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 22, 2014

BETTER THAN GOOD FRIDAY! GREAT!

Last Friday was Good Friday.  Some employers give their employees the day off in honor of this religious holiday.  Friday's weather was ideal and the perfect excuse to spend some time in the great outdoors for one couple, Dale and Zita Wallace.

Dale recently retired and Zita had the day off from work.  Not wanting to get in too big of hurry, and catching up on some well-deserved rest, Zita opted to sleep in and take it easy.  A leisurely start to the morning found the couple setting up in a turkey blind about 9 a.m. on land where Zita grew up.  She's fished all her life and hunted on occasion, but really enjoyed turkey hunting since the couple met and married two decades ago.
     

"I love turkey hunting," Zita said.  "It's spring, and you've been inside all winter and it's just nice to get out."

Dale fired off a few yelps on his turkey call and got a response nearly too remote to register. 

"He couldn't have been any further away," Dale laughed.

But the love-sick tom was looking for company.  He took his sweet time coming hundreds of yards until he finally broke into their field and stepped up his pace a bit when he spotted the decoys.  He was gobbling and strutting as Dale was videotaping the hunt on his cell phone.  The big gobbler eased closer and the audible click of the safety on Zita's 12 gauge meant she was about to get down to business.  The 21-pound tom, undeterred, kept strutting right into range.

"BOOM!" and the turkey started flopping.

"It about knocked me off my bucket," Zita said laughing as Dale panned over to her to get her reaction.

Zita's bird was a beautiful one.  After posing for a few photos, the couple laid a plan for the rest of the day.

"Let's go crappie fishing," Dale said.

Zita didn't need any convincing so they loaded up a small boat and headed to a watershed pond nearby.

The afternoon was gorgeous as Dale rowed and the couple fished.  Trying to catch crappie they were armed with ultralight gear and small jigs.  Although crappie wouldn't cooperate much, that didn't stop big bass, and lots of bass, from biting.

"Dale caught the most, but I caught the biggest," Zita laughed. 

And big it was!  Although they didn't have a scale, Zita's largemouth bass looked to be at least 6-7 pounds, maybe bigger.  Another lunker largemouth in the 4-5 pound range had Zita particularly pleased with her fishing success and the day as a whole.

"It was just a wonderful day," she said.  "It was absolutely perfect and we enjoyed every minute of it."  

Wednesday, April 9, 2014

DONUTS SAVE THE DAY!

Turkey hunting is a blast and enjoyed by young and old alike.  My twin 15-year-old boys have enjoyed chasing turkeys since they shot their first birds at age 7.  Now, it's a matter of busy school and sports schedules, and their willingness to make the early morning wake-up call as to how often they make it to the turkey woods.  Teenagers LOVE to sleep in. 

Teenagers also LOVE to eat!  I'm to the point now I hide food in the house from my boys, just so it lasts longer than 24 hours.  And food, particularly snacks of all kinds, have been a staple in their early years outdoors outings.  Most kids are as content as their tummies are full so snacks were important for trips expected to last any length of time.  It's really no different now.  The snacks are just bigger and there's more of them.

So it comes as no surprise that Cody and I descended upon a Butler County river bottom armed with a big thermos of hot chocolate and a sack full of donuts last Saturday morning.  I had to hide the bag in the truck so Cody wouldn't eat them all before we got there.  I'm kidding but only a little.

The morning was perfect with a pleasant chill hanging in the air.  The roosted turkeys started
gobbling as we nestled into a ground blind after deploying one lone hen decoy.  Unfortunately, they were WAY west of their usual location and I wondered aloud of our chances.  I called enough to let them know there were turkeys over here, too, and we watched the sun come up.

A nice tom followed two hens into our field and my hopes soared.  If the gobbler won't come, oftentimes you can call to the hens and get them to come in.  But they really had no rhyme or reason to anything they did before finally wandering off into the timber.  It was still a thrill as Cody would watch the strutting tom with binoculars and gaze at a half-dozen deer coming and going, too. 

An occasional gobble would keep our spirits high over the next hour.  A pair of jakes came to investigate our calling but they approached from behind and made a good shot difficult before finally making an escape.  Another hour passed with no turkeys sighted or sounded.   

