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

Friday, August 15, 2014

DADDY'S LITTLE GIRL NEARLY GROWN UP AND GONE...HERE'S HOPING FISHING BRINGS HER BACK OFTEN

Many fathers have a "Daddy's Little Girl."  I'm no different and it seems like just the other day I was teaching my 2 1/2-year-old daughter, Ashley, the finer points of fishing on her first trip to a pond.  While she was content to catch some nice bluegill and bass, she was almost as thrilled to eat "moo-berries" from a nearby Mulberry tree.  But an outdoor kid was born and her gender didn't matter despite the stereotypes.

Over the years she's killed turkeys and deer and caught bunches of fish.  In high school she hit a bit of a stretch where she was busy with sports, a major sports injury and school activities so hunting took a back seat.  But she still loved to fish and summer vacations then and now during college were a good time to do it.  We fished for walleye, crappie, wipers, white bass and channel catfish and we both enjoyed our time together as she grew up.

We haven't fished together too much this summer as Ashley was on a mission trip to Zimbabwe for two weeks earlier in the summer and she's been working a lot, too.  So when she had a day off earlier this week she was game for a fishing trip and we headed out bright and early at 5:30 a.m.

Our goal was channel catfish and this summer had been good so our hopes were high.  The morning was gorgeous, remarkably cool at 58 degrees and winds were light as we launched my boat at 6:30 a.m.  We got anchored up and started to chum and it didn't take long to figure out it might be a pretty good day as Ashley hooked up with a 2-pounder we pitched back.  The action heated up and we both started catching fish.  I ended up fishing with only one pole as it seemed like every time I'd get both of mine situated Ashley had another fish and I'd have to reel up and get the net.

By 8 a.m. we probably caught 20 channel cats of various sizes with about a dozen keepers.  The action was fast and I commented that her twin teenage brothers, who opted out because they wanted to sleep in, were missing a great morning.

"That's lame," she said of their excuse to bypass the 5 a.m. wake-up call.  "That's what naps are for!"

The wind kicked and pushed me off our spot a bit and our success dwindled.  I re-anchored a couple times and finally got back to the honey hole and we were doing well once again.  Ashley had the hot hand and not only caught the first fish of the day, she had the biggest at just over 7 pounds.  Once I tallied 18 fish (the limit is 10 each) on the clicker we just released all fish and proceeded to simply have fun. 

We were about ready to leave when Ashley hung a big ol' carp.  I told her we couldn't end on that one so we gave it another 5 minutes.  It didn't take that long and Ashley had her last channel catfish of the summer and it weighed just over 5 pounds so we pitched it in the livewell and called it a wonderful morning about 10 a.m.
 

I've heard that life is like a roll of toilet paper and the closer you get to the end the faster it goes.  As I age it's particularly true and I think it's exaggerated when you have kids as they, too, grow up fast.  Again, it seemed like just the other day when I took her to her first year of college but 3 years flew by and I dropped her and her stuff off yesterday for her Senior year.  It's not likely she'll be home next summer as her first "real" job will hopefully be waiting when she graduates.

But as I drove away I thought about our fishing trip the other day, and many of the others earlier this summer and over the years.  I couldn't think of a bad trip.  Sure, there were some we didn't catch much, but the time spent with her was golden and will be cherished forever.  She's a wonderful daughter and student and I'd like to think some of our time outdoors shaped who she is as a person.  Fishing is an activity that builds strong bonds, too, so I'm hoping it's lure enough she'll return home often, even after she hits the "real" world.   

Thursday, July 3, 2014

HUNTING IN JULY

If you're dressed in camouflage and you stop at a convenience store or gas station in the fall you really don't get too many strange looks.  After all, people often associate hunting seasons with those months and assume people are out deer hunting, duck hunting, or something similar. 

But show up basically anywhere in July dressed in camouflage and you'll get some strange looks.

"Are you hunting?" comes the inquisitive question. 

"Yes" is my reply to which they immediately fire back, "WHAT?"

"Squirrels!" I say and they wrinkle up their face.

Lifelong Kansans remember squirrels as a staple growing up and many were raised on their meat.  Today, not so much.  But I've enjoyed squirrel hunting, particularly calling squirrels, since I was introduced to it a couple decades ago.  And I've passed that enjoyment on to my kids and others as well.

