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

Tuesday, April 12, 2016

TURKEY HUNT A MEMORABLE EXPERIENCE FOR YOUNGSTER WITH LEUKEMIA

I've always been a fan of getting kids outdoors and involved in hunting, fishing and all things wild.  I've done it as often as possible with my own kids over the years.  Now nearly grown, some of the most memorable times we've shared have been in a boat or blind.

During that time and still today I enjoy taking other kids out as well.  I've assisted with deer and turkey hunts for a couple decades now.  Many of our KDWPT staff in several divisions have gone above and beyond to plan, coordinate and pull-off some fantastic hunting opportunities for youngsters, many of which are a one-of-a-kind, incredible experience.

And despite no relation to these other youngsters some hunts have been equally as memorable as those with my own children for many reasons.  One in particular just happened a couple weeks ago on a youth turkey hunt near Hutchinson.

Elijah Hamby was a last minute edition to the turkey hunt conducted by KDWPT's Kyle McDonald and Steve Adams during the Kansas youth turkey season.  Adams met 12-year-old, Eli, and his family at the cancer center during recent visits for both families.  Adams' little girl, Blaisi, is battling cancer and Eli was recently diagnosed with leukemia.

"When I told Eli about the turkey hunt his eyes lit up," Adams told me.    

Eli hasn't had much reason to light up in the last year.  His grandpa, Ron, told me on the hunt that Eli is quarantined to his room much of the time.  Chemotherapy and a myriad of other painful treatments and procedures have left the youngster's immune system compromised.  A simple cold can send him to the hospital.  A sanitizing station sits outside his room for any visitors and most of those are limited to immediate family.  He has to take middle school classes online as a result.

Painful treatments have left Eli a bit weak and his voice mostly soft.  The slight recoil of a 20 gauge shotgun was brutally painful and he was a bit hesitant to shoot much at turkey targets.  But we loaded up a gun with lighter shells and I promised Eli in the excitement of that moment when he's staring down the barrel at a turkey he won't feel a thing.  Thankfully, I was right as he'd admit later.

We arrived at our blind location to the sound of banging 5-gallon buckets.  I thought to myself that's not a good sign as I knew Kyle and Steve had placed those in the pop-up blind for us to sit on.  My first thought was cattle and turns out I was right.  They'd trampled our blind and were knocking the buckets around as we approached.  Eli had been paired with me as this blind was close and would require no lengthy walk or effort to get there.  We hadn't counted on the 15-yard penalty on the cows for roughing the blind!

I quickly reassembled the blind the best I could and we crawled inside.  I started calling occasionally and Eli and I chatted a bit.  Some how we got on the topic of pets and he admitted he had a cat.

"Why?" I asked.  "Does it fetch ducks?"

"No," he laughed.

"That's one strike against you," I told him.

As I checked one of the Final Four scores on my phone Eli mentioned he was a KU fan.

"Why?" I asked.

Again, he laughed.

"That's two strikes against you," I laughed back.  "One more and you're going back to the truck."

Before Eli could get his third strike we got sidetracked by gobbling turkeys.  It was a beautiful evening and birds were getting vocal.  It wasn't long and we watched a hen peck her way around nearby.  And then we saw not one, but a half-dozen red heads come over the hill towards the hen.

"Here comes a bunch of jakes," I told Eli.  "We're going to get you ready and you're gonna shoot one of these."

I'm always amazed at the adrenaline rush hunters get, even ones that have never killed a turkey or deer.  Eli was no different and his breathing got heavy and labored.  I told him to relax and we'd let them separate to get a good shot at just one bird.

They did and long story short Eli gave it several tries but failed to connect.  As they wandered off I called and they all gobbled back in unison.  That seemed to amuse Eli as much as his recent close encounter.

Another close call later had similar results but I knew our chances were still good as we still had plenty of daylight left.

I got more birds to answer the calls and it wasn't long and we had some big toms headed our way.  But then all of a sudden the turkey flood gates opened and we were surrounded by a dozen hens and another bigger band of jovial jakes.

