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
These days I enjoy many different types of hunting. I’m an avid, some might say rabid, waterfowler. I love to bowhunt and have traveled the country doing so for various big game species, although I’m fairly content with Kansas whitetails and turkeys now. And when it’s not hunting season I’m usually fishing. I love to fish for walleye, crappie and channel catfish. I’m at home on the front of my boat on a big reservoir or wading a small Flint Hills stream. It’s all good.
Throw in a recent bout with the trapping bug and decades of camping with family and friends and it’s obvious I have an addiction for the outdoors.
Many of my most memorable outdoor experiences in recent years have centered on those with my children. My 18-year-old daughter and twin 12-year-old boys have been a major part of my outings. Watching their eyes light up as they realize the wonders of Mother Nature and her bounty likely has even more meaning than my own personal satisfaction. Spending quality time with them outdoors carries significant and substantial meaning, no matter what we’re doing.
In this Blog I’ll attempt to relay some of the enjoyment and satisfaction I get from being outdoors. Topics covered will be broad in scope and run the gamut. It’s all fair game. If you can sit at your computer and read a particular entry and it stirs you to try it, or helps make your experience more enjoyable, I will be pleased. And if it does nothing more than make you smile or laugh that too, will please me. The outdoors is truly a great place to be!
Thursday, December 15, 2016
In addition to his deer permits, Jake had to buy the Apprentice Hunting License as he hadn't taken the Kansas Hunter Education Course yet. That was fine, as I'd planned to help him anyway since he was new at it. He started out using my crossbow and just 40 minutes into his very first hunt had a close encounter with a doe at 15 yards that just didn't work out. And after only another 50 minutes or so on our third trip to a ground blind he shot a nice-sized adult doe that barely went 75 yards or so. He was thrilled and I was proud to witness his first deer.
He was likely even more excited for his chance to take an antlered deer. He'd seen pictures of bucks taken by his friends and me and the antler allure wasn't lost on Jake. However, I put no pre-conceived notions in his head about antler size and told him he would be the judge of what he'd be happy with as his first buck.
As easy as filling his antlerless tag was, filling his buck tag proved more difficult. We had some hunts where we didn't see anything and others where we saw plenty of deer just out of bow range. One of the most memorable outings had Jake watching two really nice and big bucks, about two hours apart, that nearly gave him a shot but it never materialized. And he'd observed, on several occasions, a small, half-racked 4-pointer walk right under our stand he chose not to shoot.
"I would have shot him if he had the other side," Jake laughed. "But I'd like to have something for BOTH hands to hold on to for a photo."
I understood completely.
The firearm season opened and Jake borrowed my Remington 30-06. A buddy of mine was gracious enough to offer up his prime property to set up a ground blind for us to try to get Jake's first buck. We hunted the first Saturday morning of the season and surprisingly, never saw a deer. We hunted the next Tuesday, both morning and evening, with a close call at last legal shooting light but a nice buck made good on his escape thanks to a doe and a fawn that spooked.
It was coming down to the wire for the firearm's season when we headed back out the last Saturday morning. We popped up a ground blind on the edge of a bean field in nearly the same spot where the buck stood on Tuesday evening. We had a great vantage point in three directions as daylight came and the woods began to wake up.
I saw deer first, several does, on the wooded hillside over 200 yards away. Jake got his binoculars up and said excitedly, "There's a buck behind them!"
It took several minutes before I could finally see the buck and his antlers as he was statuesque standing beside a tree with his rack obscured by limbs. He started after one of the does and I could clearly see antlers. I told Jake to get his gun on the shooting sticks thinking we'd have to try a shot at about 210 yards. But as we watched, over the next 5 minutes, each doe made their way to the edge of the bean field and started trotting across headed right at us.
"Uh, oh," I said to Jake. "They're liable to get downwind and smell us and spook."
But luck was on our side as the first couple passed by within easy bow range. I was watching the last one disappear from my sight to our left when I thought Jake whispered, "There it is," referring to the last doe. I told him to be still and he didn't twitch.
I moved my eyes ever so slightly to the left, looking past Jake in his stoic position and the buck was standing there in the only open window on that side, nearly filling it up as he was less than 20 yards away. Jake could see it for the last few seconds and he'd whispered, "There HE is!" He'd covered 200 yards just out of my sight as I couldn't see from my angle in the blind! My heart rocketed.
"You're going to have to hurry," I told Jake. "He's not going to hang around."
Jake shot and the deer buckled but took off on a dead run in a looping arc away from us as Jake racked another shell. He'd run more than 100 yards before starting to falter.
"He's stumbling!" Jake said ecstatically.
And down he went running full-stride.
Jake was on Cloud 9, fist pumping and reliving the experience verbally over and over talking a mile a minute. His excitement was contagious and I was thrilled, too. We continued chatting about how fortunate we were to have it all finally work out this time as Jake's first buck was truly earned.
"How long do we have to wait to go get him?" Jake asked.
"Whenever you quit jabbering," I teased him.
