Introduction

The outdoors has special meaning to me. I caught my first fish at age 4 and shot my first duck at age 9. Nearly four decades later I still get excited when I get to spend any time outdoors. A lot has changed during that time but the anticipation and experiences are still similar and just as exciting. It’s a great place to be....Read More

Friday, October 31, 2014

TRICK OR TREAT BUCK...ALMOST!

Halloween provides an exciting time for kids wanting to dress up and load up on all kinds of candy.  It's also a date that provides an aiming point for many bowhunters as that's usually when things start to click in the whitetail world.  Weather changes, days get shorter and the rut is just around the corner causing deer of both sexes to be on the move.  And that's exactly what happened last night on only my second sit in the 2014 archery season.

It was quite windy, but the direction was good, and it died down towards sunset.  Just prior to that, I watched a small 2 1/2-year-old buck work a scrape, cross the creek and walk within 5-feet of the bottom of my ladder.  I enjoyed the show wondering how many other people were busy watching television programs while I enjoyed nature's ultimate reality show as the buck disappeared from sight.

Several minutes later I heard grunting and he had found a doe and was dogging her right back towards me.  They both ended up within 15 yards of my tree again but he stopped and looked back across the creek.  Apparently, other bucks had heard the commotion and were coming down the trail behind me.



For the next 15 minutes I tried to figure out which buck was which among four or five that had come into the picture.  Light was fading fast and I saw two that looked like deer I would shoot as they were both mature, big-bodied deer with nice racks.  Despite the fact they were less than 50 yards from me I couldn't get a real good look due to thick cover and they were in no hurry to give me a closer view. 

I had about 15 minutes of legal shooting time left when they finally got close enough to think about getting a shot.  I turned, still seated in my stand, back to my left and drew my Mathews bow as a huge-bodied 8-pointer with a heifer-like body walked no more than 6 yards away.  He moved through a small shooting opportunity before I had the pin settled.  I stood up to turn around to the other side of the tree but just as I did I noticed another buck right behind him walking into that same spot so I held at full draw.  Ready now, I grunted when he hit the opening and he stopped.

I had time to try to calm down although for me that's like going from a 10 to an 8 as I get so jacked up I'm surprised I could hit a barn.  I rested the pin for a nanosecond and released.  The buck mule-kicked and took off like he was running a mad dash.  He and the others disappeared around the bend in the creek and the woods were silent. 

When I turned back around there was another nice 8-pointer that had walked to within a few feet of my ladder stand wondering what was going on.  I watched him wander off before finally climbing down as it was now dark. 

I was roughly 80 percent sure I had made a near-perfect, fatal shot but it happened so fast I second-guessed myself as I often do due to the cataclysmic adrenaline rush I get every time I shoot a deer.  So I headed back home figuring it was the safest bet to wait until morning and take up the track as the meat would be fine with temperatures near 40 degrees.

But on the 45 minute drive back to my house I saw four packs, with three or four in each, of coyotes cross the road and then another single dog.  I had one other buck years ago I left overnight and the coyotes beat me to it.  I tagged it and chalked it up to experience.  After seeing all the coyotes on the ride home I was bound and determined it wouldn't happen again.  I called a buddy, Kent, and loaded up one of my boys, Cody, and we went back out at 9:15 p.m. armed with flashlights and hope.

I found the first speck of blood.  Unfortunately, specks are all we'd find but Kent and Cody did a fine job locating even the smallest of sign.  Despite the difficult task we were able to trail and find my buck in about 45 minutes about 100 yards away.  I was relieved, and pleased my eyes did not deceive me as to the result of the shot.

The buck wasn't a monster rack-wise, but a beautiful specimen nonetheless.  I was happy and proud to put my tag on him and we shot photos from several different angles.  His body was huge and I was thankful another good friend, Dale, lived just across the section and had a Kawasaki Mule he could drive right to him!  It took three of us to get him in it for the drive out and we arrived back at my truck at 11:15 p.m.

I had planned to look at my photos in the morning as we got home at midnight.  I was still too fired up to sleep so I went ahead and took a peek.  Kent did a fine job as my photographer and I appreciated his, Cody's and Dale's help with everything else, too.  It was nice to share such a special outdoor experience with good friends and family.
 

I finally crawled into bed at 1:30 a.m. with a smile on my face.  Sleep didn't come easy as I replayed all the events of this memorable experience over and over in my mind.  It would have been fitting to call this my Halloween Trick or Treat buck, but it was close enough and I'll take it! 

 

 

 

Tuesday, October 14, 2014

OH DEER! THAT'S AWESOME!

