Monthly Archives: May 2012

Flint Hills Nature Trail to offer miles of enjoyment

Congratulations, you have  access to 117 miles of towering woodlands, clear streams and long prairie vistas dotted with clumps of wild flowers.

The Flint Hills Nature Trail basically follows an abandoned rail line from Herington to Osawatomie. Currently about 80 miles or so are improved enough for bikes or horses. Work is progressing on the rest.

Wednesday I got a few hours of touring via pick-up with Scott Allen, of Council Grove. The work they’ve done to create the trail is impressive, as is the diversity of  habitats and views. Some places it is more than six miles between public roads. That the right-of-way is usually 100 to 200 yards wide means people can wander a bit, but are cautioned to not cross fences on to private lands.

More details on the trail that’s the sixth-largest of it’s kind in the nation should be on Sunday’s outdoors page in The Eagle, or at  CLICK HERE TO SEE A photo gallery of about 20 photos from along the trail online.

Fawns show perfect camo, but don’t touch!

Given a choice, I’d take the Quivira National Wildlife Refuge or some private property I can access for wildlife photography. But Blake Nelson certainly has my envy for a photo he got on a Pratt golf course Friday morning.

Not only is it a nice photo of a young fawn, it also shows how nature’s white spotting works as camouflage. The basic concept is to break the animals outline, the same thing we try to do when we are wearing Realtree, Mossy Oak or any other man-made camo.

Fawns naturally hold stone-still, too…that’s the part we hunters often struggle with.

Blake Nelson found this fawn on a Pratt golf course on Friday morning.

An avid outdoorsman,  Blake was smart enough to leave the fawn alone. The doe that had the little deer probably tucked it away in a safe place then left so it wouldn’t draw the attention of predators to the spot. Chances are she returned in a few hours, nursed the fawn and probably moved it to another location.

Watch an upcoming issue of The Wichita Eagle for an article on the problem of people taking fawns they’ve found. It’s often a death sentence for the little deer.

Big flatheads on the move!

Kansas’ biggest fish, flathead catfish, are on the move, heading towards spawning areas up rivers and streams.

Set-lines and trotlines baited with  baitfish big enough to produce fillets are catching fish in the upper ends of lakes, reservoirs, and on rivers and streams.

Chris Conrade with a big flathead from last weekend.

Chris Conrade, of Newton, caught this 45-pounder last weekend at El Dorado Reservoir using a goldfish that was big enough to eat a lot of bass for bait.

Check Sunday’s outdoors page in The Eagle or at for a feature story on a unique way of fishing for big flatheads.

Building a better raccoon trap

Dealing with Kansas’ exploding raccoon population is a problem many landowners, land managers, hunters, gardeners, birders are facing.

Well, a Kansas company has come up with a way to help trap these critters that often travel in small packs. Pretty ingenius, really.


My thanks to Roy Wenzl for passing this along.


Heath Getty’s aerial archery career continues to grow

A central Kansas archer continues towards his goal of making archery a full-time occupation. In the past few years Heath Getty has enjoyed an online video with millions of viewers, numerous public demonstrations and a pretty good run on a popular German television show.


Heath Getty, of St. John, continues to build his reputation as being one of America's top archers.

In 2009, photographer Travis Heying and I followed some backroads out of the tiny town of St. John to meet a young local man a caller said was a whiz with a bow when it came to shooting targets out of the air.

Travis’s video clearly showed the farm kid with a shy, “aw-shucks” smile could consistently hit zipping clay targets with well-aimed arrows.

For those who don’t know, those targets are about 1/2″X 5″, traveling at about 60 m.p.h., and are about 30 yards out by the time the arrow finds them. They’d have been a challenge with a shotgun, let alone a rifle or a bow.

At the time, Heath said he hoped his skills could lead to a career as an exhibition shooter. Well, he’s certainly getting there.

The video Travis posted on eventually led to more than 2.5 million hits. Heath has since done public shooting demonstrations in a number of bordering states. And, he’s become quite the hero in Germany, too.

It’s been about a year since the German television show, “Galileo,” sent a crew to St. John to spend two long days filming Heath making a variety of trick shots, including several kinds of aerial shots and shooting an arrow into the back of another arrow, Robin Hood style.

The show was obviously popular.

“Things literally blew up. On Facebook I got like 800 friend requests from Germany,” Getty recently said. “I’m still getting a lot of e-mails weekly. I guess they’re still showing it because every so often everything takes off like wildfire again.”

Heath has several aerial target exhibitions scheduled, and  is helping Atlas Trap promote their machine that lofts foam disks up to 150 feet into the air.