The bottom of the donut bag was nearly visible when I told Cody we'd eat one last donut each before calling it a day.  I chugged a little hot chocolate to rinse my mouth and popped my diaphragm turkey call back in for one last series of yelps.  It was 9:42 a.m. 

After just the first few yelps we heard a gobble WAY off in the timber on the other end of the field.  Encouraged, I told Cody we may not be done yet.  I called again and another gobbling reply was immediate.  A couple minutes later three toms entered the field in single file, two of them in full strut.  I liked our chances. 

The three gobblers SLOWLY made their way towards our location.  Unfortunately for Cody he couldn't watch the procession as they came from the right on my side and there was only a sliver of window open that way.  But he didn't have any trouble hearing them gobbling each time I called.

The birds finally got close enough I knew it was going to get good.  Cody was in position with his 12 gauge pointed out the front window towards the decoys.  It was now up to at least one of the gobblers to seal his own fate and turn towards the decoy to strut his stuff.

But for whatever reason, and turkeys often don't have any, they walked right to the edge of the timber and up to our blind.  They were all in full strut now and gobbling like crazy as I tried to coax them on out into the field and in front of Cody's gun.  Every soft purr from my slate call elicited thunderous gobbles that rattled the blind as they were less than 10 feet away. 

Just when I thought we were going to close the deal I heard heavy wing beats.  I looked out just in time to see the lead gobbler fly across the creek behind us.  The remaining two were poised to do the same so we would have to scramble if Cody was going to get a shot.  Cody jumped up and I grabbed his seat to get it out of the way.  I told him to spin around and stick the gun out the back through an opening in the window about the size of a softball.  More wing beats and the second and third turkey flew across the creek but were still well within shotgun range.    

I yelped with my mouth call to try and delay their exit while Cody got lined up.  I told him to shoot the last one if he could get on him and his gun barked and the big gobbler went down.

"There's another one!" Cody whispered as another gobbler turned to see why his buddy was flopping on the creek bank.

"Shoot him!" I told him since he had two tags.   

I couldn't see this one from my vantage point so I wasn't sure what happened next after Cody shot again.

"Did you get him?" I asked

"Yep!" he squealed.

It was 10:30 a.m.



Both of Cody's gobblers were big, nice, beautiful birds.  The first one he shot weighed 20 pounds with a 9-inch beard and the second one was 22 pounds with a 10-inch beard.  Cody was grinning from ear-to-ear as we shot photos.  I was a proud Dad.

"Good thing we had a couple donuts left, huh?" I asked Cody as we loaded up to head back to town.

"No doubt!" he said. "Are we going to stop somewhere to eat on the way home?"

I just laughed. 



           

Wednesday, April 2, 2014

OPENING MORNING MAGIC


Signs of spring abound.  Cardinals are singing, trees are blooming and the wind howls most days.  Another sure sign spring is here is turkey season kicked off April 1st.  There's no better way to celebrate the new season than spending the morning in the woods listening to the natural world awake.

A gobbling turkey is my second favorite sound.  Whistling waterfowl wings are my favorite, but a tom sounding off from the tree or ground isn't far behind.  It's a sound I never tire of hearing, either.  I can often gauge the success of a hunt by the amount of gobbling I hear and I'm satisfied if I hear a serenade.  Almost.  My goal is still to shoot a turkey, though. 

So opening morning found me accompanying a friend, Dale, to his property on the edge of the Flint Hills.  It's a beautiful section of Kansas and teaming with wildlife of all kinds.  We've had success in the past so I was looking forward to opening morning.

I arrived at 6 a.m. and we headed down through a creek crossing and made our way to the edge of a wheat field.  A big pasture bordered it on the south and the river meandered behind us.  Dale had set up a ground blind on a point where our location would find us scanning the entire field and visible from most directions. 

As if on cue, a barred owl sounded off with his usual hooting routine and a turkey gobbled just as Dale reached for the zipper on the door of the blind. 

"That's a good sign!" I whispered.  "I think we're in the right spot." 

Dale placed a strutting gobbler decoy, along with two hens, about 20 yards away in front of us.  We got comfortable inside the blind and the birds, far off to the west, would gobble at any loud noise.  More owl hoots, Canada geese and the occasional train whistle had numerous gobblers firing a shock gobble reply regularly. 
   