Deer hunting is enjoyable for young and old.  Veteran hunters anxiously await opening day and find sleep the night prior sometimes difficult.  Young hunters are likely the same as anxiousness and excitement finally get to meet opportunity when the big day arrives.  Such was the case recently for more than a dozen youngsters on the 15th Annual David Berry Memorial Youth Deer Hunt in Harper County.

The local sportsmen, businesses, landowners, our KDWPT employees who organize it and everyone involved roll out the red carpet to make this a tremendously successful event each year.  Kids and their parents or mentors were treated to lunch, archery shooting, shotgun instruction and sighting in of rifles when they arrived at the Anthony Gun Club last Saturday afternoon.  All kids go away with door prizes and two REAL lucky kids go away with a brand new .243 rifle complete with scope. 

Shiv's first deer!
None of the youngsters had ever harvested a deer and anticipation was high.  Paired with a guide the kids were sent on their way the first evening with a sack lunch.  Upon their return they were treated to pizza and the hunting tales flowed freely.  The chatter was non-stop and the smiles of successful hunters said it all as most of them killed deer or at least had close encounters.

The first evening I had a young man, Shiv, whose father had driven 9 hours from Denver, Colorado, to participate in the hunt.  The evening was perfect and we had a front row seat from our tower blind where we watched coyotes, sandhill cranes, turkey vultures and a myriad of other wildlife until the first deer showed up.  A big doe meandered into the field to our right and Shiv got situated and with one shot dropped it in its tracks at about 125 yards. 

"I GOT IT!" he hollered and squealed.
Shiv and his dad, Som, share a memorable father-son moment


Indeed he did and he wasn't done.  Armed with another tag we watched at least eight bucks and the same number of does before finally getting lined up on another big doe.  He got that one, too, and he was all smiles as we shot photos and I showed the 6th grader how to field dress the first one while he did the second one mostly by himself.


The next morning I was in the same blind with another 6th grader named Jaggar.  He had some close calls the evening prior but didn't get a deer so he was REALLY hoping he got one this morning.  Again, we were treated to another wildlife spectacle with raccoons, quail and six different bucks we watched, the latter off limits due to the antlerless season. 

Jaggar's first deer!
But just as things looked like they might not work out I spied a couple antlerless deer moving off to our left in the tall grass.  They angled behind us as I got Jaggar situated with his gun pointed out the back window.  There were three of them when they popped into view in heavy cover and at a steady walk.  I told Jaggar to get on the lead doe as she was the largest.

"Can I shoot?" he asked quickly.

I bleated to get them to stop and when they did I gave Jaggar the green light.  One shot from his .243 dropped the big doe in her tracks at about 100 yards. 

"I did it!" he exclaimed.

Jaggar was excited admitting his family liked to eat deer meat and his first one would be special to share.  He couldn't wait to call his mom and grandma on the cell phone and tell them about his good fortunes as soon as we got in the truck.
Jaggar and hunt organizer, Kyle McDonald
    

In the end, 10 kids shot 14 deer in two hunts.  There are other hunts similar to this one and additional special hunting opportunities for kids as well as adults, for a variety of species throughout the year, listed on the KDWPT web site. 

Although National Hunting and Fishing Day was observed in late September, I'd like to think it's celebrated each and every time you see a smile on the face of someone that participated in one of these events or others like it.  Many are unique and none are more rewarding, for participants or observers, than a youngster's first deer.    

Thursday, October 2, 2014

TEAL IS MY FAVORITE COLOR!

I've often joked my favorite color is camouflage.  While that's likely still true, my favorite color in September might very well be teal...in the form of bluewings and greenwings!  The Kansas early teal season in recent years has been nothing short of spectacular and it's a wonderful time to be in a marsh

The sights and sounds of a wetland are nearly reward enough in September.  Breathtaking sunrises and sunsets are beautiful and painting-like.  The sounds are even more intriguing.  Take for instance a small but vocal bird, the Sora rail, that has a cadre of cool sounds (check them out at http://www.allaboutbirds.org/guide/sora/sounds).  These visual and auditory stimuli are reason alone to enjoy the September teal season.
  

But whirling dervish-like flocks and singles and pairs of bluewing teal are the main reason I'm there.  Throw in the even more dart-like greenwing teal and it's a wing-shooter's paradise.  Add to this that many of Kansas' major wetlands had good water conditions and it was another memorable early teal season once again.
 

