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

Thursday, October 29, 2015


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."


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


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


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


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


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.       


Tuesday, March 24, 2015


I can remember taking the Kansas Hunter Education Course in 1974 when I was 9 years old.  It was like a rite of passage into the hunting world and I held on to my hunter education card and accompanying patch like it was gold.  While the sewn-on patch likely got tossed when I outgrew my first hunting vest, I still have the original card nearly 41 years later. 

During that time there have been few changes to the curriculum of the Kansas Hunter Education Program.  It still focuses on creating a safe, responsible, educated and ethical hunter and gives any student all the information they need to enjoy hunting and the outdoor world. 

To date, the Kansas Hunter Education Program has certified nearly 536,000 students since the
program began 42 years ago.  The success of the program isn't possible without the support of roughly 1,200 volunteer instructors who donate their time and share their passion for hunting.  Many have decades of experience teaching the course and all take pride in seeing students take the course and go on to enjoy  and participate in hunting, no matter the species pursued. 

There have been several changes related to the Kansas Hunter Education Program and the first one happened about a decade ago.  It allowed any youngster to go hunting, provided they were supervised by an adult, without having to complete the course.  And the minimum age to become certified as a student was 11 years old.

This option opened the door for kids to get started hunting at an earlier age and I took full advantage of it.  My twin boys were 7 years old the first time they turkey hunted and sat between my legs as we leaned against a tree with their gun resting on shooting sticks in front of us.  Over the course of the next 8 years they participated in deer and waterfowl hunting, too, and enjoyed it all and were successful some years, and missed opportunities in others. 

However, since they turn 16 years old today, they had to take the Kansas Hunter Education Course and they did this past weekend.  I chose the Internet-assisted course where they studied and tested online and then participated in a field day followed by the final test to complete the rest of the course and receive their certification.  The Internet option is also relatively new (rather than the standard 10 hours of classroom instruction) and a great way for busy families to complete the course.
The boys learned a lot and I was happy to sit through the class again (for the third time as I also went through it with my daughter when she was 9 years old).  I'm always amazed at the enthusiasm of the instructors and applaud their efforts.   

When we got home I gave each son a Kansas lifetime hunting license I'd purchased in 2005 (before they increased in price from $300 to $440) as an early birthday present for their 16th birthday.  They were thrilled and proud as they stowed this and their Kansas Hunter Education card in their wallets. 

Who knows, maybe they'll hold on to theirs for the next four decades and be able to tell their own kids, my grandkids, about the Kansas Hunter Education Program and its success.  Regardless, I'm proud to know they'll get to enjoy the great outdoors.  Here's hoping they enjoy it even half as much as I have since I was their age.

Tuesday, March 17, 2015


Anyone that knows history is well aware of the value of beavers and the fur trade to settlement.  Historically, trapping and beaver hides were instrumental in the culture and bartering of early life on the Great Plains.  Today, although we don't use beaver pelts in trade, their presence is still much a part of rural and even urban Kansas and they are quite common in many locations. 

However, North America's largest rodent can cause substantial tree damage and their dams can flood agricultural and other prime land holdings making a giant, sometimes monetarily-significant, mess.  Like other furbearers, the control of their populations is necessary and beneficial in ordinary situations, but absolute where they're causing damage. 

So when a friend e-mailed me complaining of beaver problems I was eager to assist.  It seems beavers had built a couple dams and were backing water up where it didn't belong and worse yet, they were chewing down trees nightly.  While most of the seasons for other furbearers ended in mid-February, the beaver season runs through the end of March.  So I loaded up a few beaver traps last weekend to see if I couldn't help him out and get rid of a few beavers.

The tree damage was easily visible along the creek and the dams were substantial.  After a little
scouting I found their lodge and got busy setting a 330 body-gripping trap on a tall, H-stand to reach the bottom in one of two runs in 3 feet of water.  No sooner than I got the second one in place I saw the top of the other stand twitch like something hit it.  I had never caught a beaver that quick, nor seen one get caught, but assumed there would be much more commotion when it happened.  But there wasn't and the 35 pound beaver died quickly and humanely. 

I had to go back to my vehicle to get my setters/tool to reset the trap with the beaver in it.  In the meantime, I saw my friend driving by and asked him if he wanted to see how quickly I had worked on his beaver problem. 

"Did you catch one already?" he asked in disbelief.

"I did!" I replied.

He wanted to see it so he followed me down the creek bank.  The beaver's tail was floating at the surface and while my friend said, "That's awesome you already caught one!" I glanced over and saw the second trap stand was moved out of position a few inches from where I'd set it. 

"I might have another one," I said as I walked over to it. 

My suspicions were confirmed when I pulled that stand up and another 35 pound beaver was dead in that trap.  In a matter of minutes I'd caught more than 70 pounds of beaver and I was off to a good start in removing the animals causing the problems.  

The check the next morning would be successful as well.  I caught three more beavers and two of them were similarly sized to the ones the day before.  However, the last one was CONSIDERABLY larger than the others and later weighed a whopping 55 pounds.  In just two days I had five beavers weighing nearly 200 pounds.  Subsequently, three days of empty traps told me I might have solved his problem, at least for now.
I skinned all of the beavers and I'm in the process of fleshing, stretching and drying the pelts to send with the rest of my other furs to sell at auction in a couple weeks.  Trapping beavers is hard work, but rewarding in the fact I helped out a friend, while at the same time realizing a small monetary reward for my efforts, much like early settlers did way back when.