Monthly Archives: April 2010

No happy endings in nature

Nobody said it’s easy being a wild turkey.

From the time they’re laid as an egg until they die something is always trying to eat them. In Kansas that can range from bull snakes to bald eagles…and me.

There are also the hazards of being hit by cars. I’ve found several with broken necks or wings after flying into a wire fence.

And there are assorted sicknesses and diseases, too. Recently a birder sent me this photo of an old tom that hangs around his place. The bird’s head and mouth are covered with huge, ugly warts. Even eating corn from a trough has become very difficult.

A tom turkey near Wichita with a case of avian pox, which will probably prove fatal.

A tom turkey near Wichita with a case of avian pox, which will probably prove fatal.

I forwarded the photo to Jim Pitman, Wildlife and Parks’ turkey biologist. He and another biologist gave a diagnosis as avian pox. Wild turkeys are one of many kinds of birds that can get the disease that can be transmitted by mosquitoes or other birds.

There’s no evidence the pox can be passed to humans though domestic fowl can be infected.

The tom pictured above doesn’t face a very bright future. In fact it could already be dead from starvation or so weakened it was easy prey for a predator.

Nobody said it’s easy being a wild turkey. But that’s why nature designed hens to lay clutches of a dozen or more eggs.

Nature can’t save the individuals, but it has a way of caring for the species.

Wondering about the wind

Even when they were very small my kids knew daddy was addicted to watching the weather. My hourly check began with the creation of the Weather Channel. I’m deeper since I can check things like online.

And I’m seldom looking at temperatures and only give chances of precipitation a passing glance.

It’s all about the wind, baby. I need to know from what direction and how strong. No, I don’t care about current conditions and probably have tomorrow’s breeze forecast long memorized.

I want to know wind-speed and direction throughout the weekend and early next week. Give me an hour-by-hour prediction. I can handle a forecast that says “high winds” but how high and when do they kick-in? Will it at least be relatively calm until noon?

That’s because so much of what I do depends on the wind. All fall I need to know speed and direction to decide if I can go bowhunting and which stand to use. I want a south breeze to hunt the big oak, a northwest to hunt the 80 and a southeast to make the long drive to hunt Jerrod’s stand at our farm.

It’s the same with waterfowl hunting. Give me a north wind from 15-20 mph when mallards and geese are around so we can do best at Charlie’s dike blind near Quivira.

Calm conditions suck for hunting because ducks can land coming from any direction and deer will hear me entering the woods. My scent will also swirl about because it’s never really 100-percent calm.

This time of year high winds hamper fishing access and turkey calling. Boats don’t do well when the lake looks like the surf’s up. Turkey hunting’s no fun when I can’t hear them gobbling and the birds are super-nervous because they can’t hear well, either.

And today I’m checking over and over hoping winds will be low enough for me to give a patch of brome at our farm one last shot of herbicide so I can get it tilled and drilled with native grass and forb seeds.

And like farmers and rain I’m never totally happy with what the forecast says or how a day ends.

I’ve said things like “It’d be perfect if it was a tad more from the east-northeast” or “we could use about 3 less mph so the decoys don’t bob so wildly.”

Gotta go, though, haven’t checked accuweather since late last night, need to check the wind direction between 10 a.m. and 4 p.m. for Saturday and Sunday.

Seriously, that’s what I’ll do next.

My favorite cedar

In the past I’ve written Kansas has too many cedar. Ten of the mature evergreens sap more water than the average household in Wichita. They offer little to wildlife while collectively choking out hundreds of thousands of acres that could be vital prairie grasses.

Oklahoma has estimated they lose about 5,000 coveys of quail a year to cedar tree encroachment on habitat. Cedars moving into our tall grass prairies have greatly contributed to decreased prairie chicken and quail populations in eastern Kansas.

But I’m certainly a fan of one old cedar south of Pretty Prairie, in rural Reno County.

Last night I shot a turkey while sitting beneath the tree. Each of the last three spring seasons I’ve killed my second bird while at the cedar. It’s taken just the one sit to get each bird.