A handful of hunts ran the gamut but all ended with tremendous success.  A 6-teal daily bag limit stretches the experience just a little longer than past years, but not by much if there are many teal around.  One particular hunt it took me longer to get my duck boat ready and motor to my spot than it did for me and a buddy to shoot 11 bluegwings and one greenwing teal.  But we simply cased our guns, watched the sunrise and continued to enjoy everything that's special about a morning on a marsh before finally picking up 45 minutes later.

It doesn't hurt that teal are some of the finest wild table fare, either.  Wrapped in bacon and cooked to rare, medium-rare on a kabob they're mouth-watering.  It's like an appetizer of sorts, setting the stage for what will take place in another week when the regular duck season opens for many of Kansas' managed marshes. 

The early teal season just whets waterfowlers' appetites and now it's time for the main course.  I'll just add other favorite colors now, like the iridescent green in a drake mallards head, or the milk chocolate of a pintail drake's.  Throw in a few more teal and I'll have the full palette of colors available in the waterfowl world.     

Friday, August 15, 2014

DADDY'S LITTLE GIRL NEARLY GROWN UP AND GONE...HERE'S HOPING FISHING BRINGS HER BACK OFTEN

Many fathers have a "Daddy's Little Girl."  I'm no different and it seems like just the other day I was teaching my 2 1/2-year-old daughter, Ashley, the finer points of fishing on her first trip to a pond.  While she was content to catch some nice bluegill and bass, she was almost as thrilled to eat "moo-berries" from a nearby Mulberry tree.  But an outdoor kid was born and her gender didn't matter despite the stereotypes.

Over the years she's killed turkeys and deer and caught bunches of fish.  In high school she hit a bit of a stretch where she was busy with sports, a major sports injury and school activities so hunting took a back seat.  But she still loved to fish and summer vacations then and now during college were a good time to do it.  We fished for walleye, crappie, wipers, white bass and channel catfish and we both enjoyed our time together as she grew up.

We haven't fished together too much this summer as Ashley was on a mission trip to Zimbabwe for two weeks earlier in the summer and she's been working a lot, too.  So when she had a day off earlier this week she was game for a fishing trip and we headed out bright and early at 5:30 a.m.

Our goal was channel catfish and this summer had been good so our hopes were high.  The morning was gorgeous, remarkably cool at 58 degrees and winds were light as we launched my boat at 6:30 a.m.  We got anchored up and started to chum and it didn't take long to figure out it might be a pretty good day as Ashley hooked up with a 2-pounder we pitched back.  The action heated up and we both started catching fish.  I ended up fishing with only one pole as it seemed like every time I'd get both of mine situated Ashley had another fish and I'd have to reel up and get the net.

By 8 a.m. we probably caught 20 channel cats of various sizes with about a dozen keepers.  The action was fast and I commented that her twin teenage brothers, who opted out because they wanted to sleep in, were missing a great morning.

"That's lame," she said of their excuse to bypass the 5 a.m. wake-up call.  "That's what naps are for!"

The wind kicked and pushed me off our spot a bit and our success dwindled.  I re-anchored a couple times and finally got back to the honey hole and we were doing well once again.  Ashley had the hot hand and not only caught the first fish of the day, she had the biggest at just over 7 pounds.  Once I tallied 18 fish (the limit is 10 each) on the clicker we just released all fish and proceeded to simply have fun. 

We were about ready to leave when Ashley hung a big ol' carp.  I told her we couldn't end on that one so we gave it another 5 minutes.  It didn't take that long and Ashley had her last channel catfish of the summer and it weighed just over 5 pounds so we pitched it in the livewell and called it a wonderful morning about 10 a.m.
 

I've heard that life is like a roll of toilet paper and the closer you get to the end the faster it goes.  As I age it's particularly true and I think it's exaggerated when you have kids as they, too, grow up fast.  Again, it seemed like just the other day when I took her to her first year of college but 3 years flew by and I dropped her and her stuff off yesterday for her Senior year.  It's not likely she'll be home next summer as her first "real" job will hopefully be waiting when she graduates.

But as I drove away I thought about our fishing trip the other day, and many of the others earlier this summer and over the years.  I couldn't think of a bad trip.  Sure, there were some we didn't catch much, but the time spent with her was golden and will be cherished forever.  She's a wonderful daughter and student and I'd like to think some of our time outdoors shaped who she is as a person.  Fishing is an activity that builds strong bonds, too, so I'm hoping it's lure enough she'll return home often, even after she hits the "real" world.   

