — but still fun.

If you missed my first interview with Team Bob and Tom, click here to check out the crazy mess.

If you already heard it, then you know the back story behind this wacky Turkey Country cover. Our staff decided to have a little fun and sent this to the show’s producer. Between us hens, this is as close as Bob or Tom will get to gracing our cover for real — unless they decide to start turkey hunting.

If I’m on their show enough, maybe I can convince them. (Or at least get Kristy Lee to a Women in the Outdoors event. Two gals with guns? Nothing hotter than that!)

Stay tuned for today’s interview. Until then, HAPPY TURKEY DAY! And don’t forget to dig in with a thankful heart…


Thanksgiving is fast approaching. Whoo-hoo!

That means people start calling the National Wild Turkey Federation looking for someone to talk turkey. And sometimes they end up with me.

Earlier this week I chatted with Jim and Trav on The Revolution — one wacky outdoor radio show. Click here to hear it. (Be patient. It may take a minute or so to load. And, yes, it’s a hour-long show, but I’m the first one up.)

They were searching for someone to talk about cooking wild turkey. Their first pick was James Africano, executive chef for Vermejo Park Ranch in New Mexico. Chef James couldn’t do the interview, but remembered me from my hunt out there this spring … and that I’m working on a cookbook for the NWTF.

Basically, I was the consolation prize. But I’m not hurt, because I learned a couple things about myself during my 10-minute on-air stint.

1. I say “you know” WAY too much.
2. If you answer questions with enough authority, people believe you.

I’m not talking about the cooking tips. Those I have down pat. It was the turkey trivia.

I feel bad because some of my answers were, well, bad. And I won the trivia contest with these bad answers. So I’m here to set the record straight.

Turkeys CAN fly 55 miles per hour.

I wasn’t TOTALLY wrong. They fly 35 mph (which is what I said), but they do it in order to get to 55.

Now, I know. And you do too.


Happy Halloween from Keepin’ Up With Karen

Happy Halloween from the girls of Keepin’ Up With Karen. Melanie Swearingen came to work dressed as Abby from NCIS, and I was decked out in my Halloween finest. We snapped this symbolic shot in the NWTF server room (which we helped crash a month or so ago). Like Abby, Melanie is much of the brains behind this blog. Me? I’m the one who acts crazy (see crazy hat) and is always distracted (find hidden cell phone). It’s spooky how it all seems to come together.

Today was a fun day at the National Wild Turkey Federation.

A ton of folks came to work dressed in costume, and we had a pumpkin carving contest.

Amid the candy corn, pumpkin guts and laughter, we did some work, too.

I want to wish you all a happy, spooktastic night.

Whether you’re hunting for deer, turkey or candy — be safe out there.


Booty shakin’ in a food plot

I’m lame. I know.

It’s been almost three weeks since my last post, but things have been a bit hectic around here. My husband’s been on a 10-day elk hunt in the middle of nowhere. There was a death in his extended family. My family came in town. And there have been some significant changes at work in the last few weeks.

My only excuse is I’ve been distracted.

Continue reading

The sound of silence

People ask me when my husband and I plan to take our son Cooper, 3, hunting.

I fight the urge to burst out laughing, because it’s neither polite nor constructive.

Instead, the recollection part of my brain takes over, and I think back to 5:30 the evening before, when I pick Cooper up from daycare, or “school” as we like to call it.

Cooper helps Daddy broadcast seed for a food plot. Of course, some kind of stuffed animal is always in tow.

Here’s typically how our 8-minute ride home goes…

Me: What did you do at school today?
I don’t remember. What’s that bird doing over there?
What bird?
That one flying. I bet it’s going home to his mommy and daddy. Or maybe McDonald’s. Do birds eat French fries?
Some will, but…
No they don’t. They eat seeds. We need to put seed in our feeders at home. Daddy and I need to. Hey, where’s Daddy? Is he home yet? I need to go potty.
Can you wait until we get home?
Can I have a treat when I get home? Daddy will give me a treat. I want a peppermint. Can I ride my bike when I get home? Will you ride with me? I need to put on my helmet. Hey, there’s a stop sign. S-T-O-P. That’s stop. You didn’t stop, Mommy. Why are stop signs red?
Caleb pushed me down at school today. I fell on my hiney.
Is your hiney OK?
Ooooooooh, you said hiney! You’re a potty mouth!