The tree sits in an old fenceline that separates a brushy pasture near the Ninnescah River from a good friend’s food plot. Turkeys often roost in some towering cottonwoods at the back of the plot.

The sprawling cedar offers a perfect hide from sharp-eyed birds. I’ve trimmed a tunnel in the greenery to get to the massive trunk. Every year a few minutes with saw and clippers opens a few shooting holes.

Inside I have enough room to easily spread an assortment of calls and snacks about. From the outside deer, turkeys, raccoons and coyotes have passed within 10 feet, never knowing I’m near.

The past two springs I’ve called small flocks of longbeards to within about 25 yards when I made the shot. Last night I had a bunch including two big longbeards, two hens and about nine jakes anywhere from five to 50 yards. I took an easy shot at one of the younger, tastier birds to add to a Beast Feast with some friends in late May.

I’m already looking forward to a return to the big cedar next spring.

Fishing for permission answers

A frequent blog and newspaper reader asked the following questions. I called Kevin Jones, Kansas Department Wildlife and Parks law enforcement chief, for some answers. Jones did a good job of explaining what can be some complex laws.

Do you need a license to fish on your own property? No, if you own the property you can legally fish any lake, pond, puddle, stream, flooded ditch or minnow bucket without a fishing license.

When can you deny access to your waters? If it’s water on your property you can deny access to it. Even if the water is public property, like the Arkansas River, you do not need to grant permission for someone to cross your private lands to access that water.

Do you have to grant access if you stock your waters with state-raised or state-provided fingerlings? Well, the state hasn’t provided fingerlings for stocking private waters for many years. Even if your waters were stocked with such fish decades ago you don’t have to grant access.

Who is exempt from licensing? Disabled? Over-65? Anyone else? For Kansas residents, those 15 and younger or 65 and over are exempt from licensing but still need permission to access private waters. Jones said there’s also a long list of others who are exempt though most residents don’t meet that criteria.

Also, those fishing some private waters are exempt. Basically if the water is totally contained on the property – like a simple pasture pond – no fishing license is needed. However it’s a complicated issue.

Jones said flowing waters, like streams and rivers, still require a fishing license for most as do waters with shared property. According to Jones my family’s 12 acre lake, which is fed by a small creek and touches land owned by two family members, requires all of our guests to have licenses unless exempt by age.

Where can we get a copy of the Rules and Laws? Click below.

The reality of recoil

The jakes were gobbling and coming strong, just what a buddy had hoped. He was afield with his eight-year-old son, trying to get the boy his first turkey. First anything, really.

All was going well when he heard the boy whisper “I’m afraid the gun’s going to kick me.” The boy shot and, not surprisingly, missed.

Few people of any age enjoy the recoil of a shotgun or rifle. Kids have a particular fear of the recoil even though they probably get knocked around a lot harder when playing with siblings and friends.

Still, kids afraid of recoil are kids who’ll develop bad shooting habits and may give-up shooting. Here’s what I recommend.

#1 – Don’t start kids too quickly with shotguns and high-powered rifles. Air rifles are a great place to start getting kids confident with their shooting. A few hundred rounds of .22 ammo help with the process. Never leave a child struggling to mount and hold the gun free-hand. Let them shoot from a rest.

#2 – Always make sure a child is wearing hearing protection when they’re around firearms – ALWAYS! I contest it’s the loud report of a gun that leads to flinching more than the recoil. Once a child’s ears get slammed around it’s hard for them not to flinch and fear when a gun fires. My kids often wore foam plugs and quality muffs when shooting high-powers.

#3 – Introduce them gradually. Begin by allowing them to watch you shoot their firearm. Be sure to shoot at targets that show visible signs of a hit. Empty soda cans stuck on sticks are great because they fly when hit and the kid can count the holes. It diverts their attention from any problems with recoil. Let them stand behind you, with a hand on the back of your shooting shoulder so they can feel how mellow the recoil of the gun.