Thursday, July 3, 2014

HUNTING IN JULY

If you're dressed in camouflage and you stop at a convenience store or gas station in the fall you really don't get too many strange looks.  After all, people often associate hunting seasons with those months and assume people are out deer hunting, duck hunting, or something similar. 

But show up basically anywhere in July dressed in camouflage and you'll get some strange looks.

"Are you hunting?" comes the inquisitive question. 

"Yes" is my reply to which they immediately fire back, "WHAT?"

"Squirrels!" I say and they wrinkle up their face.

Lifelong Kansans remember squirrels as a staple growing up and many were raised on their meat.  Today, not so much.  But I've enjoyed squirrel hunting, particularly calling squirrels, since I was introduced to it a couple decades ago.  And I've passed that enjoyment on to my kids and others as well.

Since squirrel season opens June 1 there's no better time to enjoy it than right now.  One of my boys, Cody, and I decided to try it recently for the first time this summer.  I couldn't have scripted a more perfect outdoor adventure, either.

The air was wonderfully still with a temperature near 60 degrees when we got out at 6:15 a.m. We eased into a stretch of riparian timber and I hit the squirrel call.  Nothing, which isn't unusual but always disappointing.  Heading to our second location we spied a couple does out in the pasture and watched them until they bounded out of sight.

Our second calling location proved to be a sign of things to come.  I hit the call and three squirrels sounded off, one way too close right above our heads and he saw us and spooked.  Just across the creek another was barking and Cody readied his .22 rifle and fired and the squirrel fell to the ground.

Over the last few summers Cody has killed a couple of squirrels each trip, but most always with his 20 gauge shotgun since it allowed a little more "flexibility" as far as aim.  But he chose to use my .22 rifle which, outfitted with a scope is a tack-driving machine, provided you can hold it steady.  I wasn't so sure Cody would have much success on his first trip with it since he's never really shot it all that much.  Boy was I wrong. 

As we eased down the creek and called in several locations, Cody's rifle sounded off and squirrels dropped, as did my jaw after most shots.  I was more surprised than anything, but quite proud that he'd found instant success with well-placed shots.  In less than 90 minutes, Cody killed his first-ever limit (5) of squirrels with nearly as many shots.  Heck, I rarely do that well and he made it look easy. 

We still had a bit of time so Cody handed me the .22 rifle and I handed him the squirrel call.  We rounded the corner and came face to face with a beautiful whitetail buck with a basket rack encased in velvet.  Cody thought that was really cool since deer always look MUCH bigger in velvet.  After several minutes he went on his way. 

I managed to kill two squirrels with Cody calling for me before the wind came up a bit and we decided to call it a morning knowing we had 7 squirrels to clean.  I provided instruction to Cody and he cleaned a couple squirrels and I helped to move things along. 

As we got back into our vehicle to head home Cody looked at the clock and it was barely 10 a.m. 

"Most of my friends aren't even out of bed yet," Cody laughed.  "And we've been up for five hours!"

I wouldn't trade those five hours for any amount of sleep, either.          

Thursday, June 5, 2014

KIDS DON'T TRY THIS AT HOME!


               The great outdoors is a wonderful place to learn about all things natural.  Most experiences are pleasant and memorable for all the right reasons.  However, on occasion an adventure might be remembered for something bad.  Fate has a funny way of turning around and biting you in the backside sometimes, too.
Whoops!  I spoke too soon!
               The perfect example happened recently when I got a text message photo from my 16 year-old nephew, Dylan.  He’d been sending photos of big bass, crappie and bluegill he was catching from a pond.  Hitting the message button I fully expected more fish pictures.  But instead, it was of a lure dangling from his finger, the hook embedded in flesh past the barb. 
               It seems the first bass of the evening flopped at the wrong time and the lure lodged in Dylan’s finger.  He knew he couldn’t get it out on his own so he called his mom, my sister, Chari, on the way home.  She got queasy just thinking about trying to get the hook out and even more-so when she Googled “How to remove a fish hook” on You Tube and watched several clips.
              
String trick I used
Dylan didn’t even flinch when my sister, peaked and pale, snatched the hook out backwards using the monofilament string trick.  He admits it wasn’t buried too bad, didn’t bleed much and really didn’t hurt.  That wasn’t too comforting to Chari as she nearly threw up during the process. 
               Dylan called me that night to give me the scoop.  He, too, laughed at his mother’s response.  I told him in nearly five decades of fishing fresh and saltwater and handling literally tens of thousands of hooks I’d never buried one in any body part. 
               Remember fate?
               It was less than a week later when a buddy, Jim, and I were walleye fishing from my boat.  We were catching lots of walleye and the occasional “other” species as well.  It was one of the latter, a 12-inch channel catfish, that labeled that day in my memory bank.
               I caught the cat on a spinner rig with two #6 Gamakatsu Octopus hooks, the top hook buried in his lip.  Using pliers I attempted to free the hook which proved stubborn.  Getting impatient, I snatched the hook out with an emphatic yank, not accounting for the second hook.  It buried in the beefy part of my index finger just above my palm with enough force it broke 12 pound test line. 
              
