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, December 20, 2013


The prairie chicken is an iconic symbol of the Great Plains’ prairies.  To me, it’s the paddlefish of the upland bird world as it represents something historical, unique and marvelous.  It’s the only game bird with feathered feet and a prized trophy among upland bird hunters. 

Kansas has two species of prairie chickens.  The lesser prairie chicken is found in the shortgrass prairie of southwest Kansas and the greater prairie chicken is found in the tallgrass prairie of the central part of the state.  Their range is somewhat specific and good prairie chicken populations often remain year after year in the same pastures and fields.  Overall numbers have declined in recent years, due in large part to changes in land use with intensive grazing practices and increased burning frequency.   

I grew up chasing prairie chickens in northeast Kansas.  I had permission from a few dairy farmers with corn fields bordering big, open pastures.  A buddy or two and I would position ourselves at likely ambush spots around the fields and shoot at flocks of chickens coming to the field or leaving after feeding.  The rest of the day would be spent chasing pheasants and quail and limits of all three were had on occasion.  Those hunts are still vividly etched in my memory and some of the best ones ever.

I haven’t prairie chicken hunted much in the last couple decades.  But a recent opportunity a few weeks ago had me anxious to head afield.  The Outdoor Writers of Kansas had a fall meeting near Tipton and Keith Houghton arranged a chicken hunt for nearly a dozen-and-a-half members one evening.  Keith and his wife, Deb, own Ringneck Ranch, a first-class controlled shooting area that caters to hunters from all corners of the map.  Keith had been watching a huge, harvested cornfield bordering big pastures and he “guaranteed” we’d see a prairie chicken.

A fellow coworker, Nadia Marji, and I took up our vigil on opposite sides of a big round bale.  Nadia was on her first prairie chicken hunt and anxious to see her first prairie chicken.  We weren’t disappointed.  Keith had strategically placed us all along a fence row late in the afternoon with less than 2 hours of daylight remaining.  The night was brisk, with little wind and my field-side seat  provided a beautiful setting to enjoy a Kansas sunset.  It wasn’t long and we saw the first flock of greater prairie chickens fly from one end of the field to the other.  Their constant chatter kept us entertained and on alert as at any time they could get up to leave and we wanted to be ready.

Keith’s plan worked like a charm.  About 30 minutes prior to the end of legal shooting time Keith and several others would walk towards the middle of the field and push the chickens up and out.  Several huge flocks made their escape towards waiting guns.  Prairie chickens are deceptively fast, with slow wing beats and often prove tough targets.

One flock that passed just outside my seated position had a straggler that was on the edge of what I perceived as my effective shotgun range.  I decided to try it and folded it cleanly, somewhat to my surprise, with one shot.  Nadia was nearly more excited than I was to get to see one of these unique birds up close and personal. 

We had time for a few photos before another group of chickens headed our way.  Unfortunately, Nadia’s gun jammed after one shot but I was able to fold another chicken and rounded out a two-bird limit.  Several other hunters had the same fortunes and we ended up shooting nine prairie chickens among the group.  All told, we probably saw at least 150 chickens. 

There are few states that offer “the big three” when it comes to upland game birds and the Sunflower State has bragging rights in that regard.   We’ve got one of the best prairie chicken populations in the Midwest.  My two prairie chickens were the icing on the cake capping a beautiful evening.  They were also a pleasant reminder about the good ol’ days growing up in Kansas and the opportunity to hunt a unique inhabitant of the Great Plains.

Thursday, December 12, 2013


Deer hunting is an activity I've enjoyed for decades.  And in recent years my twin 14-year-old boys, Brandon and Cody, and even my 21-year-old daughter, Ashley, have taken an interest and killed deer.  These hunts have always been about their experience as I've never carried a weapon and simply been there for expertise, advice and guidance.  I've even been an alarm clock as evidenced on the most recent outing with Cody a few weeks ago.

Teenagers are tough to roust out of bed.  Heck, the older I get the more I like the comfortable confines of a toasty-warm bed at 5 a.m. in the morning, too.  Although it's easy to dream of big deer, it's difficult to throw the backstraps on the grill from a dream buck.  So the long and short of it is you've got to be there to win.  Cody knows this but it doesn't make it any easier to wake up early and head out into the cold but that's what we did.

It was a beautiful, clear morning with little wind.  Cody had his crossbow all set-up and ready to go as it rested on shooting sticks.  We both yawned a few times sitting comfortably in chairs in our ground blind as it broke daylight.  It wasn't long and Cody started to nod off, finally resting his head on the stock of his crossbow. 

I was just about to catch a few ZZZ's myself when a nice 8-point buck appeared at about sunrise.  My heart instantly raced, even despite the fact I wasn't shooting.  I whispered to Cody to wake up and not move as there was a buck just 20 yards away.  Later he said he thought I was messing with him as I've cried wolf before just to get his goat.  I would have loved to see Cody's eyes when he popped them open to see a nice buck standing there and realize he wasn't dreaming and I wasn't joking.

The buck was quartered away and I instructed Cody on where to aim based on the angle.  My adrenaline was flowing and I tried to remain calm for Cody's sake, although he admitted later he could hear me breathing hard.  I told him to take a few deep breaths, concentrate and shoot when he was ready.       

The shot in my mind was a little low and back, but the angle should have been good.

"Did I get him?" Cody asked in between breaths. 

"You hit him, but the shot wasn't perfect," I told him.

We waited in the blind for another hour and had an encounter with a giant doe we've seen before.  All of the trail camera pictures of her have her looking directly at the blind.  She's cagey and at only 7 yards away she had us pegged and boogied before Cody could get a shot at her, too. 

Recovering Cody's buck took a lot of patience, persistence and luck, but we were able to find it.  Cody's first buck was a nice 2 1/2-year-old, 8 pointer we later learned we had on our trail camera a few times as well. 

It may not have been the buck Cody was dreaming about but it was a nice one and he was happy.  I was, too.  Spending time in the great outdoors with my kids, whether I'm watching them sleep or not, is enjoyable.  We'll remember that hunt forever and Cody now knows that ol' Dad doesn't cry wolf ALL the time.