#4 – Allow them to get comfortable with the gun before they pull the trigger on a live round. Be sure they’re using a steady rest to help hold the gun. Let them dry-fire a dozen or so times so you can check their gun mount and they’ll know the feel of the trigger. Put a hand under the gun’s forearm for the first few shots so you can help hold a bit of the recoil.

#5 – And use the word “recoil” instead of “kick.” Dont’ try to be funny or scare a kid.When our daughter’s first shotgun arrived, a youth-model 1100, a hunting buddy looked at it and her and said, “This is gonna kick you on your butt, kid.” Heck of a thing to say to an 11-year-old girl! It took a few days to get her to try the 20 gauge. It took much longer before I quit putting adjectives in front of Marc’s name.

#6 – Don’t start them too young and there is no common age. All kids are different. Raised around guns, Jerrod would shoot a rested 12 gauge when he was six. At nine he was shooting 3/4″ groups at 100 yards with a 6mm. Lindsey opted to use a 7mm-08, despite more recoil, than the 6mm on her first deer hunts at 14 because “the harder it hits on my end, the harder it’ll hit on theirs.” But both kids had shot thousands of pellets and .22 shells and been eased into recoiling shotgun and rifles.

I have a buddy with a 10-year-old boy who’s scared to death of his 20 gauge and flinches terribly when forced to shoot it. Raised in the big city the kid hadn’t proper introduction to shooting. His father was eager to get the boy hunting…maybe a bit too eager. Flinching is hard habit to break. It’s much easier to prevent.

The big one he let swim away

Wow, what a year for big fish and big fish stories.

I’ve gotten at least four calls or e-mails on potentially huge fish that haven’t panned out. This week I blogged on how a reported 100 pound buffalo turned out to be a grass carp of about 39 pounds. A white bass of nearly 10 pounds ended up being a wiper.

And this morning a local angler called and said he’d caught a 97 pound flathead from the Arkansas River in Wichita. He hasn’t called back with the address where I can come see the fish he said is being kept alive in a big tank.

And then there’s Steve Molina’s big largemouth bass. His e-mail said the fish is 11 pounds, 2 ounces. It very well could be.

Molina and a buddy were fishing a private watershed of about 60 acres in Cowley County on Monday when a big fish hit the chartreuse Sinko worm he was fishing on his last cast of the day.

Steve Molina holds the huge bass he caught in Cowley County on Monday. His scales showed it weighed 11 pounds, 2 ounces.

Steve Molina holds the huge bass he caught in Cowley County on Monday. His scales showed it weighed 11 pounds, 2 ounces.

An avid angler, Molina said his best bass prior to this week was 9 pounds, 2 ounces. When he lifted Monday’s bass he knew it was bigger.

When put on a digital fish scale it first registered 11 pounds, 10 ounces. The second try was a bit lighter. Following attempts put the fish at 11 pounds, 2 ounces. He said he later tried his scales at home with confirmed weights and it was accurate.

Steve and his fishing partner, Chuck Masy, watched the fish swim off after it was placed back into the water.

The current state record is a largemouth of 11.8 pounds caught in 2008 by Tyson Hallam in southeast Kansas. It was 28 1/2 inches long. Molina’s bass was about 27 1/2 inches long. Figuring his bass wasn’t a state record Molina said he elected not to haul the fish from the lake to official scales.

His only photo is from his cell phone and he’s not sure the pic does the fish justice.

“I’m a big guy so that meas it’s bigger than it looks,” he said.

I’ll give him credit, though, the fish obviously stretches about from his arm pit to his waist.

That’s a heck of a good fish.

Commission coverage

So here I sit at the Great Plains Nature Center, waiting the last few minutes before the start of the Kansas Wildlife and Parks Commission meeting.

Over about four hours this afternoon and probably a couple this evening we’ll hear reports from agency biologists and state park officials. Hopefully there will be quite a few comments made by the public. Far too often few of the public attend the meetings.

