Monthly Archives: June 2012

Bill Clark – accomplished sailor, craftsman, popular personality…oh, and blind.

Bill Clark is 72, but could easily pass for 60.

He has the kind of personality, positive attitude and sense of humor that turns strangers into friends seconds after the first handshake.

Bill’s a whiz as repairing houses and fixing up neglected sailboats enough to make them someone’s pride and joy. He’s about quit water-skiing but can literally dance the night away.

As a sailor, he’s widely traveled and has Florida-based sails in his plans.

In the meantime he’s content to compete in local sailing races and lend a hand to anyone needing to work on their boat.

Oh, Bill Clark’s been totally blind since he was 29. That’s when an accident took his sight but not his determination to enjoy life.

Keep checking The Eagle for a story on Clark and the Walnut Valley Sailing Club. It’ll probably run sometime within the next week.

In 31 years of covering the outdoors, Bill Clark’s certainly one of my favorite subjects.

A whitetail doe with bling

Jamie Shirley recently photographed this whitetail doe in her yard. Nobody is sure how it got the plastic tubing on its neck.

Jamie Shirley shot these photos of a rather unique, but apparently very healthy, doe in her yard not long ago. She and her husband, Bill, are puzzled about exactly what the doe is wearing on her neck, and how it got there.

Any ideas?

Bill noted that some land managers put tubes around young trees to protect them from wildlife, often deer, but most of those tubes are much taller.

Some camera angles (below) show the tube isn’t particularly tight around the animal’s neck, though there’s the possibility it could become tangled on brush or wire and lead to an ugly death by the elements or coyotes.

Shirley can show you other pretty good pictures of deer carrying some pretty unique bling on their heads, too.

The non-typical buck from Marion County she shot in 1997 scored 257 1/8  on the Boone & Crockett measuring system. It was the largest buck shot in the world that year, and remains one of the absolute biggest ever shot by a woman. She’s also shot some nice bucks with a bow, too.

Casts and Blasts from the June 21 Commission meeting

The 4th of July may be about a week away, but there were plenty of fireworks at Thursday’s Kansas Wildlife, Parks and Tourism Commission meeting at Cabela’s in Kansas City.

Watching the evening session online from where we were vacationing in the Ozarks, it appeared to be the most abrasive meeting in memory. There were commissioners berating commissioners and commissioners berating Wildlife and Parks personnel.

Things also got a bit dicey towards the end when Cabela’s announced the meeting had about an hour to get wrapped-up, and it appeared there was at least two hours of business yet at hand.

So, in the space of about 30 minutes within the six-hour meeting, commissioners approved regulations that outlaw baiting for game on public lands, limit hunters to no more than two treestands and ground blinds per public area, and require those blinds and stands be marked with the owner’s contact information.

It’s also now illegal to shoot a dove unless it is flying and the legal shooting hours on sandhill cranes is sunrise to sunset.

Wait, there’s more, – the closed season on commercial harvesting of mussels will continue and hunters in parts of north-central and northwest Kansas will have more opportunities to shoot greater prairie chickens, too.

Oh, and earlier in the meeting the department and commission took the first steps in easing a new, controversial regulation that doesn’t allow anglers to transport fish they’ve caught for bait to other waters. A change in the works could allow them to transport bluegill and green sunfish for bait if they aren’t taken from waters with some sort of aquatic nuisance species.

Two waterfowl-related issues ate up hours and led to some hot debates on Thursday.

Discussion on the setting of the upcoming duck season dates began in the afternoon and continued into the evening session. Exact dates won’t be set until an Aug. 23 meeting near Great Bend.  The great debate centered around when to open the season for Kansas’ southeast duck zone. It’s roughly south of I-35 as it comes south from Kansas City, then roughly from El Dorado eastward.

The zone was largely created  last year to appease southeast Kansas duck hunters who have long wanted a later season to hunt the winter migrations of mallards into the area.

Last year the southeast zone opened the first Saturday of November while the rest of the late zone opened the last Saturday of October. Wildlife and Parks is recommending similar dates for upcoming seasons.

Commissioner Don Budd, Kansas City, stated that duck hunters in extreme southeast Kansas, like around the Neosho Wildlife Area, were asking for the season to open the third Saturday of November, which would let it include much of January. Budd, who hunts a lot in that area, offered a compromise of opening the season the second Saturday of November.

Gerald Lauber, commission chairman, argued against opening the season later than Wildlife and Parks’ request, saying that hunters around the Marais des Cygnes Wildlife Area and other hunting areas closer to I-35 could be denied chances at good early season hunting for wood ducks and other early migrants.

Budd argued that he had information from Delta Waterfowl that showed migration times are getting increasingly later through time.

He also stated he annually hunts waterfowl about 60 days a season, and suggested Lauber should respect his experience or he wouldn’t respect Lauber’s experience as an avid and accomplished angler. (Budd later voted against changing the legal shooting hours on sandhill cranes, a regulation that Lauber highly supported.)