Still fishing with new piercing!
Realizing I’d screwed up, I attempted to push it back out and it wouldn’t budge.  And it was buried too far to even think about pushing it on through.  Contemplating what to do next, I got a bite on another rod and managed to land a nice walleye, despite my new finger piercing.  And to make matters more comical, I wanted to document my mistake on film and proceeded to take pictures of my finger and the embedded hardware from various angles around my boat. 
               Jim cut a section of monofilament and
"After" shot!
I explained the process I’d never personally witnessed.   Silently, I hoped it worked as described.  Jim held down the eye of the hook and I grabbed the string and in one fell swoop snatched it backwards.  It made a bit of a “pop” sound when the hook went flying.
The resulting hole wasn’t large, but was now bleeding pretty good.  We laughed about how well the string trick worked.  However, we both agreed we’d rather not have to do it again anytime soon.  A little rinse with a water bottle and a tight band aid and I was back in fishing business. 
 It was ironic that only a week earlier I'd opened my mouth about the fact it had never happened to me.  I couldn't wait to tell my sister and laughed knowing she would object to any in-depth details of the event over the phone.  That's okay, I just sent her a picture of it via e-mail!
 
 
 
              

Thursday, May 1, 2014

DOUBLE TROUBLE TOMS


              
               The spring turkey season is one of anticipation.  Thunderous gobbles get any hunter’s blood pumping and the sight and sounds of a big tom coming to a decoy in full strut is mesmerizing.  The opportunity to take a tom turkey in the spring doesn’t get much better in the grand scheme of all things hunting.  That is, unless you get the chance to take two toms!
               Even more rewarding might be watching someone else do it.  It’s always fun to tag along on any successful turkey hunt and maybe even more rewarding when it’s a youngster on his first-ever turkey outing.
I was helping with the Kansas Department of Wildlife, Parks and Tourism’s 14th Annual Youth Turkey Hunt at Hutchinson during the youth turkey season.  I was guiding a 13-year-old Anthony resident, Jaden, on Saturday afternoon.  Jaden is an avid outdoors kid, but he’d never killed a turkey.
               We arrived at our location in Reno County and weren’t in the blind long when turkeys started to respond to a few yelps.  They weren’t in a hurry to come in, but they would answer enough to make it exciting to listen. 
               About 45 minutes into our evening sit, Jaden got excited and whispered that turkeys were coming.  Eight or 9 hens came trotting in followed by two longbeards.  Jaden had borrowed my 12 gauge and had it resting on shooting sticks pointed out the front.  The problem was the strutting toms were on the left. 
               Fearing they were going to leave, I had Jaden reposition his gun to that window.  Once he was lined up I told him to shoot the nearest full-strut gobbler and the sound of the shot sent turkeys scattering in every direction.  Jaden’s first bird flopped a few times and lay still in front of us only 18 yards away.  His ear-to-ear smile said it all.           
               Knowing more turkeys were still in the vicinity I opted to stay in the blind.  We still had 90 minutes until shooting time ended and distant gobbles were encouraging.  About 50 minutes later more hens came by and three jakes found Jaden’s first tom and proceeded to jump on and flog it.  Jaden nearly laughed out loud and asked why they were whipping his bird!
               Before I could get much of a response out, two toms, one in full strut, came waddling down the sandhill and bowled the three jakes right off the dead bird.  He stood on the dead tom in full strut and pecked at his deceased rival.  Jaden’s eyes were about to pop out of his head.
               “Shoot that one, too!” I told Jaden as he eased his gun over to the same window. 
              
Again, the sound of the shot sent turkeys scattering and Jaden had his second tom.  Even more entertaining was the one surviving tom would not leave.  Nor, could he decide which dead bird he needed to whip and went back and forth.  Jaden was enjoying the show when I finally started talking to the confused turkey and it gobbled back at every sound.  We were both laughing by now.
               Although his 2014 season was over in less than an hour, it was an incredibly memorable experience.  When he left, Jaden said “I’ll remember this for the rest of my life!”
               I will, too, as it was a great day be a spectator in the Kansas outdoors.