"We're going to get one of these," I told Eli.  "I'm going to help you aim this time."

Kneeled behind him I instructed Eli to get lined up on one but not shoot yet.  I wanted to make sure he was indeed lined up and he'd kill only one bird.  I whispered for him to lift his head up and I'd have him adjust one way or the other and put his head back down.  Each time the turkey moved after I knew he was lined up.  Finally, after several tries I told him to pull the trigger.  At just 12 yards or so the jake hit the dirt and the remaining birds scattered and gobbled as they retreated.

"I got him!" Eli squealed.

We sat in the blind a bit and watched and listened to more turkeys nearby.  Eli jabbered more in the 15 minutes after he shot his bird than he had in the hour prior.  It was like he'd got a second wind and his ailments and illness were no longer in the forefront of his memory.  He was an excited child who'd just taken his first turkey on a most memorable hunt.

Eli's labored walk to his down bird as I filmed the event on my phone reminded me of how cruel this world can be.  Nobody, but in particular a child, should have to endure the hideousness of cancer and what it does to a human body.  Eli's got two more years of treatments that will no doubt sap his body's strength and test his will.  

But Eli walked with a purpose to his prize and his smile said it all as he picked up his first turkey.  If only for a few brief hours I silently hoped that Eli had forgot about his illness and his rough road that lies ahead.  The outdoors is truly a therapeutic place and I'm glad Eli got to experience the splendor and beauty of a wonderful evening chasing turkeys.  And I felt fortunate, and humbled, to witness that moment in his young life and wish him nothing but the best in the future.



  



    

Thursday, January 14, 2016

2015 WAS GOOD IN THE GREAT OUTDOORS!


As we roll into 2016 it's fun to look back at what happened in 2015 in my outdoor world.  It was all good in a lot of great ways and those memories will last a lifetime.  I can sit, sometimes for minutes, and just scroll through the gallery on my phone.  I can recall the time and place easily and nearly all of those photos bring a smile to my face.
 

Only one made me wince and that was a bleeding finger, cut by a rogue (or more accurately my own carelessness) broadhead as I messed with it one day in a treestand.  Even that had a happy ending as that same stand produced a nice buck for me just a few days later.  In addition, there were several other highlights in 2015 that come to mind. 

Father's Day found one of my twin boys, Cody, and my daughter, Ashley, and I fishing for channel catfish.  Fishing was excellent and their company was a better gift than any funky tie or smelly cologne.  Cody is just over a year away from attending college and Ashley graduated from college and hit the real world running in 2015.  As I shot a few photos I felt fortunate to spend time with my kids on a day dedicated to Dad's and I was indeed a proud one.  It was also a bit sad, too, as I knew these days would likely get fewer over time.
   

Another trip that stood out was a pheasant hunt near Dodge City just before Thanksgiving.  I grew up hunting upland birds most weekends but switched gears later in life to chasing waterfowl and bowhunting.  This hunt found me and several friends traipsing some of the most beautiful upland bird habitat in the state.  Shots were plentiful and the action steady with plenty of birds flushed and bagged.  It took me back to a time several decades ago when those same sights, sounds and smells were shared with other friends that I've lost touch with over time but still think about on occasion.

And the icing on the tasty 2015 cake likely took place in mid-December on a hunt where I was merely an observer.  Cody had been drawn for a special youth deer hunting opportunity and the day was indeed special and truly memorable.  The morning yielded a few sightings of several does and a distant buck.  The highlight of sunrise was watching a coyote mousing right in front of us for minutes.  I'm surprised he didn't hear us as we'd laugh out loud every time he jumped straight up in the air and came down with all four feet firmly planted, but never successful.  He was persistent.  After a quick lunch break we were back in the blind and the action started shortly thereafter.  Several does both near and far were already feeding.  A HUGE buck stepped into view and started nosing a doe in front of our blind only 110 yards away.  A few minutes later Cody's shot found it's mark and after a short track we found his deer.  It was indeed the buck of his lifetime and mine.