You get the drift.

But what you don’t understand is that’s ONLY THE FIRST MINUTE.

I snap out of my glazed-over look and back into the present conversation. I politely answer, “When we feel he can sit still and be quiet long enough to really enjoy it.”

In the meantime, we take him to check trail cameras and food plots. Cooper “hunts” for feathers and acorns along the way. I’ve learned to bring along a small paper bag with a handle to tote out the treasures he finds.

We talk about hunting. And we answer a TON of questions…

Where are all the deer?
Do deer sleep in the woods?
Do they get scared at night?
Why did a turkey lose that feather?
Do turkeys have mommies and daddies?
What’s that noise?
Will that bird pick me up and take me away?
Why do you have a garden in the woods?
Why is it dead?
What’s that smell?
Why do animals poop in the woods instead of the potty?

Again, all in just the first few minutes. Now you understand why Cooper isn’t quite ready to hunt. But we’re holding out that the silence — necessary for hunting and our sanity — will come in the next few years, as will his desire to take part in the activity.

That’s the beauty of Families Afield. Ever heard of it? Basically, it’s an initiative began by the NWTF, National Shooting Sports Foundation and U.S. Sportsmen’s Alliance that pushes for parents, not politics to decide an appropriate hunting age for their children.

The rate we’re going, Cooper will be about 47.


A beest of a journey

I’ve never been one to have the animals I’ve taken preserved by a taxidermist.

Perhaps it’s because my husband has enough stuffed critters in the house for the both of us. Or maybe it’s because I’ve never really killed an animal worth mounting (at least in my eyes).

The first (and only) shoulder mount I’ve ever commissioned was this blue wildebeest taken in South Africa. My impala and springbok are rockin’ it as European mounts, but I felt this big daddy deserved more. Check out a slideshow of his journey to America by clicking on one of the images below.

Sure, I have tail fans and beards of some of my turkeys on display. The rest of the feathers have gone to crafty friends who don’t hunt but like to make wreaths, ornaments and whatnot with animal parts.

The two deer I’ve harvested carried less than 6 points between the two of them. No wall hangers there.

That all changed when I went on my first African safari last year — two weeks hunting plains game on the Eastern Cape of South Africa with SHE Expeditions and six other gun-toting women.

A hunt of a lifetime like that warrants the utmost in memory preservation.

My favorite hunt was when I took down a behemoth blue wildebeest at 250 yards with a single shot. I never knew I had it in me!

It was an empowering experience to harvest an animal big enough to feed my family for several months. Of course, I couldn’t bring the meat home, but I left a deposit with African Pride Taxidermy that would ensure I’d have a reminder of “the beest” — and all the memories that surround him — for many years.

The wildebeest made to South Carolina about five months ago. I hate to admit that it sat on my dining room floor until yesterday. I just couldn’t decide where to hang it. (Maybe THAT is why I’ve never been into taxidermy.)

“The beest” now hangs in my office above my right shoulder (securely anchored in a wall stud, fingers crossed). No doubt, he’s a conversation starter, and I’m more than happy to share my treasured Africa experience with anyone who dares to ask.

And because I feel guilty for not putting the wildebeest in his rightful place before now, allow me to share with you his journey in pictures…

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Reflections of Daddy

You really can’t call me a daddy’s girl. Dad did a good job of treating my sister and I the same. But I sort of ended up the daughter who is more like a son.

I can remember the two of us riding around in his old “booger green” (that’s what I called it) Chevrolet pickup, with a pack of snack crackers and a Coke. We cruised the country roads of northern Alabama, occasionally stopping by the co-op to pick up seed for his vegetable garden.

He chaperoned my youth group’s caving trip, where we spent the night in a damp cavern after hours of belly crawling through mud. We laughed to each other at the scaredy-cat boys who were afraid of the dark.

Just realized Dad has all the photos of us together from “back in the day.” Here’s one from my files of us during my college years.

A few years back, I tagged along with him, his brothers and their sons on a fly-fishing daytrip in the Tennessee mountains. It was great to share a boat with just him and our guide, laughing at our rookie mistakes.

