Monthly Archives: May 2011

Sentencing for poachers gets continuance

Two Texas brothers expected to get years in jail and tens of thousands of dollars in fines have been granted a continuance for their formal sentencing.

James Butler, Jr. and Marlin Butler were to be sentenced by District Judge Wesley Brown on Thursday.

Now they’ll be sentenced June 21 and June 24 respectively in federal court in Wichita.

The Butlers pleaded guilty on March 16. James Butler’s agreement included 41 months in prison and about $50,000 in fines and restitution. Marlin Butler’s agreement included 27 months in prison and about $20,000 in fines and restitution.

In March Brown repeatedly reminded the Butlers he was not required to follow their pleas upon formal sentencing.

The Butlers operated Camp Lone Star in Comanche County for several years. The outfitters repeatedly assisted and encouraged clients to illegally obtain deer permits and illegally kill trophy whitetail and mule deer bucks.

Involving more than 60 people and the poaching of more than 100 deer some law enforcement experts think it’s the largest trophy deer poaching case in history.

CLICK HERE to read more about the case against the Butlers.

Zebra mussels continue to spread

Late Friday the Kansas Department of Wildlife, Parks and Tourism announced that zebra mussels have been found at the Jeffery Energy Center. It’s located about half-way between Topeka and Manhattan and near the Kansas River.

The department’s press release said the discovery was expected because zebra mussels are present in Wilson and Milford Lakes. Both lakes release water into tributaries of the Kansas River. Jeffery Energy center pulls water from the Kansas River.

Kansas now has 11 confirmed bodies of water with zebra mussels. El Dorado Lake was Kansas’ first in the summer of 2003. Zebra mussels are now present in Marion and Cheney Lakes, too.

The invasive species came to the U.S. in the ballast of cargo ships in the mid-1980s and have spread south and east from the Great Lakes.

Though zebra mussel larvae spreads downstream most stockings in Kansas waters were probably done by anglers and pleasure boaters transporting water from one lake to another.

Zebra mussels clog in-take pipes at numerous water treatment and energy facilities resulting in millions of dollars of rate hikes to pay for cleaning.

They also compete with native fish and mollusks for plankton and habitat.

Wildlife and Parks is continually reminding the public to never move fish or water from one body of water to another, to empty bait buckets and livewells on dry land and not into other waters, to check boats, trailers, skis for vegetation or zebra mussels and to power-wash all equipment with hot water or dry for at least five days.

Geocaching competition begins Friday

At noon Friday an annual treasure hunt will begin in Kansas’ state parks and a few wildlife areas.

That’s when the Kansas Department of Wildlife, Parks and Tourism website will post details on their annual geocaching competition.

Whoever finds all 31 caches will win a first prize of an annual camping permit for 2012 valued at up to about $250.

Kathy Pritchett, state parks trail coordinator, said a number of other prizes will be given away.

Geocaching is a sport where participants use GPS units to follow provided coordinates and clues to find hidden caches. Most caches contain a log book to be signed and trade one trinket they’ve brought for another in the cache.

“It’s one more fun thing they can do while they’re in a state park,” Pritchett said. “Evidently  it’s real habit-forming. People really like looking for the things.

Rude turkeys? Not a lost day in the Flint Hills

Seven weeks into a season is never an easy to time to find hunting success, especially for turkeys. A lot of toms have been carted home by hunters, the birds figure out where to hang so hunters can’t get them and habitat conditions have changed greatly since early in the season.

Skip Hidlay and I knew that when we headed into Chase County mid-morning on Saturday. And while we saw plenty of turkeys gusting winds made it almost impossible to hear or be heard with calls. The best flock we saw disappeared into a wide-open section of rolling prairie.

Twenty years ago that would have bothered me. Saturday we just changed our focus to birding and fishing.

We weren’t a mile from where we met in Matfield Green when we got a stunning, point-blank look at a male PAINTED BUNTING. It was the first time Skip had seen one of the tropical-looking birds. It was the most wide-open and closest look I’ve ever had at one, too.

An INDIGO BUNTING was politely waiting in the wide-open when we got to our hunting spot. We found several others, including one only a few yards away as we walked and turkey called along the edge of some woods.