There were dozens of other trips hunting, fishing, camping and trapping with good friends and family in 2015.  I enjoyed them all and look forward to more just like it in 2016.  Here's hoping you make time for your own outdoor experiences this season and the next. 

    

 

Thursday, October 29, 2015

EARTHQUAKES AND RATTLESNAKES!

Simply deer hunting is exciting enough.  The adrenaline rush when a big buck or doe is spotted can't be duplicated.  So there's plenty of excitement on a good hunt without adding any additional stimuli.  However, throw in a couple crazy happenings and a deer hunt can go from memorable to MEMORABLE in the blink of an eye.  That was exactly the case on a hunt I witnessed firsthand just a couple weekends ago. 

I was in Harper County working out of the Anthony Gun Club at the 16th Annual Harper County/David Berry Memorial Youth Deer Hunt as part of KDWPT's Pass It On Program.   The local sportsman's club and area businesses and sponsors have made this event a huge success.  So big and successful, in fact, the hunt and its organizers received the 2014 Conservation Organization of the Year Award from the Kansas Wildlife Federation. 

I was guiding 12-year-old Anthony resident Scott Owen.  The youngster was looking forward to the hunt and excited to get to the blind.  We had to be a bit careful as his right wrist was in a solid cast. 

"What happened?" I asked earlier. 

"I punched my brother in the back of the head," he said sheepishly.

"Bet you won't do that again, huh?" I said.

"Nope!" he replied. 

Our blind was a 12-foot box blind overlooking a wheat field in ideal deer habitat.  It's generally not a matter of if the deer show up, it's when.  We wouldn't wait long after climbing into the blind at 4:45 p.m.

It was 5 p.m. when Scott whispered there was a deer walking up behind us.  Fortunately, I'd opened that window for air circulation as it was hot, not really expecting much movement back that way.  But sure enough, two antlerless deer were walking virtually the same path we'd taken to get the blind.

Immediately, Scott's breathing and heart rate escalated as I tried to get him to slowly stand up and turn to see if he couldn't pull it off.  The lead doe knew something wasn't quite right and started to veer off stomping her foot.  I told Scott he'd have to hurry as the jig was almost up.  We got the .243 rifle out the window and Scott settled in.  The doe started walking and I grunted to get it to stop and it did.  I barely got the words out "Okay, take your time and shoot when you're ready and remember where to aim."

BOOM!

At the shot, the doe mule-kicked and took off  to the North and disappeared from sight 100 yards away or so.

"Did I get it?" Scott asked.

I told him the shot looked good and the deer's response was encouraging but we'd give it 30 minutes or so.  It was 5:01 p.m.

A few minutes later our tower blind began to shake for a couple seconds.

"You feel that?" Scott asked.

"Yeah, what the heck was it?" I asked

"Earthquake," Scott said.  "We have them all the time."

"Really?" I said. 

Sure enough, at 5:07 p.m. Saturday evening officials reported an earthquake of 3.7 on the Richter Scale in that area and others overnight. 

Knowing we'd need a little daylight to track, and thinking of some of the places I wouldn't want to be in an earthquake, we eased down the ladder about 5: 30 p.m. and took up the trail where I last saw the deer.

I had just found the tiniest speck of blood when Scott calmly says, "There's a rattlesnake."

"Really?" I asked fully expecting to turn around and see a gopher snake or some other non-venomous reptile.

Sure enough.  Coiled tightly in a small ball was a Massasauga rattlesnake about a foot long.  He was trying to rattle but didn't have enough rattles to make much of a sound.  Fortunately, Scott heard it.

"I almost stepped on it!" he said.  "But I heard it rattle and looked down!"

Scott fetched a long stick for me and I used it to move the snake into some thick grass and away from our tracking efforts.  Understandably, I was reluctant to get on my hands and knees to look for blood so I decided to fan out and look first as I was about 95 percent sure the doe was dead nearby.

We meandered around a bit and the Sandhill habitat was thick and wooly.  We would have to be within just a few feet to spot the dead deer.  On a last ditch loop before returning to the last blood I located Scott's deer about 25 yards beyond where we'd last seen it.