He’s also purchased a quality video camera and is hoping to get some of his archery hunts taped.

“Doves, geese, ducks, pigeons, turkeys, deer, pretty much everything that can be hunted, I’m doing it with a bow,” he said.

Make time for mulberries

This year’s mulberry crop seems to be a few weeks ahead of schedule…not that you’ll find many forms of Kansas wildlife complaining.

Mulberries, a springtime treat for a variety of Kansas animals...including humans.

Summertime squirrel hunters, all three or four of us, can attest to the fact that fox and gray squirrels both love to feast on ripened mulberries. A high number of songbirds do, too.

Some of the most interesting connoisseurs of the ripe-when-they-are-purple berries are fish. Both carp and channel cats are known to  sit under a mulberry limb that hangs over their river or stream, and grab the little fruit that fall into the water.

Several years ago ex-Gov. Mike Hayden showed me several mulberry imitations he had for fly-fishing beneath the trees. I got several reports last year of anglers at Glen Elder and Milford Reservoirs fishing mulberries below mulberry trees that were standing in several feet of water because of excess rains.

Oh, and people seem to like them, too. Last summer Ed Schulte, a long-time friend, gave me a jar of jelly or jam that contained mulberries…and it was excellent.

I couldn’t even guess how many times I’ve taken a few minutes break from fishing somewhere to toss a few purple berries in my mouth.

My best mulberry memory, though, was about 17 years ago when I tagged along to help Marc Murrell take his then two-year-old daughter, Ashley, to catch her first fish. That was no problem as the bluegill were big and on beds near shore.

No, the problem was to get young Ashley, who at the time was cuter than should be legally allowed, to make it back to the truck. Marc had picked a few berries from a nearby tree and shared them with the knee-high girl, and she was instantly addicted.

“Mo moo berries,” was almost a mantra for the child. As well as a bit dirty and smelling a little like fish, Marc took his little darling home with purple lips and cheeks from her outdoors feast.

I think of her face about every time I stop to snack on a few mulberries, myself.


Deep water not always best for big catfish

So much for those who believe the best place to catch catfish is always in deep water.

Ryan Gnagy with a Milford blue catfish of about 21 pounds.

Monday Ryan Gnagy found a bunch of nice blue catfish in two to four-feet of water at Milford Reservoir. The best was pushing 21 pounds and the total catch was 17 blues, though all over about six pounds were released.

Gnagy is an avid catfish tournament angler from near Topeka, part-time guide and all-around nice guy and avid outdoorsman. Monday he volunteered to take me afloat at the spring Outdoors Writers of Kansas meeting at Junction City. He didn’t predict much success because Saturday’s angling had been slow for him. The blue catfish spawn is expected to be on and they’re a species of fish that often don’t bite well when “that” is on their minds.

The expert’s electronics showed the most fish on a broad and shallow mud flat near an old river channel. With special rigging, we dragged fist-sized chunks of cut shad about 150 yards behind the boat. There usually was no nibbling as the aggressive blues hammered the baits.

We each kept our limit of five blues, from three to about six pounds. Gnagy likes to release all larger fish, saying their growth rates after about that size puts them into the “Moby Blue” size in just a few years.  We released the one pushing 21 pounds, plus others of about 15, 12, 11, 10 and several around 8 or 9 pounds.

We actually had 16 blues by noon. After lunch we headed to deeper water hoping to find a whiskered giant. In two hours of drifting we landed just one five-pounder.

No doubt, it was a shallow water bite.


A boy and his turtle

When I found the box turtle last summer the plan was for my young friend Konner to care for the creature all summer, then release it into good habitat in early autumn so the animal could go through a natural hibernation.

After disappearing for most of last fall and winter, Konner's box turtle reappeared in his doubt hungry for more strawberries.

But plans changed as Konner got attached to the terrapin he’d named Franklin. He learned of his pet’s fondness for strawberries and furnished them often.

Daily he took the turtle outside so it could get exercise. When Konner was to be gone most of the day, like going to school or a baseball tournament, he placed it in their backyard and then found it when he got home.

In early September I called and suggested a good place to release the turtle as we’d agreed. Konner’s mom was ready for the good-by event.

Konner was not. Tears flowed, a little boy pleaded and the turtle stayed and stayed.

And then one day in late September or early October his backyard search was in vain. No turtle was to be found. I figured the desire to find a suitable place for hibernation pushed the turtle to find a place to escape.

It was a long fall and winter for Konner, and the plan was for me to pick-up another turtle when I had a chance this spring.

But good news came about two weeks ago when Konner and his mom were outside their Newton home and saw movement coming across their lawn.

Not only was it a turtle, it was the one Konner had named Franklin!