No shortage of SCISSOR-TAILED FLYCATCHERS, either. Amid the dozen or so was a big male missing one side of his long, namesake tail. I wondered if that meant he could only turn one direction when working a swarm of flying insects.

Fishing was pretty good in a gorgeous stream that runs through the ranch. My biggie was that most of the bass I caught were spotted bass, the native fish to Flint Hills streams. Skip caught a largemouth of about 2 1/2-pounds. That’s a dandy for a small stream.

So, no turkeys but lots of great wildlife to be seen and fish to be caught.

And we also learned that an ice-cold Freestate beer tastes a lot better while you’re overlooking a great Flint Hills view than about anywhere else in Kansas.

Not a bad day, huh?

Additional biologists added to conservation program

Pheasants Forever  has announced the addition of two people to their Farm Bill Wildlife Biologist program in Kansas.

The program is designed to assist landowners wanting to improve wildlife habitat on their lands. As well as trained biologists program workers will be assisting landowners in obtaining state and federal funding to help with conservation projects.

Both new biologists have completed graduate work at Texas A & M this year and will be located in local federal Natural Resource Conservation Service offices.

Kirby Calhoun is to be located in Abilene.

Mark Witecha will be working from Ness City.

Pheasants Forever farm bill biologists are also located in Decatur, Nemaha, Mitchell, Grant and Barber counties.

Though program habitat projects are aimed at helping pheasant, quail and lesser prairie chicken populations dozens of non-game species also benefit from programs that include burning, native grass seeding and brush removal.

Justice not done to poachers

Justice wasn’t done last week when an Oberlin court gave a comparable slap on the wrist to some high-profile poachers.

Hunters and the general public were outraged last December when photos of a trailer heaped with poached trophy-class bucks circulated online.

The pics were of 16 dead deer Wildlife and Parks game wardens confiscated from a Wisconsin group of friends and family ignoring game laws and hunting ethics in Decatur County.

As well as untagged many of the poached deer weren’t field-dressed showing the poachers probably cared little about putting the venison to good use.

Three of the five poachers were accessed $6,100 in fines each last week. The other two have yet to be formally punished.

Sound like a lot? Not in the world of trophy deer hunting. The assorted licenses, permits and stamps total about $500 for a non-resident to legally hunt mule deer in Kansas.

Most good guided mule deer hunts average around $5,000. These poachers barely got fined enough to cover a guided hunt and the required licenses. Not much of a deterrent if you can poach for free and your penalty is the going rate.

The McCook Gazette says they also lost hunting privileges in Kansas for three years. Since Kansas is part of a multi-state wildlife law enforcement compact the poachers will also have lost hunting privileges in about 38 other states.

To be honest that probably hurts the guys more than the amount of the fine.

Then again you have to wonder about the impact of telling convicted poachers that they can’t hunt legally for three years, right?

Cheney, El Dorado Lakes could have $2.2 milllion fish

Cheney and El Dorado Lakes are among eight Kansas lakes that may have a fish swimming in their water worth up to $2.2 million to a lucky angler.

Cedar Bluff, Hillsdale, Milford, Glen Elder, Clinton and Kanopolis Lakes are also part of Cabela’s “Wanna Go Fishing For Millions” program. The exact lakes within the program have just been announced.

Smallmouth bass are one of the species of fish in Cabela's "Wanna' Go Fishing" contest.

Kansas has the most participating lakes of any of the about 19 states within the program. About 15 fish were tagged at each Kansas lake.

The first tagged fish caught during the contest period by a registered angler in Kansas is worth an extra $10,000 in merchandise from Cabela’s.

Anglers have between Saturday and July 14 to catch the fish and must be registered before fishing to enter a tag in the event. Largemouth, smallmouth and striped bass, walleye and trout are species that received tags nationwide.

Anglers using equipment made by Cabela’s and other sponsors are awarded the highest prizes. The fish with the best tag is directly worth $1 million but the prize could go up to $2.2 million if the angler used the right kinds of gear and is wearing the proper kind of sunglasses when the fish is hooked.

Linda Craghead, of the Kansas Department of Wildlife, Parks and Tourism, said the department is cooperating with the program in an effort to encourage more people to go fishing. Department biologists tagged fish at each participating Kansas lake but the agency made no direct financial contribution to the event.