"All right!" the youngster exclaimed when he saw the big doe laying there.  "That's awesome!"

His shot was nearly perfect but the bullet didn't mushroom so the exit hole was no bigger than the entrance hole which explained the difficult blood trail.  Coupled with the rattlesnake still vividly etched in my memory I was glad to find it, shoot a few photos and get it gutted and loaded up.

The night was memorable for other youngsters on the hunt, too.  Nine of 15 kids ranging in age from 12-16 years old also killed deer that evening.  And a few of them felt the earthquake as well.  But fortunately we were the only ones with a rattlesnake encounter. 

Scott and I will both remember this hunt for a long time for more reasons than the deer itself and that's a good thing, despite the earthquake and rattlesnake. 

    

   

Tuesday, August 11, 2015

KIDS AND GUNS-A NEW .22

Oftentimes reading the words "kids" and "guns" in the same sentence in mainstream media is cause for concern, particularly these days.  It's sad, really, as firearms aren't bad.  They play an integral part in hunting's heritage and the outdoors.  Guns are necessary to take small and big game, waterfowl and upland birds and kids and adults have been doing it nearly accident-free for decades. 

You can bet any adult hunter remembers their first firearm and many of them likely still own it whether it's a beat-up, rusty old pump shotgun or something a little nicer.  Even if it's been "retired" it likely still has a place of honor in a gun cabinet with fond memories recalled every time it's handled.

My first gun was a Savage over-and-under with a .22 rifle barrel on top and a .410 shotgun barrel below.  It had a hammer and could only be cocked with my dad's permission.  That made shooting at escaping pheasants or quail nearly impossible so bagging the occasional rabbit, squirrel or hedgeball was the highlight of many early hunts. 

Up until this summer my twin boys and I shared a .22 rifle for squirrel hunting.  Or more accurately, I'd tag along and supervise their use of the firearm and they'd try their hand at shooting squirrels.  The boys turned 16 years old this spring and they were ready for their own firearm.  So I bought a Savage Mark II bolt action .22 for them to share (another pitfall of being a twin) when we hunted as both boys don't often go on the same hunt.  And frankly Cody's interest in hunting is higher than his brothers right now so in effect it became "Cody's gun."

Cody was excited about the new gun and helped sight it in.  A nice scope was included and the combination would no doubt be perfect for squirrel hunting.  The accu-trigger took a bit of getting used to in practice but it shot nice groups.  Cody couldn't wait to try it out on a recent, muggy morning.

We eased into the timbered creek bottom right after first shooting light and hit the squirrel call.  Immediately, we got a response from two different squirrels.  Unfortunately, Cody was screened from them and couldn't shoot.  I killed them both and we eased down the creek.

Cody would shoot the next five squirrels in nearly as many shots as the action was consistent over the next hour.  Even squirrels at quite a distance fell to his .22 and it was apparent we had it dialed in pretty good.  He remarked how much he liked "his" new gun with words like "sweet" and "awesome."  It's amazing what success does for confidence.    

Ol' dad finished up with his 5-squirrel limit shortly and we shot a few photos.  We cleaned all 10 squirrels at a low water crossing in a scenic Flint Hills stream and placed them in a cooler for the ride home. 

The next evening both boys and I dined on fried squirrel, fruit salad and a big ear of fresh sweet corn.  Everyone asks what squirrel tastes like and the easy answer is "chicken."  But even more accurately, young squirrel tastes like frog legs although everyone says these also taste like chicken.  It's a vicious circle, but good nonetheless.


Cody will continue to use this .22 on future squirrel hunts and it will likely become "officially" his at some point down the road.  Regardless, he'll remember this outing and the gun he used for years...just like every other hunter that's been down the same path in the great outdoors.

  

Thursday, May 7, 2015

MAY, OH MY, 'EYES!


 
There are two months in the calendar that I wish lasted at least three times as long.  November is king in the outdoor world during the fall.  It's spring counterpart, May, is equally good and outdoor opportunities abound.  There's simply too many things to enjoy during these months and if each were 90 days long it would certainly provide more opportunity to enjoy them.   

