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, March 24, 2015

HUNTER ED STILL TRAINING HUNTERS 4 DECADES LATER

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

DAM BEAVERS!

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. 

                

Friday, February 27, 2015

IT'S ALWAYS FISHING "SEASON!"



With the recent, on-again, off-again bouts of good and bad weather, I've had numerous people I've met say, "I can't wait for fishing season."  I'm always amazed at that particular take on angling, but not real surprised.  After all, winter months are typically reserved for many hunting seasons and I love those, too. 

You have to be a little dedicated, or a little crazy, or some of both, to fish year-round, in Kansas.  But that's all I know and some of the best fishing trips of the year, especially for crappie, take place in December, January and February.

Granted, I'm not as die-hard as I once was as I used to fish in snow and sleet, provided the wind didn't howl.  Wind is the biggest limiting factor and too much is exactly that in the winter.  Now that I'm older and wiser (maybe tired and lazy), I don't fish in those conditions any more.  But in Kansas, even in the middle of winter, we have enough nice days to pick and choose and find at least a couple a month to hook up the boat and head to the lake.  Granted, we're often bundled up in full winter gear of coveralls, coats, stocking hats and gloves, but you have to when the temp's are still in the 20's and 30's.  I prefer 40's and 50's, but you have to work with what Mother Nature deals you.     

Ice is also a limiting factor.  While some anglers love ice fishing, I'm not a fan.  Actually, I'm not a fan of BAD ice fishing.  I love GOOD ice fishing, but when it's not it's far-fetched for me to believe something good is going to happen in that 8-inch column of water I'm covering.  That's why I'd rather be sitting on the front of my boat.  It's comfortable and way more mobile. 

That's exactly what a few friends and I decided to do recently just prior to this round of winter weather.  We loaded up a couple boats and headed out to a nearby reservoir shortly after lunch.  My buddies had been catching plenty of crappie and this would be my first trip out in a month or so.  I would soon be glad I made the trip.

We had to break rotten ice much of the way to our intended destination in the upper end.  Our plan was to fish river channel breaks and finding a brush pile on said location would be a bonus.  We hit a couple spots where they'd caught them previously and caught only a handful of smaller crappie with one decent-sized 11 incher.

It wasn't long and my buddies in the other boat managed to find some hungry fish.  They didn't mind sharing and we eased up and started catching crappie, too.  We were fishing 13-17 feet of water as we dropped 1/8-ounce jigs to the bottom and reeled up one crank.  The color of plastics didn't seem to matter as black and pink, blue and chartreuse and several other combinations produced fish.
 
The action for both boats was steady and success would come and go.  Moving a little up and down the break, and up and down the channel, we'd pick up more fish and then cycle back to previous locations when one spot slowed.  The wind was predicted to switch to the north and howl and we were hoping to boat just a few more before that happened.  At about 4:30 it switched and we tried one more spot before calling it a day just ahead of the next front that would effectively shut down fishing this way for at least a week.  The single digit nightly lows will likely lock the lake up to the point the ice will be too thick to break.

Each boat had dozens of crappie to clean and a mess for everyone to take plenty home.  None of the fish were huge and my boat had nothing over 12 1/2 inches.  Most crappie were 10-11 1/2 inches and in my book those are perfect eaters.  One small fillet, dipped in Andy's Yellow or Shore Lunch batter and deep-fried, is a bite-sized morsel fit for a King.  I'll have to savor the flavor of these last few fillets until I get another chance to go as it's always fishing season! 

   

Tuesday, February 3, 2015

HONKER HEAVEN

Canada geese are plentiful in the Sunflower State right now and it's a great time to be a goose hunter.  The season lasts until February 15th so there's still time if you haven't got out or want to take it right up to the end and hunt every last minute.  I had a hunt last week that was a little of both and it reminded me of why I liked it so much. 

I used to hunt Canada geese fairly frequently back in the day and did fairly well on many trips.  In a season's time I'd shoot 50-70 honkers and that's when the limit was two, and later three birds per day.  But a gradual shift to mostly duck hunting saw the numbers of honkers I'd kill each season shrink to the fingers on one hand, or two if I was lucky when they dropped in for a visit to mostly duck decoys on the reservoirs or rivers.

So after a buddy invited me on a field honker hunt last week I was excited. He'd been doing well and it had been a long time since I'd laid in a field and waited on the big black and white birds resembling B52's.  Despite years of experience I admit I had a little trouble going to sleep the night prior anxiously thinking about the next morning's hunt.