I was armed with a crossbow and Dale had his compound bow.  Although my kids have killed several deer with this crossbow, I've never killed anything with it.  I've killed a half-dozen or more gobblers with my Mathews compound bow but decided to give the recently-legalized crossbow a whirl. 

The morning was beautiful and a brisk 26 degrees made the morning fresh.  However, little wind made that temperature plenty bearable, particularly in the confines of the ground blind.  There were turkeys gobbling in a couple different directions and as day broke the hens started their chatter, too. 

We called, to no birds in particular, to let them know there were other options for the morning's agenda.  The birds, as they often do, got much quieter on the ground after fly-down.  But we could still monitor their location with the occasional gobble and hen yelps. 

It wasn't too long and Dale spotted the first visitors of the morning entering the field far to the west through a tree row.  He laughed as he tried to count the birds as they filed in and he lost track.  Before they were done, their numbers reached about 50 with at least 14 longbeards in full strut.  Unfortunately, there were two or three hens for each tom which often makes things difficult, particularly early in the season. 

Our assumptions were correct.  No matter how much calling, of various kinds or not, none of the toms would venture our way.  We could get a couple of the toms to nearly hyperventilate gobbling at our calls but they wouldn't leave their buffet of hens.  After they paraded down the middle of the field getting no closer than 125 yards, they all eventually filed out and headed off into the pasture.  We were left staring at an empty field and three decoys.

About 20 minutes later Dale whispered to "look over there" as he pointed to our right.  Two more toms had entered the field following a lone hen.  We started to call again and the hen yelped back and the toms gobbled.  We liked our chances until two toms from the original gang came back into the field and the two toms who were accompanying the hen folded up shop and sulked to the back corner of the field. 

The hen got to our decoys but didn't like the blind or decoys, putted a few times and eased off within several feet of our blind and flew across the creek.  The two toms from the original gang must have realized she wasn't worth the effort and turned tail and headed back out to pasture. 

So we started calling again and the two toms with the recently-vacated hen weren't out of ear-shot yet.  In fact, they were quite vocal and both came around the edge of the field following the river,  Both were in full strut, spitting and drumming as they inched closer, a few feet at a time.  It was awesome. 

The first bird came into view and Dale told me the bigger bird was in the back about 10 yards behind.  I was ready to shoot the first one and he and I both knew I wouldn't wait on the second one.  I tend to get a bit excited and figured I'd take the bird in hand before something went wrong.

The 2-year-old gobbler strutted towards the decoys as I lined him up, aiming at the base of his wing joint.  At the shot, he jumped into the air and came down motionless, although his head was up.

"Get another arrow" Dale whispered as he saw the other tom make a beeline for the downed gobbler.  I knew I couldn't reload without being seen so I told Dale to get his bow and shoot the second bird who was now pecking mine in the back of the head.  Much to our surprise, my bird staggered up and flopped to the edge of the river before Dale could get his bow lined up.  And after more insult to injury from his former running mate, my bird flapped across the river just behind us into some thick grass. 

We waited just a bit to see if any more birds would come in.  I knew my bird wasn't going far and it would be nice to see if Dale could get a chance at one, too.  But it wasn't to be.

My bird didn't go anywhere after it got across the river and was right where it should have been.  He was a nice bird with a beard about 8-9 inches long (although the thickest portion was only about 6 inches long) and probably weighed about 21-22 pounds.  Dale and I both slapped high-fives and celebrated one of the most picture-perfect mornings imaginable. 

It was a spectacle for sure and the gobbling and strutting alone was worth every moment.  I would have been satisfied with the just that experience but I was glad I killed a turkey.  Another opening morning of the Kansas turkey season was in the books and I was anxious for a repeat performance at some point in the near future. 





     



Thursday, March 27, 2014

HOORAY FOR SPRING!

It's a little-known fact, I'm not much of a fan of winter.  Actually, my coworkers and friends know my feelings all too well.  I even wrote a poem called "I Hate Winter."  But for accuracy-sake I usually only recite it during bitter cold conditions.  Extended periods of single digits make me grumpy...and cold.

Don't get me wrong, many of the things I truly enjoy happen during the winter.  I love waterfowl hunting and trapping gets good when conditions chill out.  And some of the best crappie fishing of the year occurs in December and January and I'm game for that, too.