Kyle Austin said a tagged walleye was caught at Kanopolis Lake last weekend, which was before the contest officiallly began. Austin said the angler will be sent a consolation prize by Cabela’s but the fish was not eligible for major prizes.

Mountain lions in towns

This week mountain lions shot in El Paso and Kearney, Nebraska made the news. In both cases police made the decision to kill the animals to prevent a possible injury to town residents or pets.

CLICK HERE to read about the El Paso mountain lion.

CLICK HERE to read about the Kearney mountain lion.

You wonder what must have been going through the minds of law enforcement when they have to fire shots at an animal in the middle of town, with homes and businesses all around.

Shoot the animal or take a chance on it injuring a person? Tough, split-second decision with plenty of detractors either way. Me, I’ll side with safety for humans every time.

A little more background digging on the Nebraska cat showed they’d had several killed or found dead within the past year or two.

No doubt more and more cats seem to be moving south and east from the Black Hills of South Dakota and Pine Ridge area of Nebraska.

Anyone want to guess when the first one will be shot in a Kansas town?

I’m guessing late 2012 in Kansas City, Kansas near the Missouri River.

Some days are like that – thankfully

We knew we were taking a chance. More accurately, we both planned on a miserable day of fishing.

Days before Troy Ethridge and I met early Monday in Salina the forecast said the day was to be very windy and very hot on Wilson Lake.

Troy Ethridge was surprised to find the forecast wrong and fishing conditions perfect at Wilson Lake for most of Monday.

Wilson is one of Kansas’ best fishing lakes, surely the prettiest, but can also be the most fickle. It seems it’s either dead-calm which makes fishing tough in crystal-clear water or the white caps are so tall boating is pure misery.

Ethridge’s idea was to arrive early hoping to beat the worst gales.

The wind was already whipping the tree tops when I left Newton at 6 a.m. and was strong in Salina an hour later.

But it was just a nice breeze when we reached Wilson and to our surprise it stayed that way all morning.

In fact it wasn’t until we’d just placed our tenth, limit-filling walleye in the boat at about 1:30 p.m. that the white caps came rolling.

“It’s not often the forecast is wrong in favor of the fisherman,” Ethridge said. “Usually they predict a light wind and it really blows. This is a lot better.”

Sitting on 60-something degree water into the early afternoon we also fished in total comfort while those on land sweltered.

Ethridge had to slowly motor between the rollers on our way back to the ramp where a high wind blowing across scalding asphalt hit us like air from a blast furnace.

And we smiled all the way back to Salina.

You can read more about Ethridge’s fishing expertise on the outdoors page of Sunday’s Wichita Eagle and at

New Wildlife Area Thriving

One of Kansas’ newest public hunting areas is off to a great start.

Turkey and deer hunters have had very high success rates on the new Grand Osage Wildlife Area. Permits are limited and awarded by drawing.

The Grand Osage Wildlife Area was part of the Army ammunition plant near Parsons before Wildlife and Parks took possession of the 3,000 chunk in January, 2010.

Rob Riggin, Wildlife and Parks public lands manager, said last fall 40 bowhunters shot about 50 does and about 20 bucks. About 400 hopeful hunters applied during the summer drawing for one of the coveted spots. Riggin said most of the trophy bucks taken have scored  in the upper-140s on the Pope & Young scoring system.

Spring turkey hunters found lots of birds. Many were done within the first three hours of their first day.

As good as it’s been there may be better things to come.

Riggin plans to plant several fields to sunflowers to attract doves and dove hunters. Even more hunting lands may be coming soon.

Officials are hoping a few years down the road Wildlilfe and Parks may be able to manage about 10,000 more acres of the old plant. Much of the land must be cleaned of old ammo bunkers and production facilities before public access can be granted.

Currently all outdoors access is limited to those with the special hunting permits and only on the portion owned by Wildlife and Parks.

One of the 100-plus ponds and strip pits on the old Army ammunition plant near Parsons that may someday be opened to the public.

Riggin hopes to someday open fishing at many of the 100-plus ponds scattered around the facility…someday.

For information on the special hunts go to and check out the special hunts section.