May is wonderful for lots of reasons, but one of my favorites is walleye fishing.  And it doesn't get much better than right now.  Walleye are done spawning and move to shallow water to feed making them readily accessible and often predictable.  Many fish are caught in 4-18 feet of water and a variety of techniques produce well.  Some anglers like trolling with crankbaits while others like fishing a nightcrawler, either associated with a jig, spinner or Slow Death rig of some sort.  When it's really on, the nightcrawler is generally the common denominator for those fishing live bait.
 

The 2015 Kansas Fishing Forecast ranks the Top 3 reservoirs for catching walleye as Webster, Kirwin and Cedar Bluff.  Marion, El Dorado, Cheney, Glen Elder and Wilson reservoirs follow in descending order.  However, other reservoirs not near the top, and smaller Kansas waters, can often produce good catches of walleye so don't rule those out, either.


Kansas' state record walleye was actually caught last month, in 1996, from Wilson Reservoir.  It tipped the scales at 13 pounds, 3 ounces.  The world record was caught in 1982 from Arkansas' Greer's Ferry Lake and weighed 22 pounds, 11 ounces.


May is a great month to chase these tasty perch. So whether you hope to set the next state record, or just enjoy fishing for fun, now is the time to get your 'eye on and give it a try.  But you better hurry because there's only three more weeks left in May!  If you can't make it now, the good news is June isn't too bad, either!
     

Friday, April 17, 2015

EASTER EGG TURKEY HUNT

Hurry up, Dad, these things are heavy!
For many youngsters Easter is a time for hunting hidden Easter eggs filled with chocolate goodies.  My kids are old enough now where that's not all that appealing, although they're all about the chocolate gifts they still get from Mom as a substitute for the standard Eastern egg hunt.  So knowing Cody had that in that bag he was game-on for an Easter morning turkey hunt.

Cody's first outing a couple days prior was a bust.  I consider it a good day if we can at least hear turkeys on the roost, see a few and if we get to work a bird that's a bonus, even if we don't kill it.  We had none of that his first hunt but Sunday would make up for it.

We eased up to the blind and were barely inside when we heard the first gobble of the morning.  It would be followed by dozens and dozens more until it got light.  The gobblers sounded off, occasionally, once they hit the ground but it was apparent they had the real-deal girlfriends in their midst. 

Undaunted, Cody and I both kept calling.  It wasn't long and we got the attention of a raucous, rowdy hen, possibly the most audible one I've ever heard.  She yelped, non-stop and LOUD, from a couple hundred yards all the way into our blind location.  It was fun to watch and cool to listen to her before she flew across the creek. 

A short time later we heard something fly back across to our side of the creek.  I assumed it was her as she'd gone silent, but we heard another fly across followed by others.  I called softly and got a thunderous gobble just to our left.  I peaked out the window and saw four longbeards and two jakes in full-strut and a few hens just out of range.  Unfortunately, the hens were feeding away from us and the gobblers followed.
Wow, that was a poke!  Two, actually!


The two jakes were content to stay mostly in one spot wondering if they should come check out our lone hen decoy.  It didn't take any convincing for them to come do battle with five more jakes, none of which were colored up or strutting, that were headed to our decoy from the other direction.  Unfortunately, on their first pass they didn't venture by close enough for a shot.   

After the dust-up, the two jakes, still strutting, eased back towards their group and skirted our decoy.  I asked Cody if he wanted to shoot one and he said, "YES!"  He got lined up and he shot a bird in full strut and it dropped in its tracks.
 
The other one jumped in the air, ran a few yards and stopped and looked back.  I told Cody to shoot that one, too, if he wanted and the words barely left my lips and his 12 gauge barked again with the same result.

"Awesome!" he hollered.

This is better than an Easter egg hunt!
As I looked out of the blind I was a bit taken aback as to how far the birds actually were when he shot.  The first bird was 40 yards and the second one was 53 yards!  I've patterned that gun numerous times and it's a killer out to 50 yards for sure.  The results were perfect and I couldn't have asked for anything better.   