This winter was particularly troublesome for me, as it was a realistic Kansas winter for a change.  It was cold and snowy, off and on for a couple months.  While some are fans of ice fishing, I did my share back when and don't enjoy fishing through an 8-inch hole much anymore.  That's what they make boats for but it's hard to do when it kept freezing and thawing.  That's normal Kansas, though, and we've been spoiled the last few winters.

But long last I think spring is here.  It was only a few weeks ago and we were still breaking ice on early morning boat fishing expeditions.  I'm glad when ice leaves for good.  My favorite ice serves solely to keep a drink cold.  Good riddance. 

Late February and March can still find crappie, wipers, white bass, walleye and saugeye still roaming their winter haunts.  It's been good at times, too, in the last couple weeks.  Provided the wind isn't blowing 40 m.p.h. it's worth a shot. 

If crappie break up and bug out of their big winter schools look for them in brush piles or on the edges of river or creek channels.  Numbers of fish are often easy to come by, size is another matter depending on the body of water being fished.  Fish can be found from 10 to 25 feet of water.

And it's not uncommon to catch white bass or wipers in these same areas.  Oftentimes you'll catch a bunch of one or the other, but seldom both as these fish tend to school up according to their own kind.
 

Jigs, many anglers choose 1/8-ounce, others 1/4-ounce, fished with a plastic body are good bets.  Most are fished down in the brush or just above it.  If there's no brush, fish near the bottom within a foot of it.  And if that doesn't work, and you can mark fish with your electronics, adjust accordingly.     

There's no guarantee we're done with winter as it could still snow in April.  But here's hoping ol' man winter packed his bags and is gone for good. 

For the absolute latest up-to-date information on quantity and quality of any fish species, check out the 2014 Kansas Fishing Forecast.  Be sure to check out the 2014 Kansas Fishing Regulations as well.  And if you want to get maps of some of the best Kansas fishing waters (both private and public) open to angler access, don't forget the 2014 Kansas Fishing Atlas.  All of this information is available from regional or state park offices of the Kansas Department of Wildlife, Parks and Tourism, or online at www.ksoutdoors.com.     

Good fishing!


     

Wednesday, January 22, 2014

HAPPY BIRTHDAY, HUNTER!

Birthdays mean different things to different people.  As I get older, they don't have the same meaning as they used to, although I'm certainly glad to keep having them as the alternative isn't good.  Youngsters are always glad to celebrate a birthday as that often means presents, cake and ice cream, usually in that order.

While many birthday presents for youngsters these days often center around electronics or video games, there are still a few kids who cherish those gifts related to the outdoors.  I remember getting a few during my adolescence and they were some of the most memorable, both big and small.  I met a youngster recently, Hunter, who will likely have a similar memory after a winter crappie ice fishing trip on the docks at Pomona's Lighthouse Bay Marina. 

"I'm 12 but I'll be 13 in three days," Hunter said at the time.  "I got this fishing pole from my mom and her boyfriend and they gave it to me early so I could use it."   

And use it he did.  The youngster caught several nice crappie and took them to the adjacent dock to put in his other family member's bucket.

"I got another one!" he hollered as he walked. 

After a half-dozen fish, Hunter's family was quick to follow him back to his honey hole, or actually holes.

"I caught one in this hole, that hole and that one, too," he pointed.


Hunter's enthusiasm was contagious and entertaining. 

"Fish ON!" he'd holler as he set the hook. 

Adult anglers around him were smiling and laughing each time he caught a fish.  Hunter was eager to share his secrets with his family and other anglers.  And the youngster was willing to share the wealth, too.  As he took off his most recent fish, he turned back around to see another youngster, much older and larger, fishing the hole where he just caught the fish.  The older kid began to reel up and was about to give the hole back when Hunter said, "That's okay, you can fish there.  I'll just fish this one over here."

The fishing rod and reel he'd received as an early birthday present was being put to good use.  His mom and her boyfriend signed the cork handle with loving birthday wishes.  The youngster will likely remember his 13th birthday for many years.  He was obviously enjoying the moment and it reminded me of my youth, too.  I smiled just watching him.

Here's hoping, Hunter, that you catch many more fish with that birthday present.  Happy Birthday, Hunter!

Thursday, January 9, 2014

NATURE'S GARBAGE DISPOSALS


CAN YOU FIND THREE SCAVENGERS?
The food chain is an interesting connection of all things natural.  Some animals eat plants and are in turn eaten by other animals that eat meat.  Generally, bigger animals eat smaller ones and the food web is often varied.  It's a unique relationship that's worked well for centuries, for the most part. 


