Monthly Archives: January 2010

Creating Better Crappie

Two years ago Andy Fanter had a private pond filled with tiny black crappie. Catches of 100-plus in a few hours were common but the fish were barely seven-inches long and gave fillets that were  potato chip thin.

Adam Gilkey lifts a nice-sized crappie from a pond that held only dinks two years ago. Management has greatly increased the size of the crappie. Gilkey and three other anglers caught about 70 keepers Wednesday morning.

Adam Gilkey lifts a nice-sized crappie from a pond that held only dinks two years ago. Management has greatly increased the size of the crappie. Gilkey and three other anglers caught about 70 keepers Wednesday morning.

But rather than toss them back to “grow bigger,” Fanter kept every small crappie he caught. His wife, Erin, did the same as did the friends Fanter took to his lease west of Kingman.

Fanter cleaned more fish some weekends than many avid anglers do in a year. Many fish fries held by friends were totally supplied with bags of thin fillets.

But that was back then.

Wednesday morning four of us ice-fished the pond and pulled about 70 crappie between 10 and 12 inches through holes in the ice. And the fish were ultra-fat. The fillets literally held twice as much meat as those from the pond two years ago.

The better crappie are the result of a careful management by Fanter. He used several tools.

Most importantly, he wanted to greatly reduce the overall number of crappie in the pond. The fewer the fish the more food that would be available. As it was, the fish were mostly stunted because of a lack of nutrition.

As well as catching and cleaning a few thousand tiny fish Fanter made sure the pond had good populations of such great predators as largemouth bass and wipers. Some were already in the pond and some he added.

A biologist by education, Fanter also had gizzard shad added to the pond to create a better forage base for all fish.

As well as the nice-sized keepers, Wednesday Fanter and friends caught at least two other year-classes of crappie from four to eight inches. Such populations of varying sizes is a sign of a healthy pond.

“The fishing’s slower than it used to be,” Fanter told a friend. “You don’t catch them about every cast but you can still catch a lot of fish.”

And they’re certainly fish worth catching.

Notes from Jan. 7 commission meeting

Notes from Thursday’s Kansas Wildlife and Parks Commission meeting at the Kansas Wetlands Education Center at Cheyenne Bottoms.

More details will be available on Sunday’s outdooors page in The Eagle and at

-Kansas deer hunters could eventually be using an online system to register harvested deer. Biologist Lloyd Fox mentioned a possible system where hunters send photos of their filled permit and deer to Pratt headquarters. Hunters would immediately be given a confirmation number.

Such a process would eliminate the need for deer heads to remain attached during transportation. That’s required in Kansas but other states won’t allow deer with heads and bones from states with CWD within their borders.

Ultimately it could also provide research information for biologists.

-The department is considering issuing, by drawing, a limited number of elk permits for management units 17 and 18 to help control growing elk populations along the Arkansas River in western Kansas.

- The commission asked the department to start proceedings to change a current regulation that does not allow archery deer hunters to carry practice or blunt points on arrows in their quivers. Currently only broadheads may be carried.

- Locally, the Cowley County Friends of the NRA and Ducks Unlimited of Valley Center were two of seven groups that drew commissioners’ big game permits. The deer permits can now be sold to sportsmen at substantial profit. Such money is used for conservation projects and to provide funding for the groups that drew the permits.

Trophy buck gets a bus ride

I’ve got to share this story from the Minneapolis Star-Tribune.

A basketball team from a small Minnesota town is returning from a basketball game when the bus hits and kills a huge whitetail buck. We’re talking Boone & Crockett deer.

Being deer hunters the coach and his assistants notice the buck’s huge size. Having been raised in a culture that values time in deer stands, venison burgers and nice antlers most of the athletes are also excited.

So, rather than leave the buck to rot beside the road they load the entire thing into the aisle of the bus, hoping to turn the venison into a big team feast and the antlers into an educational tool at the school.

The highway patrol, local game warden and a local taxidermist do their part, too.

Handbook from 1859 offers still useful firearms safety advice

Though the weapons have changed a lot the need for firearms safety appears to have stayed largely unchanged over the past 150 years.

