Monthly Archives: April 2011

Mike and the bean stalk

Every year my gardening horizons widen a bit more.

Four or five years ago it started with a couple of tomato plants in five-gallon buckets. This year I’m expanding the garden about 50-percent and starting some seeds ahead of time indoors.

Lazy as I am I skipped the “work” or putting dirt and seeds in small plastic cups and bought a “professional greenhouse” for about $5.

It’s basically a sturdy plastic tray with a clear plastic lid. It also came with 72 peat disks about as big around as a checker and twice as thick.

The directions were so easy even I only had to read them twice – wet the disks, insert a couple of seeds in each and place them in the tray with the lid on.

I had no clue things would go so well.

I had sprouts of yellow squash, zucchini and green beans within three days so I removed the lid. Ten days after planting I had some bean sprouts 14-inches tall.

Seriously! We could almost sit and watch the little plants grow. The amazing part was how we got that much plant out such a tiny amount of peat that’s only walnut-sized when wet.

The speed of growth caught me way off guard and my garden’s not quite ready to accept the plants.

So in the meantime I’ll be transplanting about 20 seedlings into one of the whisky barrels  Kathy uses for flowers for a week or so.

It’ll be interesting to see if the amazing growth rate continues.

But if one ends up going into the clouds I’m not climbing it. I have this phobia about giants, you know.

Their Governor out-hunted ours, Missouri lakes closed to boats

Like most Kansans I don’t like losing to Missouri, especially when it comes to something in the outdoors.

But, gulp, their governor certainly out-hunted our governor when it came to turkeys this spring. According to Brent Frazee,  outdoors writer at the Kansas City Star, Gov. Jay Nixon shot a 24-pound tom when the Missouri season opened April 18.

Our Gov. Sam Brownback only got soaked and cold on his aqua-hunt on the Governor’s Turkey Hunt on April 15.

You can CLICK HERE to see Frazee’s article and photos of Nixon and his big bird.

While you’re at it read the story about the woman who left a ten-pound channel cat tied up and later found it in the throat of a huge flathead.

I guess I need to start using bigger bait!

CLICK HERE TO read a warning for boaters to stay off Missouri’s Table Rock and Taneycomo Lakes because of high water.

Beginner’s luck = state record fish

A lot of paddlefish snaggers jerk giant hooks throught the water for decades trying to get a coveted 80-pounder. An Oklahoma angler caught a new state record of 125 pounds, 7 ounces his first year of snagging.

Aaron Stone and his new Oklahoma record paddlefish of 125 pounds, 7 ounces.

Aaron Stone of Pawhuska was snagging in the Arkansas River on April 10 when his hooks found the fish that beat the existing Oklahoma record of 121.2 pounds snagged below Kaw Dam in 2003.

Stone’s battle took about 40 minutes.

The Kansas state-record paddlefish is also the current world record at 144 pounds. It was caught, of all places, from a pond in a park in Atchinson.

Since they feed on microscopic plankton paddlefish can’t be caught on baited hooks. Most states along the Missouri and Arkansas River systems have special snagging seasons to catch the fish when they run up rivers to spawn.

Ranch with a view

It never takes a lot of coaxing to send me to the Smoky Hills. As I like to say it’s a wide swath of pristine prairie like the Flint Hills were 25 years ago. Prairie chickens still gather by the hundreds on winter crop fields. Amid the rolling hills are scores of species of prairie birds, mule deer, bobwhites, pheasants and lots and lots of wild turkeys.

The Houghtons have been on the Mitchell County ranch since 1872. Part of the 2,400 acres is a hill with a 40-mile view.

A chance to spend some time on the ranch owned by Keith and Debra Houghton is even more of a bonus.

In his office Keith has the homestead papers of when his family started the ranch in 1872. Generations of the family have lived on the place ever since.

Last week I stopped by for a bit of turkey hunting. In between calling sessions Keith took me to “the hill,”  a prominent knoll east of the ranch headquarters.

On a clear day the ridge has a 40-mile view. As we looked Keith told family stories about the knob. My favorite was of when his family headed by horse and wagon to the town of Wilson, about 40 miles away, in about 1900 to buy lumber.

In the tiny town they found a nine-year-old African-American boy abandoned and on his own. The Houghton’s took him in, brought him to the ranch and charged him with the task of watching the family’s flock of sheep.

Day after day, he drove the flock into the hills early in the morning and watched them from atop the high hill. At dusk every day he drove them to the protective pens at the ranchstead.

Standing there last week I tried to imagine what it was like to ascend the hill every day. I also day-dreamed of what it was like when the Houghton’s first arrived. Back then the view probably included big herds of buffalo and maybe the distant camp fires of a band of Cheyenne.

You just have to love a ranch with a view and that kind of history.

Let the decoy do the work while you’re in town

Every year thousands of wild turkey hunters use decoys to fool a tom into coming into shotgun range so they can make a shot.

Dave Marble, right, and Jane Brown went to Leon for breakfast Thursday morning. When they returned to their hunting spot they found this tom thrashing Marble's turkey decoy.

