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, December 15, 2016


A deer hunter's first deer is memorable.  A deer hunter's first buck might be even more so, as antlers are a magical thing.  These "firsts" only happen one time and the sights, smells and sounds of a successful hunt are etched forever in the mind of a someone who puts their first tag on a Kansas whitetail.  My soon-to-be-son-in-law, Jake, did just that and will remember all the details of these experiences for years to come.

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.

As quietly as I could I whispered to Jake to get his gun off the shooting sticks as he would have to get it out the side window and shoot off-hand.  The buck sensed something was up and started to head back the way he came taking a couple, slow steps at a time, then stopping to look around.  Jake moved perfectly when he wasn't looking and got the gun out the window.  The buck started to trot and I grunted to stop him and he turned perfectly broadside at only 30 yards.

"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


It's often said timing is everything.  While that's true in life, it's also true in the outdoors as well. Sometimes the timing is good and everything works out and other times not so much.  I recently encountered a close-but-no-cigar timing issue on a rifle deer hunt.

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.

We used another pop-up ground blind for the evening hunt and placed it at the edge of a bean field bordered by timber on three sides.  It was an ideal setting and I liked our odds for seeing and even killing a deer.  The wind died and it got eerily quiet and still.  We were entertained by squirrels expressing their displeasure with our presence, some sitting and scolding us just a few feet away.  One climbed the tree above our blind and seemingly purposefully dropped twigs and acorns on our blind.  I whispered aloud I'd be back this summer to even the score and Jake chuckled.

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


Some say lightning never strikes twice in the same place.  While I don't want to necessarily test the theory, I'm hear to tell you I wouldn't bet against it after the last couple weekends.  And here's why.

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!"

It was now time to determine the big fish's fate.  He wouldn't fit in the iced-down cooler I use for keeping channel cats, but I could create a make-shift stringer from some rope and tie him to the side of the boat.   Or, I could release him.

"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


Okay, just to get it out of the way and beat all you internet funny folks to the punch, I'll admit it.  I'm the "ugly" one in this trio of words, despite the fact this monstrous fish had a mean-mugging face only a mother could love.  To me he was absolutely beautiful and a fine specimen of all things piscatorial.

Our chance meeting started out innocently enough and his kind was not my intended target.  I'd taken my daughter, Ashley, and her boyfriend, Jake, to a nearby reservoir for an early morning trip to chase channel catfish on a chum hole.  It was beautiful as we launched at first light and we were only a few minutes in when I caught a fat 3 1/2 pounder and tossed him in the cooler.  A short time later I felt a similar "whack" and set the hook again.

This time my rod immediately went double and under the boat and the drag screamed.  I was using a 6'6" medium-light spinning rod with a reel spooled with Berkley Trilene Big Game 15 pound test monofilament.  All of the components were taxed to the max.

I wondered aloud what I might have and figured it was a giant carp or huge blue catfish.  The battle lasted for nearly 15 minutes and I'd try to get some line back one reel turn or two at a time.  Slowly, I started to win the fight and eventually ended up swapping ends of the boat as the fish dictated the game.  

At first glimpse I saw yellow and thought I'd hooked a big carp.  But a second brief look showed a unique tail that could only belong to a flathead catfish.  When we all got a good look at the huge fish, Ashley quickly handed the net to Jake.

"I'm out!!!!" she laughed.  "That thing is huuuuugggeeeee!!!

Jake took one stab at him and the big cat soaked us with a flick of his paddle-like tail and dove back down.  The next time up Jake was able to maneuver the fish's head into the net and we hoisted him into the boat and gently placed him on the front deck.  Ashley and Jake were WAY more excited than I and marveled at the massiveness of this unique predator of the deep.  Their reaction, and the fact I even landed this fish, was the "good" part of the equation for sure.  

The "bad" part of the experience was the huge flathead was foul hooked, but just barely, and legally had to be released.  One barb on a #4 treble hook was buried in his flesh just in front of his tail fin.  It was a miracle I even landed the fish and I was shocked.  Even if the fish had been hooked legally there's a good chance I would have released it anyway, although one that size would have fed the entire office staff at work.        

We tried to weigh it but my digital scale only goes to 30 pounds and he maxed it out.  I guessed his heft at about 45 pounds but had friends with more experience with flatheads than I said he looked bigger in the photos.  Regardless, it was one of the biggest fish I'd ever caught in my life and a true giant.  

After a few photos and more hooping and hollering, mostly by Ashley and Jake, I eased the fish back over the gunnel of the boat and held it in the water for a few minutes.  It got its bearings and swam from my hand back to the depths from which it came.

"If we don't catch another fish all day this is the best fishing trip of my life," Jake said laughing.  "And I didn't even catch it!"

But we did catch more fish and a boatload of them ranging in size from 6 inches up to an 8 1/2 pound channel catfish Jake caught.  It was truly a memorable morning but the only catch of the day that will be talked about forever is that gigantic flathead.  

Tuesday, April 12, 2016


I've always been a fan of getting kids outdoors and involved in hunting, fishing and all things wild.  I've done it as often as possible with my own kids over the years.  Now nearly grown, some of the most memorable times we've shared have been in a boat or blind.

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.

We sat in the blind a bit and watched and listened to more turkeys nearby.  Eli jabbered more in the 15 minutes after he shot his bird than he had in the hour prior.  It was like he'd got a second wind and his ailments and illness were no longer in the forefront of his memory.  He was an excited child who'd just taken his first turkey on a most memorable hunt.

Eli's labored walk to his down bird as I filmed the event on my phone reminded me of how cruel this world can be.  Nobody, but in particular a child, should have to endure the hideousness of cancer and what it does to a human body.  Eli's got two more years of treatments that will no doubt sap his body's strength and test his will.  

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. 

Father's Day found one of my twin boys, Cody, and my daughter, Ashley, and I fishing for channel catfish.  Fishing was excellent and their company was a better gift than any funky tie or smelly cologne.  Cody is just over a year away from attending college and Ashley graduated from college and hit the real world running in 2015.  As I shot a few photos I felt fortunate to spend time with my kids on a day dedicated to Dad's and I was indeed a proud one.  It was also a bit sad, too, as I knew these days would likely get fewer over time.

Another trip that stood out was a pheasant hunt near Dodge City just before Thanksgiving.  I grew up hunting upland birds most weekends but switched gears later in life to chasing waterfowl and bowhunting.  This hunt found me and several friends traipsing some of the most beautiful upland bird habitat in the state.  Shots were plentiful and the action steady with plenty of birds flushed and bagged.  It took me back to a time several decades ago when those same sights, sounds and smells were shared with other friends that I've lost touch with over time but still think about on occasion.

And the icing on the tasty 2015 cake likely took place in mid-December on a hunt where I was merely an observer.  Cody had been drawn for a special youth deer hunting opportunity and the day was indeed special and truly memorable.  The morning yielded a few sightings of several does and a distant buck.  The highlight of sunrise was watching a coyote mousing right in front of us for minutes.  I'm surprised he didn't hear us as we'd laugh out loud every time he jumped straight up in the air and came down with all four feet firmly planted, but never successful.  He was persistent.  After a quick lunch break we were back in the blind and the action started shortly thereafter.  Several does both near and far were already feeding.  A HUGE buck stepped into view and started nosing a doe in front of our blind only 110 yards away.  A few minutes later Cody's shot found it's mark and after a short track we found his deer.  It was indeed the buck of his lifetime and mine.

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.