Since squirrel season opens June 1 there's no better time to enjoy it than right now.  One of my boys, Cody, and I decided to try it recently for the first time this summer.  I couldn't have scripted a more perfect outdoor adventure, either.

The air was wonderfully still with a temperature near 60 degrees when we got out at 6:15 a.m. We eased into a stretch of riparian timber and I hit the squirrel call.  Nothing, which isn't unusual but always disappointing.  Heading to our second location we spied a couple does out in the pasture and watched them until they bounded out of sight.

Our second calling location proved to be a sign of things to come.  I hit the call and three squirrels sounded off, one way too close right above our heads and he saw us and spooked.  Just across the creek another was barking and Cody readied his .22 rifle and fired and the squirrel fell to the ground.

Over the last few summers Cody has killed a couple of squirrels each trip, but most always with his 20 gauge shotgun since it allowed a little more "flexibility" as far as aim.  But he chose to use my .22 rifle which, outfitted with a scope is a tack-driving machine, provided you can hold it steady.  I wasn't so sure Cody would have much success on his first trip with it since he's never really shot it all that much.  Boy was I wrong. 

As we eased down the creek and called in several locations, Cody's rifle sounded off and squirrels dropped, as did my jaw after most shots.  I was more surprised than anything, but quite proud that he'd found instant success with well-placed shots.  In less than 90 minutes, Cody killed his first-ever limit (5) of squirrels with nearly as many shots.  Heck, I rarely do that well and he made it look easy. 

We still had a bit of time so Cody handed me the .22 rifle and I handed him the squirrel call.  We rounded the corner and came face to face with a beautiful whitetail buck with a basket rack encased in velvet.  Cody thought that was really cool since deer always look MUCH bigger in velvet.  After several minutes he went on his way. 

I managed to kill two squirrels with Cody calling for me before the wind came up a bit and we decided to call it a morning knowing we had 7 squirrels to clean.  I provided instruction to Cody and he cleaned a couple squirrels and I helped to move things along. 

As we got back into our vehicle to head home Cody looked at the clock and it was barely 10 a.m. 

"Most of my friends aren't even out of bed yet," Cody laughed.  "And we've been up for five hours!"

I wouldn't trade those five hours for any amount of sleep, either.          

Thursday, June 5, 2014

KIDS DON'T TRY THIS AT HOME!


               The great outdoors is a wonderful place to learn about all things natural.  Most experiences are pleasant and memorable for all the right reasons.  However, on occasion an adventure might be remembered for something bad.  Fate has a funny way of turning around and biting you in the backside sometimes, too.
Whoops!  I spoke too soon!
               The perfect example happened recently when I got a text message photo from my 16 year-old nephew, Dylan.  He’d been sending photos of big bass, crappie and bluegill he was catching from a pond.  Hitting the message button I fully expected more fish pictures.  But instead, it was of a lure dangling from his finger, the hook embedded in flesh past the barb. 
               It seems the first bass of the evening flopped at the wrong time and the lure lodged in Dylan’s finger.  He knew he couldn’t get it out on his own so he called his mom, my sister, Chari, on the way home.  She got queasy just thinking about trying to get the hook out and even more-so when she Googled “How to remove a fish hook” on You Tube and watched several clips.
              
String trick I used
Dylan didn’t even flinch when my sister, peaked and pale, snatched the hook out backwards using the monofilament string trick.  He admits it wasn’t buried too bad, didn’t bleed much and really didn’t hurt.  That wasn’t too comforting to Chari as she nearly threw up during the process. 
               Dylan called me that night to give me the scoop.  He, too, laughed at his mother’s response.  I told him in nearly five decades of fishing fresh and saltwater and handling literally tens of thousands of hooks I’d never buried one in any body part. 
               Remember fate?
               It was less than a week later when a buddy, Jim, and I were walleye fishing from my boat.  We were catching lots of walleye and the occasional “other” species as well.  It was one of the latter, a 12-inch channel catfish, that labeled that day in my memory bank.
               I caught the cat on a spinner rig with two #6 Gamakatsu Octopus hooks, the top hook buried in his lip.  Using pliers I attempted to free the hook which proved stubborn.  Getting impatient, I snatched the hook out with an emphatic yank, not accounting for the second hook.  It buried in the beefy part of my index finger just above my palm with enough force it broke 12 pound test line. 
              