“The chief causes of accidents from the use of fire-arms arise from carelessness…”

Such was written in The Prairie Traveler, a  handbook for western-traveling pioneers published in 1859. It was written by U.S. Army Captain Randolph B. Marcy, a veteran of many western campaigns through what was then largely wilderness in the American west and Mexico.

The handbook carries advice on everything from picking the proper saddle for a mule to how to distinguish hostile warriors from friendly native hunters.

Marcy also writes about the importance of becoming familiar with firearms as such experience usually breeds respect and safety.

It’s interesting that he mentions the dangers of pulling a loaded firearm from a wagon, through brush or fences muzzle-first. Still a major concern, though it’s now cars and trucks rather than wagons drawn by mules, horses or oxen.

My favorite quote – “Always look to your gun, but never let your gun look at you.”

That’s great advice, no matter the century.

Winter stress, early shedding of antlers

Deer hunters afield through the seasons designed for shooting antlerless whitetails may want to spend a little extra time studying a deer before they squeeze the trigger.

What you think is a super-sized doe could be a buck that’s already dropped both antlers. I saw such an animal Sunday evening.

Such deer are legal to shoot during the assorted antlerless-only seasons that run through Jan. 31 in some parts of Kansas. But it does nothing to help manage the herd and could cheat someone out of the trophy of a lifetime during a future season.

Conditions are right for more to be around.

Stress, like periods of extreme cold and snow, seem to cause some bucks to shed their antlers a bit earlier than during more average conditions. Such seemed to be the case in the winter of 2000-2001 when we had about six weeks of cold with ice and snow.

Unofficially it was a January of the most drop-antlered bucks I’d ever seen, though most bucks I saw while hunting were still packing horns.

Kevin Blecha, a research biologist studying deer at the Quivira National Wildlife Refuge for K-State and Wildlife and Parks, said he’s seen the same. This year he saw his first drop-antlered bucks in mid-December.

So what’s a person to look for?

Well, if the deer’s close enough and feeding check the top of the head for the circles that’ll show where antlers have just been.

Body-size is another decent indication. Bucks past about 1 1/2-years old are built with bigger size, thicker necks and stouter shoulders than most does.

Shooting the largest of several antlerless deer may get you a button buck. By now fawns are often traveling together and button bucks are generally larger than doe fawns. They’re legal, for sure, but do nothing to help with herd management.

I guess if you really want to do your part, shoot the smallest deer which would probably be a doe fawn. Shooting a doe at such an early age would save the state up to 10 or more years of reproduction.

It would also provide you with some danged tasty venison.

Bird (seed)-brained buck

Who’d have known? Certainly not me, that’s for sure.

But it appears deer like munching bird seed as much as finches, sparrows and squirrels enjoy the same.

Well, at least one big Harvey County eight-pointer sure does.

A few weeks ago I mentioned I’ve been keeping a pile of assorted seeds near a pop-up blind on a friend’s property.

I figured we could do a little birding while we wait for a deer to appear so Carolyn could start the process of converting it to venison.

Well, we were afield for last Friday’s opening of the January season for shooting whitetail does. That afternoon we were enjoying watching a steady procession of cardinals, blue jays, Harris and fox sparrows and flickers.

Seriously, I’ll be keeping birding stations near a lot of my deer hunting spots from now on. It’s great entertainment.

So, on our seventh hunt we finally got a deer to appear on a trail about 50 yards away.

Had the studly eight-pointer stepped into view during the regular December firearms season when bucks are legal it’d have been in major trouble.

Since we’re now doe-only all we could do was watch and wish.

But as if just seeing such a deer when Carolyn couldn’t shoot it wasn’t enough, it immediately turned from the trail and headed to where I’d piled sunflower seeds for the birds near the blind.

And there it spent several minutes, no more than 12 yards away, twisting its head this way and that to get to the seeds I’d poured under the thick and thorny branches of a wild rose.

Add another cool memory to the on-going, and going, and going, and going, and going, saga of the great adventure of trying to get Carolyn her first deer.