Now I’m the subject of many of the stories he tells his friends (whether they care to hear them or not). Dad doesn’t hunt but loves to keep tabs on where I’m going next and what I got while I was there, so he can report all the stats at his morning coffee group at Burger King.

Growing up, I favored more of my dad’s side of the family, closer in looks to his sister than anyone else. Now, I’ve taken on more of my mom’s features. However, I still have a dimple in my chin, just like Dad.

As far as my career, I’m less like my dad as well. I make my living by keeping my fingers attached to a keyboard. I’m not sure Dad even knows how to turn on a computer — or that he even cares to learn. He probably won’t even know this ode to him exists until I call or text Mom to pull it up for him. She’ll have to print it out so he can read it.

Dad never needed to know how to boot up a laptop. He worked in a chemical plant for 32 years, making a living for our family. His free time was spent in the yard and garden, at church, and simply being a great dad.

I always knew Dad loved my sister and me. But until I became a working parent myself, albeit one with only three years of parenthood under her belt, I never fully realized what a commitment he made to our family.

Like father, like daughter. Here we are on one of the many mountain vacations Dad planned for the family. This had to be five or six years ago. We still go every year, but now my sister and I have taken the reigns on the planning.

So, Dad, let me say thank you…

Not just for pulling 32 years worth of shift work (many of them on swing) … but for always being there for me. I can’t remember you ever NOT being at a piano recital, softball game or school program, when I’m sure a nap sounded much sweeter than 20 variations of “Clair de Lune.”

Not just for staying up ‘til the wee hours of the night assembling bikes and Barbie dream houses on behalf of Santa … but for keeping the magic (and innocence) of Christmas alive for as long as you could.

Not just for planning station wagon-packed trips around the country when there were only AAA Triptiks and an atlas to guide you … but for instilling in me a sense of curiosity that extends beyond my front door.

You’ve taught me how to be a friend and a parent, and how to live in the present. More importantly, I’ve learned there’s no person I’d rather emulate than you.

Happy month-a-versary to us!

It’s the eighth month-a-versary of Keeping Up With Karen! Just wanted to say thanks to all of you who have weathered a couple seasons with me already. Hope it’s been just as fun for you.

This photo was meant to be cute but turned out kind of creepy. But you haven’t seen the worst! Check my Facebook page on June 21 (my birthday) for the most sinister pic of the bunch. It’s too funny NOT to share.

A month-a-versary sounds very middle school, I know. To a young couple in like, a month is like a year and a significant milestone in the fragile relationships of 12 year olds.

It’s kind of the same with a blog.

There are days, weeks even, when blog posts just don’t come naturally. Then there’s my actual job, the whole Turkey Country editor thing, that’s takes priority. Sometimes I feel like I’m failing.

It doesn’t help that I’ve become obsessed with staring at the blog’s analytics — the number of page views, my most popular posts — to try and figure out how I’m doing. I can also see what web sites bring people to my blog, as well as where they go once they’ve said sayonara.

My absolute favorite, however, is reading the search terms folks use that land them on Keeping Up With Karen. It’s like a nerdy version of a reality show. You get to peek into the minds of people, see what’s hot, what people are looking for.

Don’t freak out, it’s not a “Big Brother” thing. (Sorry for the reality show reference.) I can’t see WHO is coming to my site. That would be a bit creepy even for me. So feel free to keep searching with abandon!

To celebrate our blog month-a-versary, I’m going to give you a rundown of some of my favorite search engine terms so far — some are funny, a few are a bit disturbing, but most were on point (at least I think).

The most frequent search terms are for the NWTF convention and SHOT Show. I have to admit I was a little disappointed “Karen Lee’s Awesome Blog” wasn’t No. 1, but I understand these events are much bigger than any individual. I covered both on my blog and can only hope I did a good job for ya.

Then there are the searches for NWTF raffle girls and SHOT Show booth babes (others’ terms, not mine). All I can say is what a disappointment that must’ve been to end up with me. Better luck next time, boys.