That turkey hunt will be Cody's last as an official "youth" as next year he'll be too old.  The youth season for turkeys and other species has created more wonderful memories than I ever could have imagined.  Each and every hunt was as magical as finding an Easter egg filled completely with M&M's!        

Thursday, April 9, 2015

NIGHT AND DAY DIFFERENT TURKEY HUNT

Anyone that lives in Kansas knows the saying if you don't like the weather just wait 15 minutes and it will change.  That's particularly true at this time of year and the change is sometimes dramatic as evidenced by the recent bout of bad storms that hit south-central Kansas early last Friday morning.

My boys were off of school that day and Cody was game for an early morning turkey hunt as this is the last year he qualifies as a "youth."  However, I would start second-guessing our plans in the middle of the night when the storm came rolling through.  Wind gusts of 80-90 mph and hail the size of quarters found me nearly waking all of my family to head to the basement.  But a couple of them heard the racket (while two slept through the entire event) and we checked the radar and didn't see any warnings. 

The storm moved through fairly quickly.  The only damage I could see was about five sections of privacy fence leveled in my backyard and we lost power.  I woke up a few hours later and we had power back but the wind was still howling.  I woke Cody up and we headed out.  Much of my side of town was without power and we saw light and power poles snapped in two.  Trees and debris littered the roadsides.  I nearly turned around a few minutes outside of town.  I could barely keep my 3/4-ton truck on the road and gripped the steering wheel tightly with both hands as the wind pummeled us.  I wondered aloud if the ground blind would even still be in the same county where it was put up 45 minutes to our east. 

Undaunted, we arrived to find the wind still howling, but actually not too bad in the blind's location and it was indeed still standing.  However, after three hours of calling, hearing nary a peep, we were about ready to leave when Cody spied a couple birds off in the distance.  Confirming them as hens we picked up and chalked one up to next time.

But by afternoon the Kansas weather had moderated and turned into a wonderful spring day.  I was scheduled to assist with our KDWPT youth turkey hunt in Hutchinson and the evening promised to be a good one. 

I was guiding an 11-year-old youngster named Jaggar.  He had participated in the KDWPT youth deer hunt in Harper County last fall and I was with him then when he killed a nice doe, his first deer ever.  This would be his first turkey hunt, too.

We arrived at our blind location to the sounds and sights of turkeys.  Jaggar's eyes were wide as we sneaked into position and got into our blind unseen.  A few calls and less than 5 minutes later we had turkeys headed our way. 

The first one was a bearded hen, followed by another hen, sans the "facial" hair.  I told Jaggar to try
and get on the bearded bird and when he did and was ready he fired.  The bird dropped and others just out of sight ran in front of us.  Several jakes stood around and Jaggar got lined up on one of those and tried his luck again.  A clean miss sent the flock scattering and putting.

It wasn't too long and more hens came by.  Jaggar kept asking if any of them had beards and I told him that wasn't too likely as his first bird, the bearded hen, was somewhat unique.  But a group of hens this time of year doesn't stay lonely long and a tom came over the hill from our left and sidled up to the quintet of hens. 

Jaggar got repositioned to shoot left and he would have to shoot through the blind's mesh.  Once he got in position and ready he shot.

"I got him!" Jaggar hollered.

The big bird flopped a couple times and was still.  We had been in the blind less than 90 minutes and Jaggar had a hunt many kids, or adults for that matter, could only dream of. 

Knowing we'd likely have other youngsters in the same blind the next morning we quietly snuck out and shot a few photos.  On the way back to meet the others from the hunt Jaggar borrowed my cell phone and couldn't wait to call his mother, grandmother and his neighbors that lived across the street to tell them of his good fortunes.  He even promised the latter he'd share the turkey meat with them since he had two birds. 

The two hunts I got to witness that day were night and day different.  It just goes to show you that you have to be in the woods for anything good to happen.  And if it doesn't go according to plan, it makes those times when it does all that much more memorable and that was certainly the case this day.