Still fishing with new piercing!
Realizing I’d screwed up, I attempted to push it back out and it wouldn’t budge.  And it was buried too far to even think about pushing it on through.  Contemplating what to do next, I got a bite on another rod and managed to land a nice walleye, despite my new finger piercing.  And to make matters more comical, I wanted to document my mistake on film and proceeded to take pictures of my finger and the embedded hardware from various angles around my boat. 
               Jim cut a section of monofilament and
"After" shot!
I explained the process I’d never personally witnessed.   Silently, I hoped it worked as described.  Jim held down the eye of the hook and I grabbed the string and in one fell swoop snatched it backwards.  It made a bit of a “pop” sound when the hook went flying.
The resulting hole wasn’t large, but was now bleeding pretty good.  We laughed about how well the string trick worked.  However, we both agreed we’d rather not have to do it again anytime soon.  A little rinse with a water bottle and a tight band aid and I was back in fishing business. 
 It was ironic that only a week earlier I'd opened my mouth about the fact it had never happened to me.  I couldn't wait to tell my sister and laughed knowing she would object to any in-depth details of the event over the phone.  That's okay, I just sent her a picture of it via e-mail!
 
 
 
              

Thursday, May 1, 2014

DOUBLE TROUBLE TOMS


              
               The spring turkey season is one of anticipation.  Thunderous gobbles get any hunter’s blood pumping and the sight and sounds of a big tom coming to a decoy in full strut is mesmerizing.  The opportunity to take a tom turkey in the spring doesn’t get much better in the grand scheme of all things hunting.  That is, unless you get the chance to take two toms!
               Even more rewarding might be watching someone else do it.  It’s always fun to tag along on any successful turkey hunt and maybe even more rewarding when it’s a youngster on his first-ever turkey outing.
I was helping with the Kansas Department of Wildlife, Parks and Tourism’s 14th Annual Youth Turkey Hunt at Hutchinson during the youth turkey season.  I was guiding a 13-year-old Anthony resident, Jaden, on Saturday afternoon.  Jaden is an avid outdoors kid, but he’d never killed a turkey.
               We arrived at our location in Reno County and weren’t in the blind long when turkeys started to respond to a few yelps.  They weren’t in a hurry to come in, but they would answer enough to make it exciting to listen. 
               About 45 minutes into our evening sit, Jaden got excited and whispered that turkeys were coming.  Eight or 9 hens came trotting in followed by two longbeards.  Jaden had borrowed my 12 gauge and had it resting on shooting sticks pointed out the front.  The problem was the strutting toms were on the left. 
               Fearing they were going to leave, I had Jaden reposition his gun to that window.  Once he was lined up I told him to shoot the nearest full-strut gobbler and the sound of the shot sent turkeys scattering in every direction.  Jaden’s first bird flopped a few times and lay still in front of us only 18 yards away.  His ear-to-ear smile said it all.           
               Knowing more turkeys were still in the vicinity I opted to stay in the blind.  We still had 90 minutes until shooting time ended and distant gobbles were encouraging.  About 50 minutes later more hens came by and three jakes found Jaden’s first tom and proceeded to jump on and flog it.  Jaden nearly laughed out loud and asked why they were whipping his bird!
               Before I could get much of a response out, two toms, one in full strut, came waddling down the sandhill and bowled the three jakes right off the dead bird.  He stood on the dead tom in full strut and pecked at his deceased rival.  Jaden’s eyes were about to pop out of his head.
               “Shoot that one, too!” I told Jaden as he eased his gun over to the same window. 
              
Again, the sound of the shot sent turkeys scattering and Jaden had his second tom.  Even more entertaining was the one surviving tom would not leave.  Nor, could he decide which dead bird he needed to whip and went back and forth.  Jaden was enjoying the show when I finally started talking to the confused turkey and it gobbled back at every sound.  We were both laughing by now.
               Although his 2014 season was over in less than an hour, it was an incredibly memorable experience.  When he left, Jaden said “I’ll remember this for the rest of my life!”
               I will, too, as it was a great day be a spectator in the Kansas outdoors. 

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.