Web searches for three other individuals frequently brought people to the blog. I linked to the blog of Michael Waddell, NWTF spokesman and head Bone Collector, when he was on the Outdoor Legends Tour with the NWTF’s CEO. Same goes for couple other names that frequently pop up in my analytics, USMC Maj. Gen. Randy West and former Major League Baseball player Ryan Klesko. Both were on the Legends Tour in the Middle East as well. But that USO-type tour was only half the reason behind the searches. I had people looking for Klesko’s net worth, the Major General’s height and how many children Waddell has — info I do not have.

I get a smattering of visitors looking for people or gear I’ve hunted with and talked about on the blog. That should be a lesson to them all to treat me right … or someone is going to find out! (Just kidding.)

Then there are a few that have been just plain odd — Karen sneeze, NWTF sexy, how to load M&Ms into a cello bag. Makes me wonder about certain minds out there.

By far, the most flattering (and slightly surreal) is that people are actually searching for me. There are like a million Karen Lee’s in the world, but I know these were meant for yours truly: Karen Lee NWTF, Keeping Up With Karen, Karen Lee blog, Karen Lee editor NWTF, Karen Lee editor Turkey Country and variations and spellings thereof.

I’ve even had not one, but two searches for “Karen Lee editor Turkey Country husband.” Sorry to disappoint any bachelors, but he liked it and put a ring on it awhile back. We’re celebrating our 84th month-a-versary this summer.

Karen’s Little Helpers

Hunting season essentials for when you’re not hunting

Every spring I refine my packing list as turkey season progresses. I leave behind the items I don’t use, like that second slate call that sounds similar to the first one. And add those things I really missed on the previous hunt, as in a could’ve-really-used-that-in-a-torrential-downpour rain suit.

I get by with a little help from my ear buds...and these other handy items.

This year, however, I built a list of things that are my must-haves during hunting season for when I’m NOT hunting. Stuff that comes in handy on the road, in the air and back at camp.

Enough yakety-yakking about ‘em, here’s my list of Karen’s Little Helpers…

I’m not lying, every flight I was on this spring had an irate baby on it. EVERY FLIGHT. I don’t shoot icy stares at the parents. Heaven knows that could be me one day. But there’s something about a kid crying “Mommy” that wrecks my nerves. I can’t tune it out … unless I crank up the tunes. A special thanks to Ozzy’s “Momma, I’m Comin’ Home” and the Judd’s “Mama He’s Crazy” for helping drown out the yelling. I simply pretended the screaming little banshees are backup singers.

Looking down at my feet right now, I’m in desperate need of a pedicure. Why? They spent six weeks in a pair of hunting boots. My tootsies require fresh air, so I pack a pair of platform flip-flops in my bag and wear them whenever I’m not hunting or on the gun range. They also come in handy when staying at more “rustic” camps. I’ll wear them in the shower or even just to keep my feet out of the dirt I just tracked in. Plus, there’s nothing wrong with making a fashion statement.

You travel with me? You’re gonna rock out. I spent hours DJing my way up and down interstates this spring, having a one-woman karaoke party. I simply pump my music through vehicle speakers with that swanky little cable and sing my heart out. Two of my favorite memories from this spring were a direct result of having my tunes ready to roll at the right time. 1) Watching my guide, Jimmy Wright, shake his grove thang to “Baby Got Back” after he sent out a locator call to stubborn Merriam’s in New Mexico. 2) Seeing Under Armour’s Mark Estrada show off his mad air guitar skills to .38 Special while driving to the Oklahoma City airport. Priceless.

This is one I learned the hard way. Cruising up I-77 in West Virginia, there were not one, not two, but THREE toll booths between me and my destination. I’m all about handing over the $2 a pop it takes to help them pave roads, provide scholarships or whatever the money is used for. But I only had $5 cash on me, and it put me in a pickle. Here’s an insider tip, they’ll let you through for $1.95 when you start scrounging for pennies in the cup holder.

Yes, I’m one of THOSE people who messes with her phone while waiting for a gobbler to show up. My iPhone is how I stay in touch with all of you. Facebook, Twitter, checking blog comments, that sort of thing. It is also my lifeline to my family. Having zero bars forces nature time (which really is great), but running out of battery is self-inflicted torture. Since hunters spend a good amount of time in trucks, I always bring along my charger to keep the juice flowing. And, yes, I still make a point to take in the view, stop to smell the roses, stuff like that. I also snap a picture of them and share them with you. That’s why you’re here, right?