Jake's feet barely hit the ground as we made our way to the downed buck. His reaction was priceless and he was beyond happy to grab the antlers of his first buck.
"That was SO cool!" he kept repeating.
It was even more rewarding knowing we'd worked for it and put in our time. Jake never got discouraged and was excited each and every hunt about something different as it was all new to him. His first buck was indeed, very cool, and I was happy to be a part of it.
Friday, December 9, 2016
I wasn't the one hunting, actually, but I was assisting my soon to be son-in-law, Jake, with his first deer hunting season. He was successful taking a doe with a crossbow earlier in the year and we'd been working on trying to get him a buck when rifle season came along and we broke out my trusty Remington 30-06.
Jake's off work on Tuesdays so we decided to hunt both morning and evening. The morning hunt was a bit brisk, okay it was downright cold, with a 20-some degree temperature and 20 mph north wind. We sat for about 3 hours near a bedding area with the only sighting being a doe and fawn that sauntered within 25 yards of our ground blind.
As we got closer to sunset at 5:06 p.m. we still hadn't seen any deer and I was surprised. Finally, at 5:16 Jake whispered he saw a deer in the tree row to our left. Another deer was with it and a doe and a fawn slowly fed out into the field over the next 15 minutes or so. Jake kept a watchful eye on them hoping a buck would follow.
The doe got far enough out into the field she either saw us moving inside the blind, or realized our blind hadn't been there before. She started the usual doe 2-step stomp and head-bob routine and worked her way in until she was standing broadside at 16 yards with the fawn just behind her.
"Do you think you could hit that one?" I whispered to Jake.
"I think I could hit it with a rock!" he laughed.
Jake was amused by her antics and our attention had been solely on her as she got close and daylight quickly faded. He was watching her with binoculars when the fawn bolted and the doe blew a warning and followed it back across the field.
"There's a BIG buck!" Jake whispered loudly as he watched their retreat.
I glanced at my watch and it was 5:35 p.m.
"Get your gun up," I instructed. "We've got less than a minute!"
I got my binoculars focused just in time to see the doe and fawn reach the buck standing at the edge of the woods and he turned tail to run with them. I bleated loudly trying to get him to stop. He was a nice one and I would have loved for Jake to shoot it but in just a few bounds he cut left into the timber never offering a shot.
"He's gone, Jake," I said dejectedly.
"That was cool!" was his reply.
Jake had enjoyed the show and shenanigans of the antlerless deer. He'd never seen anything like it and he might have been as excited about the close encounter with a nice buck than some hunters are when they actually shoot one.
We'd hunted nearly 6 1/2 hours that day and our opportunity came down to the last 60 seconds of legal shooting time. It didn't work out but we'll be back at it again this weekend trying once again. Timing is everything and here's hoping it works out in Jake's favor this time.
Thursday, August 25, 2016
You might remember my last Blog entry highlighted a huge flathead catfish that was in the neighborhood of a few large kindergartners weight-wise. He was big and beautiful and ultimately released as a result of being foul hooked. I'd have likely released him anyway, but I had no choice.
So, fast forward a week to a similar fishing trip. I was joined this time by a buddy, Jim, and my nephew, Dylan, for a morning of fishing on the same chum hole where I'd pulled Moby Flathead from the weekend prior. It was another beautiful morning and we'd fished for a couple hours and had plenty of channel cats in the 2-6 pound range in the box and weren't going to keep any more.
I'd pitched a line out and let it set on the bottom a short distance from the boat while I worked on rigging my other rod. I noticed that line went slack and picked it up and slowly cranked the reel handle a couple times. I felt resistance and set the hook and the fight was on.
I turned to Jim and Dylan and said, "Surely, this isn't another big flathead, is it?"
I've caught literally thousands of channel catfish off of chum holes on several Kansas reservoirs in the last decade-plus. I can honestly say I can't remember EVER catching a single flathead catfish during that time so the last weekend was a first. I would be utterly shocked if this was another one.
But the fight was somewhat similar to the one the weekend prior. My rod was doubled but this time the battle wasn't nearly as long. I still had to switch hands with the rod a time or two after one would get tired.
The huge fish surfaced and I could immediately tell one thing was different. It was hooked in the bottom lip! And the next thing I could tell was it wasn't nearly as big, but still a monstrous fish on rod and reel.
I got the fish into the net and wondered aloud if my 30 pound digital scale would cover it. I thought it might be close and it was as the display read 28 pounds, 12 ounces. I was happy and we shot a few photos as my nephew kept saying, "Dang that thing is big!"
"We've got plenty of fish fillets for today," I said as I eased the big fish over the side of the boat.
He made a fast recovery and left with a big splash. I slapped some slimy high fives with my fishing buddies and enjoyed the moment.
I'll fish again this weekend. And if I happen to catch another big flathead I'll likely release him, too. But the next thing I'll do is head to the nearest store and purchase several lottery tickets. Because there's no way lightning strikes the same place THREE times, is there?
Friday, August 19, 2016
Tuesday, April 12, 2016
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.
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
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.
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
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.
"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.