Robert Wilson, a longtime commissioner from Pittsburg, supports a later opening on the southeast zone duck season, and stated the real problem was that zone extended too far north. He said areas like the Marais des Cygnes and Neosho Wildlife Areas warranted different opening days. He then criticized Wildlife and Parks for including both in the same unit when it was proposed, and approved by the commission,  in 2011.

Zone boundaries can’t be changed for several years because of federal regulations. Commissioners will vote on season dates at the August meeting.

Discussions also got heated when Budd offered an amendment to the regulation concerning the use of bait and blinds on public lands. For about six months he’s pushed for a regulation that would make it illegal for hunters to be less than 200 yards from other hunters on state-managed waterfowl hunting wetlands. He quoted national guidelines that require shotgun target shooting ranges be at least about 300 yards apart, and said several states have similar requirements for waterfowl hunting. Budd said his concerns are strictly an issue of public safety.

Wildlife and Parks has resisted Budd’s idea since it was first mentioned, saying the law would be very difficult to enforce, could greatly limit the number of hunters on the public areas and isn’t needed because of a very low rate of hunting accidents among waterfowl hunters. The agency also said problems could arise when hunters are seperated by obstacles, like dikes, and can’t see each other, arrive and set-up in the dark and/or may be hunting seperate ponds that are within 200 yards of each other.

The department maintains setting up too close to other hunters is a matter of poor hunting ethics, which can’t be regulated.

At one point Budd chastised Brad Simpson, Wildlife and Parks public lands chief, for not having done more research on the topic as had been requested.

Robin Jennison, agency secretary, quickly told commissioners that they don’t have the authority to dictate duties to agency staff.

Finally, Budd’s amendment didn’t get a vote when it was noted that, as written, public wetland waterfowlers couldn’t be within 200 yards of  any hunter – including the other members of their hunting party.

Wildlife and Parks agreed to create signage to suggest proper distances for waterfowl hunters on their lands. Hopefully they’ll be posted by this fall’s seasons.

By then, commissioners were left with very little time to discuss, consider and vote on 12 regulations.

Chairman Lauber sounded like an auctioneer, trying to hurry proceedings to finish the meeting by Cabela’s 9 p.m. closing. (State regulations say a meeting’s unfinished business is to be finished the following morning, but Cabela’s said their facilities were not available for Friday morning.)

In the final minutes of the commission meeting more eyes were on watches than at a state track meet.

Official business finished at exactly 9 p.m. and people hustled from the room.

The meeting was the last for Commissioner Frank Meyer’s term.

The farewell cake honoring Meyer’s eight years of service was served on a picnic table near the Cabela’s parking lot after the meeting, according to Chris Tymeson, department attorney.





You think the drought is bad at your place, check this out

Nice rains last fall and winter gave many of us false hopes last year’s hideous drought was over.

The last month or so in south-central Kansas has proven that’s not the case.

This crack in a western Kansas wheat field is at least 20" deep. The area north of Garden City hasn't gotten significant rainfall since April 4.

But it could be worse.

Check-out this photo a buddy north of Garden City sent. It was taken in one of his wheat fields last weekend. The crack in the ground is at least 20-22″ deep.

The same farmer has 700 acres of planted milo that hasn’t had any rain since it was drilled several weeks ago.

The last decent rain in that region, and it was less than an inch, was April 4.

Two seasons ago was one of  the best pheasant seasons in his 50-plus years.

Last year was one of his worst.

This coming season could be even worse.

The frustrating thing is that there’s no silver-lining to severe drought, as when we get lots of rains.

If this summer has to be as dry as last year, let’s at least hope it is not nearly as hot.

Things aren’t looking good.

Sore volunteer muscles, sore fish lips = great kids fishing clinic

All Sunday my quads felt as tight and heavy as chunks of oak firewood.

Then again, I did about six hours of squats Saturday, going up and down, again and again, helping young anglers at The Wichita Eagle’s Kids Fishing Clinic.

A happy kid with his first-ever fish, a scene repeated scores of times at this year's Wichita Eagle's Kids Fishing Clinic

We had about 315 kids show up to try their luck at Island Pond, at Chisholm Creek Park. This was the 11th year our kids clinic was part of the Great Plains Nature Center’s annual Walk with Wildlife.

All went pretty danged well.

It looked like more than half of the kids were hoping to catch their first fish. Most seemed to succeed.

Jessica Mounts, a biologist with Wildlife and Parks, and her crew again had the pond well-stocked and the equipment well-supplied and ready to go. Her staff did everything from coach kids to bait hooks with enough worms to feed an army of robins.

Cabela’s furnished a myriad of gifts for the kids. Neal Hall and the rest of the Flatland Fly Fishers Club provided very important labor.

As always, though, the kids were the stars of the show.

Laughter and screams of delight, and sometimes surprise and a little fear, were constants.