Evidently he had simple searched out a suitable place for hibernation in the yard and was now ready for more strawberries.

So goes the happy ending in another story of a boy and his turtle.


Two key bills pass both houses, expected to go to conference committees next week

Two highly touted, and somewhat controversial,  Kansas Department of Wildlife, Parks and Tourism bills have won priliminary approval in both houses and expect final actions next week.

Both bills have changed quite a bit in recent days.

“It’s gotten complicated, but it’s always complicated this time of the year,” said Robin Jennison, Kansas Department of Wildlife, Parks and Tourism secretary, of the end of the current session.

The agency may have to give some concessions to get the main portion of their bills passed.

A bill that would no longer make senior citizens exempt from buying hunting and fishing licenses passed the senate earlier, but was modified before it passed house general orders on Friday. Final house action is expected, as is a senate/house conference committee to review the changes, next week.

The basics of the bill would require seniors to pay half-price for hunting and fishing license through the age of 74, or purchase a life-long combination senior  combination fishing and hunting permit for $40. As well as the initial revenue, the sales of such permits would qualify Wildlife and Parks for substantial federal money gained from national excise taxes on the sales of hunting and fishing equipment.

As passed through the house Friday, though, the bill would also allow the use of crossbows by all archery deer hunters, create a pre-November firearms season for antlerless whitetail  and create a combination permit/tag so non-residents could shoot a buck and a doe.

Wildlife and Parks opposed those amendments throughout the session. The Kansas Wildlife, Parks and Tourism Commission recently passed a regulation that would allow the use of crossbow by those 55 and older and 16 and younger during archery deer seasons.

Jennison said Wildlife and Parks now probably will not oppose the amendments if it means getting the licensing exemption for senior citizens removed.

A bill that would allow the sale of annual state park vehicle permits through county clerks when vehicle registrations are paid passed the house earlier and was passed by the Senate on Friday, with a slight adjustment for seniors and those with disabilities.

The bill would basically allow Kansans to buy the annual permits for about $15.50 when registering their vehicle, or get them for about $25 at regular permit vendors. Friday’s change to the bill would allow seniors and those qualifying for disabled park permits to purchase them from vendors for about $14.

Jennison expects it will pass a house/senate committee hearing to review the amendments next week.



Let the winds blow — it’s still turkey season.

Some people wait for the perfect day to go hunting and fishing…and then don’t get to go very often. When I get a chance, I usually go.

Hunting and fishing in Kansas means hunting and fishing in the wind. Hey, our state was named after a tribe that named themselves after the often-present south wind.

High winds can keep a lot of hunters from the fields...or just make success that much more enjoyable. This bird was called in when winds were gusting to 40 mph.

And there certainly was plenty of  that  when I took off most of a day hoping to fill my last turkey tag last week. In the morning I had a jake and tom skirt my set-up,…possibly my hen decoy blowing over and sliding across the field contributed to their shyness.

After lunch the plan was to make the best of a very gusty situation.

The radio said the gusts were going to 40 mph and the dancing tops of mature cottonwoods seemed to agree.

New to the property, I headed into the mix of big cottonwoods, food plots and pastures with the wind at my back. I hadn’t gone a slow 150 yards, walking and calling from time to time, when I heard a noise over the wind.

A gobble? An oil well back-firing? A woodpecker on a hollow trunk? I couldn’t tell so I took a seat in the shade of a nice tree, wiggled my tush into a comfortable place in the sandy soil and waited.

Every five minutes or so I reached for a favored Lohman box call, a wooden, high-pitched call some think sounds like fingernails on a chalkboard. Through the years, several dozen gobblers have though enough of it to become their Siren’s song.

I was about 20 minutes into a self-imposed 30 minute set-up when I remembered a text I hadn’t returned from days before. Keeping my phone low, I was typing in a reply when a loud gobble came from my left.

Now, that bird may have gobbled at all of my previous calls but my poor hearing, and heavy winds, made it all a mystery to me. I did know, though, that the gobble I heard was well within 40 yards.

I dropped the mid-sentence phone into the sand, shouldered my shotgun and made a few yelps with a mouth call.

Within a minute I saw the top of a fanned tail coming through the cedars. I got a full look at the longbeard when it stepped from behind a cedar tree 12 yards away. As usual with turkey hunts, the shot was anti-climatic.

I finished the text, with news of the downed bird, before heading to and tagging the tom.

Tiny particles of sand were in the fast air as I toted the load of equipment and the bird to my car.

We have two choices in Kansas.

One is to let the wind dictate if we head afield.

The other is to consider it just another challenge that makes our successes just that much sweeter.

I’ll take the latter.