My buddy and his son killed several geese the night prior and just left the decoys in the field.  However, the wind shifted 180 degrees in direction and we had to move the decoys.  Worse yet, the velocity increased 10-fold and it was gusting 30-40 mph. 

A little wind isn't bad and a lot is workable.  However, there was one point where we had most of our roughly 2 dozen full-body goose decoys on their side or tumbling.  Too much! 

We were persistent putting them back up and the first flock of the morning paid a quick visit and we each dumped a big honker from that flock.  But like they sometimes do, subsequent flocks started dumping on an adjacent field.  No worries.  My buddy took off to get them up.  It was interesting to watch as I saw a group fly over him and he shot once and killed two birds. 

I ended up going out and laying in the decoys under a big shell decoy.  The birds would come in almost perfect and then veer at the last minute.  However, enough of them ventured too close that I killed four more nice big birds when my buddy returned about an hour later and he, too, had added four more so we were both one bird shy of a limit.

Birds were still flying and we hunkered into the waterway adjacent to our decoys.  The wind had dropped considerably and a flock of big Canadas circled and two peeled out for a final approach.  Perfect.  My buddy shot the lead bird and I cleaned up the back bird and we were done with a nice two-man limit of 12 honkers. 

It was a great morning.  I commented this was my first 6-bird Canada goose limit ever and I was real glad I didn't have to carry them all out of the field as I'm guessing I had roughly 60 pounds of geese.  It was nice to drive right up, load up the decoys and be on our way.  Here's hoping I can get out again at least one more time before the season closes. 
   

Thursday, January 22, 2015

THE ARMLESS ARCHER

Shooting a bow isn’t easy. Shooting a bow accurately is more difficult. Now imagine trying all this without any arms.

“I Googled ‘How to Teach a Guy without Arms to Shoot a Bow,’ and as you might guess there weren’t a lot of things that came up in that search on You Tube or Google,” laughed Matt Stutzman.

But there is now, thanks to Stutzman who has been dubbed The Armless Archer.

An otherwise healthy baby, Stutzman,32, was born in Kansas City, Kans., without any arms. His birth parents were soon overwhelmed with the obvious challenges that lied ahead and he was put up for adoption. A short time later he was adopted by Leon and Jean Stutzman. A remarkably patient, compassionate strong-willed couple, Matt’s parents guided him through an able-bodied world.

“My parents never treated me differently,” he said. “They were always pushing me to get the best out of life. The reality was that my arms were never going to grow back, so, I remember them telling me I could sit around the house and feel sorry for myself or I could work my butt off and do something constructive with my life.”

As a result of that mentality, there is nothing in Stutzman’s house modified for him to live. He enjoys hunting, fishing and anything to do with cars. He can eat, write, type, drive, care for this children, play the guitar and even change the brakes on his car…all with his feet.

“You would think a guy with no arms would have some modifications, but I don’t have any,” Stutzman said. “My parents taught me to look at obstacles in a different way and I’ve basically taught myself how to adapt to the world, instead of the world adapting itself to me.”

Stutzman’s initial interest with archery was for bowhunting to join his father hunting in Iowa where he grew up. Little did he know his love of archery would take him far and wide and have the impact it has had on his life now.

Stutzman is a competitive archer on the U.S. National Team and travels all over the world competing at a high level and is doing that as a career. He has set numerous national archery records and won a Silver Medal at the 2012 Paralympic Games in London. And he’s done it all using his feet. He describes the process of how he learned to shoot a bow without arms.

“I got a Scott Silver Horn release aid off the shelf, just like any other hunter would have,” Stutzman said. “But instead of putting that release on my wrist, since I didn’t have any, I put it around my right shoulder.”

Stutzman stands on one leg and uses his other foot to take an arrow and nock it on his bow which rests upright on the stabilizer.

“I hold the bow with my right foot and bring it up to my shoulder and hook it up to my release and then I push my right leg away from my body drawing the bow,” he described. “Once I get to this point, I anchor and aim which puts the trigger of the release aid on my right jawbone. When I’m ready to shoot, I move my jaw backwards just a little bit and that shoots the bow.”

Stutzman will demonstrate his bow shooting at the Monster Buck Classic-We Are Kansas! show at the Topeka ExpoCentre Jan. 23-25, 2015. He will be doing three shows on Saturday and a couple on Sunday with times to be announced.