My favorites included a boy of about five who pulled a fish ashore, then trotted through the crowd, slapping hands like a pro ball player after hitting one over the fence.

And there was the poor kid who stumbled backwards when his fish came ashore, tripped and smacked his head. He was in obvious pain and embarrassed. For several minutes, he wanted nothing to do with anything — especially his green sunfish.

But to his credit, he listened as we talked about the fish and worked his way out of his crying and frustration. I eventually got him to feel the softness of the fish’s tail. Within seconds he was posing for a picture, holding the fish.

After 15 or so minutes of catching nothing on their own, I began working with a young brother and sister. After switching spots, it wasn’t more than a minute when his bobber sank like it was made of concrete. After a bit of tug-of-war he slid, bumped and bounced a nice bass ashore.

Time was running out in their angling session when his sister finally got a bite. It, too, was a sizable bass and it, too, ended up in and out of the water, flopping and splashing as the excited child waved the long pole around wildly.

Amid it all, the tip pulled free from the telescopic pole, the fish splashed into the water and I splashed in after it. A long reach and I grabbed the tail end of the rod as it headed mid-pond.

The bass and I made it to shore, where the ecstatic girl posed for a picture with her first fish.

Like her brother, she left jabbering about going fishing again as their family promised they most certainly would take them.

Sights and sounds like that are more than worth a few sore muscles, sun burn and muddy pants from wading in the pond.

I’m already looking forward to next year.

Counting the Calls of the Wild

Kansas’ biologists have been pulling more early mornings than the parents of newborn triplets. Well, that’s probably how it seems, at least.

Biologist Jim Pitman listens for calling bobwhite quail Wednesday morning. Biologists annually listen for prairie chickens, doves, pheasants and quail to estimate spring populations.

Jim Pitman, Kansas Department of Wildlife, Parks and Tourism, upland game coordinator, said most of the agency’s biologists, and some game wardens, have been working on up to four annual spring surveys. The surveys give them some insight into what fall populations may bring.

(And the news isn’t good for one popular species…more on that, later.)

One survey has biologists listening for prairie chicken leks mid-March through mid-April , counting the birds when possible and marking if the calls are greater, lesser or hybrid prairie chickens.

Another survey, officially operated by the U. S. Fish and Wildlife Service, counts cooing doves in late May. Wildlife and Parks runs the counts for whistling bobwhite quail the first two weeks of June and cackling rooster pheasants late April through mid-May.

Counts are operated so they can accurately be compared to past years.

“We go back to the same basic places year after year,” said Pitman. “We get an idea of the breeding population size and the carry-over from last winter. It’s also real helpful to know distributions, especially for prairie chickens.”

One thing surveys have shown this year, is that Kansas’ current pheasant population has dropped significantly from last year.

One region has about 70-percent fewer roosters than a year ago, and others are down about 40-50 percent.

Check Sunday’s outdoors page in The Eagle and at for more details.

Angler gives a hand to another – literally

I’ve seen a lot of unusual things caught on fishing trips…toilet seats, rocks, socks, a gazillion zebra muscles, woman’s bathing suit bottom….but I’ve never seen someone pull a human’s hand from the depths. Thankfully.

OK, so it was technically a prosthetic hand and arm, but it’s still a pretty rare catch.

It happened at Florida tarpon tournament, and the prosthetic was lost by a member of the Wounded Warrior organization. They are usually soldiers that have been wounded in Iraq or Afghanistan during recent wars. A heck of a group. Apparently  a big tarpon was a bit too much for modern medical technology and yanked the prosthetic right from the soldier’s body. He was fine, otherwise, by the way.

A little later in the day another angler in the tournament hooked and landed the same tarpon, which was towing the overboard rod, reel and prosthetic.

YOU CAN CLICK HERE TO READ more details about the unusual catch.

It’s totally believable, really. While drifting the flats, I once snagged a line at Glen Elder that had a decent spinning outfit on one end and decent walleye on the other. Another time, while vertically fishing spoons for white bass, a friend hooked  a five-pound channel catfish that was towing a very nice rod and reel. He immediately recognized the rod and reel as one belonging to a mutual friend. We’ve caught fish that had just broken a buddy’s line a few minutes earlier and had one fish grab another bait though already hooked.

A few years ago Jerrod, our son, was vertically fishing for catfish at Marion Reservoir when he felt a heavy weight on the line. He eventually reeled up a spinning reel and rod, with the tiny hook from Jerrod’s bait through the very tiny hole in the tip at the end of the rod.

And, we immediately  learned the outfit had been knocked overboard by one of Marc Murrell’s sons while fishing from the same boat the previous week.

(Had I known Marc and already paid our host for the lost rod and reel, I may have kept it around for a while. Instead, I called him quickly to help his kid get out of Dad’s doghouse.)

We’ve often talked about what the odds were for putting that tiny hook, in that tiny rod tip and then have the rod and reel belong to a family friend.

Well, they probably aren’t as long as going fishing and eventually giving a guy his hand back.