We’ll see what happens. I’ve been to commission meetings where emotional members of the public were almost in tears and others where I think a commissioner or two nodded off.

But both are rare extremes. The majority of the times the commissioners are super-attentive and the public quite polite.

We’re about to get started.


Fishing On!

The best testament to the quality of fishing this spring is – it’s been so good even I can get tired of catching fish.

So far this spring’s been cooking up a perfect recipe of some great hatches in past years and steady weather so far this spring. We’ve had very few of the massive cold fronts that shut-down fishing activity or heavy spring rains that raise lake levels too high.

Good white bass runs have come and gone and the walleye are starting to bite on the points and drop-offs at some lakes. The crappie spawn is on big-time at many lakes with some quality fish. Not far from Wichita Fall River and Toronto Lakes have been producing crappie to 15 or 16-inches.

Crappie fishing is good for quality fish at many lakes, like this 14-incher caught at Glen Elder Lake Tuesday afternoon. A column on the catching of 94 such lunkers will be on Sunday's outdoors page.

Crappie fishing is good for quality fish at many lakes, like this 14-incher caught at Glen Elder Lake Tuesday afternoon. A column on the catching of 94 such lunkers will be on Sunday's outdoors page.

Tuesday afternoon two friends hosted me on one of the best days of freshwater fishing of my life at Glen Elder Lake. When we were done there were 94 huge crappie in the boat’s livewell. The action and quality of the fish was amazing.

You can read about the trip on Sunday’s outdoors page.

Gator bait

No clue where this pic is from but it’s kind of funny.

Kind of reminds me of deer hunters waiting along trails for deer.

Not afraid of 'gators but I think I'd wait until a lull in traffic let me walk down the middle of the road. Not sure I'd want to be that egret.

Not afraid of 'gators but I think I'd wait until a lull in traffic let me walk down the middle of the road. Not sure I'd want to be that egret.

The Case of Moby Grass Carp

The biggest catch of an angler’s life is a monstrous deal and Sterling Allen was living’ the dream Saturday evening with a danged-sure whopper.

The problem was he didn’t know exactly how big  – - or exactly what he’d caught.

I got involved when Sterling called The Eagle looking for advice and to ask if we wanted a photo of a really big fish. The sports department called me while I was in  El Dorado finishing-up the story on Addy York. (An amazing young woman, a true inspiration. You can click here for that story.)

A quick call to Sterling found a man on Cloud Nine. He’d been fishing on Fall River in Greenwood County with his buddy, John Nash, Saturday morning when something big slammed his hook baited with a nightcrawler. After a five minute fight a long, silvery fish with large scales was netted.

Over the phone he told me he thought he’d caught a buffalo of state or world-record proportions – 70 lbs. or bigger. I was on my way after filing Addy’s story.

I arrived at Sterling”s home near 21st and Greenwich to find his driveway full of friends and family, staring at a huge fish laying in the yard. All were guessing the fish’s weight.

To me, there was no guessing the fish was a grass carp. A cell phone pic sent to Jessica Mounts, a Wildlife and Parks fisheries biologist, confirmed it.

Someone in the crowd quickly went online and noted the state record was 60 pounds. Sterling held-out hope it might break that mark. I wasn’t so sure.

Someone produced bathroom scales and we did the weigh-the-man, weigh-the-        man-holding-the-fish method. We came up with 38.5 lbs. A buddy brought over a set of digital fishing scales. They said 39 lbs.

Sterling Allen  has his hands full  with the big grass carp he caught Saturday in Greenwood County.

Sterling Allen has his hands full with the big grass carp he caught Saturday in Greenwood County.

Sterling and his buddies were shocked. My guess of 45 lbs. was way-off, too.

So a new-found friend didn’t have a state record but he had a bunch of buddies and family standing around, talking fishing, all of us envious because we’d never caught a fish so big in Kansas.

No disappointment, only smiles and laughter.

Great fish Sterling. Thanks for letting me in on your fun.