“I basically tell some of my story,” Stutzman said. “I love comedy, I love humor so there are a lot of stories I tell that have happened to me throughout life that are just funny like getting pulled over by the cops and their reaction to a guy driving with no arms and things like that.” “I’ll also be doing some trick shooting and then wrap things up with some good ol’ motivational-type stuff,” he said. “I’ll bring my Silver Medal with me that I got in London and people are welcome to stop by and they can take pictures with it and even wear it and I’ll be glad to visit with them.”

In addition to target archery, Stutzman loves to bowhunt. He’s taken deer and turkeys with archery equipment and loves the outdoors.

“I hunt as often as possible and if I didn’t have so many other events going on I’d probably be in the woods 24/7,” he laughed. “I love it and it’s a way to put food on the table and we eat everything I shoot.”

Stutzman now lives in Tooele, Utah, with his wife of 10 years and three sons ages 2,7 and 9. In a nutshell, Stutzman’s message is simple at any of the inspirational programs he presents at schools and big businesses and they’re words he lives by every day.

“You know, life gets hard a lot of times and there are a lot of ups and downs and everyone has issues they have to deal with or go through,” he said. “But if you can just keep your head down, keep grinding away at it and be positive about life, things will get better and you’ll be successful.”

Tuesday, January 13, 2015

MEATEATER

The Kansas deer seasons are drawing to a close in most units.  There are still a few open that allow hunters to harvest an antlerless white-tailed deer if they choose.  Fortunately, one of these was open in the area I hunt as I was a little lean on deer meat in my freezer this year.
 

Normally, in a given season my kids and I will take anywhere from a couple deer to four or five, depending on how often we get out.  However, this season the only deer to ride home in the back of my truck was the nice buck I bow-killed on Halloween Eve.  And I gave that one (with a completed transfer slip-page 16 of the 2014 Kansas Hunting and Furharvesting Regulations Summary) to my buddy who helped track and haul it out.  He absolutely LOVES deer meat and hadn't killed one so I knew he'd put it to good use in the coming year in tacos, spaghetti, chili, burgers, steaks, summer sausage and jerky. Plus, I figured I'd shoot another or my kids would, too.

But as the calendar flipped to 2015 I still hadn't put any venison in the freezer.  Whoops.  My boys didn't get out as much as they have in the past for one reason or another and my daughter was busy wrapping up her Senior year in college and didn't hunt so my freezer was void of deer meat. 

When temperatures plummet and I don't want to be outside, like recent weeks, I like to make several batches of venison jerky.  Most of it gets eaten right out of the dehydrator and it's good stuff.  I try to hide a little back for spring fishing trips but most of it never makes it that far if two teenage boys find it.  They're like bloodhounds when it comes to that stuff.
BEFORE-Ready for the grill!

The original plan for last-minute venison called for one of my twin boys, Cody, to go with me and he would shoot a doe with a rifle.  However, a 15-year-old's internal clock doesn't seem to function well before 10 a.m. on a weekend, particularly when a buddy spends the night and all three of them stay up late playing video games.  Oh well.

So I did a last minute swap of Cody's .243 rifle for my 30-06 rifle.  Mind you, the spot I had would be a near bow-range chip shot, but I haven't shot a deer with a rifle in at least a decade or two since I've been bowhunting and figured I'd let the big dog bark.  After all, it wasn't as much a hunt as it was a grocery run of sorts.

DURING-Can you smell it sizzling?
I eased into the ground blind and settled in about 7 a.m. with about 15 minutes to legal shooting time.  It came and went but it wasn't long and an antlerless deer stepped into view off to my right.  I threw my binoculars up to make sure it wasn't a button or shed-antlered buck.  At less than 50 yards that confirmation was easy.  It moved in front of me as I rested my rifle on shooting sticks and at the shot the deer dropped in its tracks.  A few seconds later, a 1 1/2 year-old buck trotted in to see about the commotion.
AFTER-MMMM..Good!
 

I was back home and had the deer cut up and in the cooler by 10 a.m.  That is, all except the tenderloins and a chunk of backstrap (loin).  Those got cleaned up and marinated with a little soy sauce, Worcestershire sauce and garlic pepper.  Later that night they were wrapped in a couple strips of bacon and grilled to a near-perfect rare to medium-rare.  Thinly sliced the venison tasted as good or better than most beef steaks and the boys and I ate like Kings. 

Now if I can just find a good hiding spot for some venison jerky I'll make from the rest of it I'll be able to get by until next deer season!     

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!