Unlike most, though, Dave Marble and Jane Brown were miles away when his full-strut decoy lured in a Butler County gobbler last Friday morning.

Brown was in El Dorado as one of the hunters on the 25th Governor’s Turkey Hunt. Marble was her guide.

Before sunrise Friday morning they set-up not far from where some toms and hens were roosted in some cypress trees over a nice-sized pond.

When the birds hit the ground and went the other way Marble decided to take Brown to Leon for breakfast and coffee.

“When we came back this bird was absolutely thrashing my B-Mobile,” Marble said. “I mean he was all over it. I’m pretty sure he ruined the fan.”

The decoy resembles a tom turkey in full strut. Hunters often add the feathered tailfan of a real turkey to the fake tom for added realism.

The two-year-old tom was so into attacking the decoy Marble and Brown were able to drive on to the property and sneak into a hiding position not far from the bird.

After only a few calls Marble though he heard the sound of the tom strutting closer. “Next thing I know she’s about squeezing my fingers off because she could see the bird,” Marble said. He gave a few more calls so the bird raised its head. An expert shot with a shotgun, Brown had no trouble dropping the tom.

It was the first turkey she’d ever shot. An hour after the hunt Brown was still beaming.

Laid-back side of turkey hunting

There was a time when I absolutely attacked spring turkey hunting. Unable to draw permits in Kansas for several years I got my start deep in the Missouri Ozarks, walking and calling from ridge to ridge from before daylight until shooting hours ended at noon.

I covered much more ground on all day hunts in places like the New Mexico mountains, the Black Hills , Florida swamps and the big canyon country of western Oklahoma in following years.

Wednesday I barely covered a mile of real estate, including the walk in to where I actually called. Less time marching meant more time relaxing. The gobbler I walked out with was just as dead and will be just as delicious as any from the aggressive hunts from the past.

I was up vising friends in Mitchell County to enjoy some different scenery for the opening of turkey season.

Birds they have plenty of, places to hide an approach or sitting hunter…not so much.

My favored way to set-up has always been simply sitting with my back against a tree and trying to call an ol’ longbeard to within 15 or so yards at open, eyeball level. Since trees sprouted too far down the very steep creek bank I had to carry in a pop-up blind.

In the morning I’d dueled with four longbeards that wouldn’t cross to my side of the creek. As they walked off gobbling I figured they may have been intimidated by my aggressive calling and/or a full-strut decoy.

I returned from another direction at 3 p.m. and set-up about 200 yards from the morning’s hunt. Decoys were just a plain hen and a jake I’d placed in a horizontal, non-threatening pose.

The first gobbles came from the southwest at about 4:30. A few years ago I’d have baled out of the blind and headed in that direction and hit the birds with aggressive cutting and long strings of yelps. Yesterday I gave a few yelps. When the toms gobbled a reply I tossed out some mild cutting (quick, excited yelps) and relaxed.

I only called when they gobbled. At 5 they came into sight from the northwest. It took them 15 minutes to come the final 50 yards.

For the sake of nostalgia I was carrying the same Remington 870 I used with my first Missouri bird back in 1980. Wednesday’s three-year-old tom was about 22 yards. His beard was about 9 1/2 inches. The spurs were an even inch and I’d guess he weighed 18-20 pounds. Just a nice, mature Kansas Rio Grande.

There was a time when I’d rushed the bird to the truck and headed to town to show-off. Wednesday I sat down and slowly ate an orange and finished off a bottle of water before the haul-out.

I drove around to scout some new areas and found a flock headed towards an easy set-up spot where a hay meadow funneled them past a flowering wild plum thicket.  Unlike in the past I wasn’t even tempted to stash the truck and take a second gobbler.

At my friend’s place I cleaned the bird while sipping a Corona. I had another while we ate snacks for dinner and talked outside until well after dark.

Except for hunts with my kids, I can’t say I’ve had many turkey hunting days end with more satisfaction.

Turkey Time in Kansas!

Wednesday’s opening of the general turkey season has become a big time event for many thousands of Kansans. Those heading afield should expect to find plenty of birds.

Annually between 4,500 and 6,000 young hunters get to go hunting during Kansas' special early turkey season. The general season opens Wednesday, April 13.“Things are looking really good in the central part of the state,” said Jim Pitman, Kansas Department of Wildlife, Parks and Tourism turkey biologist. “Where we have habitat in far western Kansas there are a really decent number of turkeys, too.

Pitman said the population is still lower than six or eight years ago in southeast Kansas. Several years of very poor hatches due to flooding knocked the population way down.

“We had about average production last year so people should see more jakes,” he said. “It probably won’t be as many adult birds as most people prefer but hopefully one more year of good production should get us headed in the right direction.”

Archers, youth and disabled hunters have been headed “in the right direction” since their special early turkey season opened on April 1.

“I think we’ve more than doubled the number of archery hunters. We’re up to close to 5,000 who use the seasons,” Pitman said. “About 4,500-6,000 youth have used the season the last several years. That’s pretty good.”