But there's never been any doubt that many animals are opportunists, eating dead or decaying carcasses, and nothing in nature goes to waste.  After field dressing deer I've tossed the gut pile aside, only to return a day or two later and find it completely gone with nary a trace of anything left.  Mother Nature's animals are efficient beyond imagination.
SKUNKS RULE!

I've always wondered about what animals are capitalizing on these offerings.  Over the past few years I've tried to find out just who or what is responsible for slicking up similar offerings of nasty leftovers and remnant scraps.  In order to do that I've placed trail cameras, both those that shoot video and still photos, on various carcass piles. 

On my most recent experiment I had a dozen or so cleaned goose and duck carcasses and the rib cage and legs of a deer carcass.  I wired all of the waterfowl to a stake and did the same with the deer leftovers.  It didn't take long for the pile of leftovers to be reduced to a pile of nothing but a few feathers. 

WILE E.
While coyotes are obviously an efficient scavenger and commonly observed, I've been absolutely amazed at the skunk activity.  One photo shows five skunks contentedly chowing down on venison and fowl.  I shouldn't say contentedly as some of the videos show in detail how skunks don't play well with others, even with other scavengers that could and do eat them.  Several videos show skunks, tails high in the air, bluff-charging both bobcats and more than one coyote on occasion.  And these apex predators want nothing to do with the black and white attitude and turn tail and run.  A honey badger has nothing on a skunk. 


BEFORE
AFTER

There's only been one common denominator in all of these experiments.  Within a week or two, rarely more, the pile is reduced to absolutely nothing save a few traces of feathers or hair.  Mother Nature's garbage disposals are efficient.  It's kind of fun to watch, too, and I'd never really know how it worked without the cameras.  Nothing goes to waste and the food chain continues to function as intended.       


Friday, January 3, 2014

OUT WITH A BANG

The new year is here and the 2013 duck season is history.  It was a great one for sure as both water and ducks returned to the Sunflower State once again and all was good in the duck hunters' world.  And so it was last weekend on the final days of the Kansas duck season I found myself ringside once again to send the 2013 duck season out with a bang.

I joined several friends, Jim, Matt and Ty for a big river hunt.  The morning was a brisk 23 degrees with a relatively fresh coating of snow blanketing the countryside.  The river had just opened back up after a stint in the deep freeze.  Conditions looked favorable for a wonderful morning with bluebird skies and a decent breeze.

But someone forgot to inform the ducks of our plans that morning.  Save a loan honker scratched from a group of geese flying the river at daybreak our pickings were relatively slim for the first two hours.  We saw a couple small groups of ducks but they were off in the distance and apparently had definite plans.

We had just got done discussing the "good ol' days" when huge flocks of greenheads, sometimes numbering in the hundreds would descend from the heavens and land in our spread.  It had been quite some time since we've seen that but our luck was about to change when Jim spotted a flock of mallards and they looked interested.  Soon, several smaller flocks became one and it numbered nearly 100 birds. 

Plenty of calling and several passes later some finally got close enough to go.  Guns blazed and ducks started falling.  Five greenheads floated in front of us as Trav, Jim's yellow Lab, hustled to get them slicked up.  Although we should have killed more from the flock we were in awe of the spectacle they just provided.  The mere site of those birds cupped and committed is still vividly etched in my mind.   

A short time later we had a flock of big Canada geese that acted interested in the full body goose decoys we had sitting nearby on the sandbar.  Jim and Matt started pleading with them to join us and the sounds of their calls convinced them to venture too close on one pass and we killed three nice honkers from the bunch.

And we weren't done with the ducks, either.  We were blessed with a repeat performance from another nice flock of mallards.  Although not quite as large, the results were the same and five mallards splashed down belly up.  We added another single a short time later and ended the morning with 11mallards and four big Canada geese. 

The morning shoot wasn't hot and heavy by any means.  Those two flocks of ducks really saved the day.  But the experiences of what few birds we worked will be enough to tide us over until our duck segment opens back up for a week at the end of this month.  We'll be back after them hoping more bluebird skies are filled with big greenheads and they're locked up.  Here's hoping the 2014 duck season starts the way the 2013 one ended.