A growing number of non-resident archery hunters use the early Kansas season because it opens before turkey seasons in their home states. Many hunters come from the east to try for a tom of the Rio Grande subspecies in Kansas.

When asked for the best place in the state Pitman said, “Probably northcentral Kansas right now. It has a whole lot of public access and a whole lot of birds. It’s a good place to be if you’re a turkey hunter.

Much of the public ground is enrolled in Wildlife and Park’s spring Walk-In Hunting Area program. Go to for more information.

Flint Hills prairie chickens – the rest of the story

One of the frustrating things about writing for a newspaper is there’s only a finite amount of space. Sometimes we just don’t have the space to provide every detail on a subject.

Sunday’s story about the rapid decline of Flint Hills prairie chickens is an example. CLICK HERE TO READ THE STORY.

The article’s many paragraphs about the decline, the possible reasons for the decline and the on-going research study hoping to provide more information were the most important aspects.

Here’s some more information related to the story.

—  If a way can be found to up survival of eggs and pre-flight chicks the chances of the species doing better in the Flint Hills are very good.

—Lance McNew, head of the research project, said past studies show Flint Hills prairie chickens have a 70-percent chance of making it to the following spring once they learn to fly. That’s a very high number compared to similar birds, like other grouse, quail and pheasants.

— McNew’s research has shown Flint Hills prairie chickens have the longest life-spans of the eight grouse species of North America.

— Of the predation of adult prairie chickens predation by human hunters is very slight. McNew’s past four year study had only four of more than 1,000 studied birds shot by human hunters. That’s a mortality rate of .004 percent to hunting.

— McNew said it’s important hunting seasons continue so the study can qualify for funding from the Kansas Department of Wildlife and Parks and the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service. Together they pay a high majority of the $866,000 to fund the research project from money raised from the sale of hunting licenses and excise taxes on hunting and shooting equipment. Federal regulations say such funding can’t be spent on non-game species.

— The story also didn’t include information about an online photo gallery with about 20 photos taken while spending two mornings afield with McNew. Click the above link and you’ll find the gallery listed just below the link to the article.

Silencing the worry about silencers

Contrary to many media reports thousands of hunters won’t be taking to the Kansas woods and wetlands this fall carrying silencers on their shotguns and rifles.

The legislature has passed a bill that would allow the use of suppressors on  hunting guns to those who are properly licensed to have them in their possession.

Despite what's been written and aired thousands of hunters won't be heading out after pheasants with silencers on their shotguns in Kansas.

First, they’re suppressors, not silencers like you see on crime shows making no more noise than a kid shooting spit-wads when some bad guy pumps a clip of .45 slugs into some poor victim without waking the woman sleeping next to him.

Suppressors don’t make as much noise as a bare-muzzled gun but they’re far from silent.

Second, getting the federal permit to own a suppressor takes a lot of time, effort and money. It’s not like you can pick one up at Gander Mountain on your way out to western Kansas for a pheasant hunt.

Some see poaching and other crimes as the only reason for suppressors while some who have them say they shoot them to help protect their hearing or not to alarm others when they’re legally hunting near towns.

Federal wildlife control officers have requested the legalization of suppressors because quieting a rifle’s noise will make it easier to take multiple animals from one herd or location.

Brownback announces special pheasant hunt

Gov. Sam Brownback has announced Kansas’ first Ringneck Classic pheasant hunt will be held this fall in western Kansas.

Today’s press release said the hunt will be Nov. 18-20 and based out of Oakley.

Since being elected Brownback has said he hopes to bring more attention to the Kansas outdoors in an effort to improve the state’s economy.

Gov. Sam Brownback has announced Kansas' first Ringneck Classic pheasant hunt will be Nov. 18-20 in Oakley. It's hoped the celebrity hunt will draw more attention to Kansas' good bird hunting.

“My top priority is to grow the state’s economy. Key to that is capitalizing on the competitive advantages our state has,” Brownback said in the release. “Kansas is consistently ranked as one of the top three states in the country for pheasant hunting. This is an underutilized asset for our rural communities. If we do a better job telling folks about the quality of hunting available here in Kansas, we will pull more of those tourism dollars into Kansas.”

Invitations to the hunt will be sent to select business and community leaders across the nation.

The event will be on the second weekend of the Kansas pheasant season.

The press release states hunting is a $271 million a year business in Kansas and is a vital part of the western Kansas economy in the fall and winter.

In Wichita on Jan. 7 Brownback talked of his desire for a invitational hunt. He mentioned he’d like to see Kansas be more like South Dakota, where the renowned pheasant hunting draws sportsmen from all over the world and adds more than $200 million to the state’s economy.

“I’m tired of South Dakota getting all the credit for having great pheasants when ours are bigger, tougher, wilder and better to shoot at than theirs are,” Brownback joked amid his Jan. 7 announcement of Robin Jennison as his new Kansas Department of Wildlife and Parks secretary.

The Ringneck Classic will be Kansas’ second high-profile invitational hunt.

The Governor’s One Shot Turkey Hunt will be April 14-16. This will be the 25th year for the annual hunt in El Dorado.