Monthly Archives: November 2012

“Spook” Spann pleads guilty for illegal hunting

On Tuesday in U.S. District Court in Kansas City, William “Spook” Spann, a well-known bowhunter, pleaded guilty to illegally killing a trophy Kansas deer in 2007.

A court press release said Spann, 50, of Dickson, Tenn.,  admitted to killing the whitetail buck in Stafford County on land owned by another person. His permit for that year required he only hunt on property that he owned.

The buck carried non-typical antlers that gross-scored about 230 inches on the Pope & Young scoring system, with a net score of about 224 inches. If legally taken, it would rank as one of the top bucks ever shot in Kansas and was thought to be one of the top bucks taken in the world in 2007.

He was charged with transporting the illegally-killed deer across state lines, a violation of the federal Lacey Act. The deer was shot with archery equipment, during legal shooting hours, during Kansas’ archery season.

Spann, who is featured on several television shows and hunting videos, and a cameraman saw the deer on property owned by another landowner, stalked within range and he shot the buck at about 10 yards. Video of the hunt, and photos of the deer, were widely circulated.

Spann’s sentencing is set for Feb. 28. The court release said prosecutors and defense attorneys have agreed to recommend Spann be sentenced to three years federal probation, including a six-month suspension of U.S. hunting priviledges, plus another six months in which he would be prohibited from hunting in Kansas. Recommended is a fine of $10,000 and another $10,000 could also be paid in restitution to the Kansas Department of Wildlife, Parks and Tourism.

Sentencing will probably also include he not promote the illegal deer on his site,

The press release did not indicate if Spann could retain possession of the deer antlers. Normally in poaching crimes, all parts of the animal are confiscated.


Oh dear, that’s not a deer

A word of advice to the tens of thousands heading afield for firearms deer season after it opens next Wednesday…just because you see antlers coming through the brush, doesn’t mean they’re attached to a a whitetail or mule deer.

This bull elk has been seen several times in southern Reno County. Such lone elk are becoming increasingly common in western and central Kansas.

Random elk are becoming increasingly numerous around Kansas. We have solid, reproducing populations in several areas, especially Fort Riley and along the Arkansas River in western Kansas.

In the past few years I’ve gotten credible reports of elk seen in Wallace, Gove, Scott, Chase, Kingman, Saline, Dickinson, Ford, Hamilton, Kearny counties and Ellis Counties.

This bull was photographed south of Sylvia, in Reno County earlier this month.



What’s next, camo dentures?

This camouflaged house is in some of Kansas’ finest hunting territory – Elk County, just south of Fall River.

OK, so I’ve watched this camo craze grow from just basic military camo patterns on pants and jackets 35 years ago to a special pattern for every occasion. We have camo for marshlands, marshlands in the snow, sage brush, sitting in pine trees, sitting in oaks and even a pattern that looks like a a blue sky for bowfishermen shooting down on carp and gar.

Along the way I’ve seen camo casual clothing, camo toilet paper, camo billfolds, camo cell phones, camo underwear and camo formal wedding and prom gowns. And there are camo stripes on nice trucks and old trucks totally camoed up with a few cans of spray paint.

But, I think a trip this fall through Elk County was the fist time I’d ever seen a camouflaged house. Pretty nicely done, don’t you think?

Gee, I wonder what they do in their freetime…think it hides them well enough from door-to-door salesmen?

Casts and Blasts from the prairie chicken opener at the Sundgren Ranch

More information from Saturday’s about 60th annual opening day of prairie chicken season hunt at the Sundgren Ranch in Butler County.


Kent Peterson, of El Dorado, rests while he waits for prairie chickens on the Sundgren Ranch Saturday morning. Some hunters have been gathering at the ranch to hunt on opening day for more than 50 years.

Now managed by Steve Sundgren, the family ranch south of Cassoday has been in the family for five generations. Sundgren’s grandfather, a graduate of the first class of veterinarians from K-State, purchased the land about 100 years ago.

Sundgren is careful to make the ranchlands amiable for greater prairie chickens while still profitable for his cattle and farming business.

He literally grew up with prairie chickens as a major part of his lifestyle. He recalls severe snows in the late 1970s that totally covered the prairie for miles. “You’d be out there and all of a sudden the snow would just erupt in front of you and the prairie chickens would flush,” he said. “They were doing fine. They’re made to survive out on the prairie…but they have to have that prairie habitat to survive.”

Sundgren only burns his pastures about every three years so there’s plenty of nesting cover, and is careful not  to overgraze the rangelands. Since he runs a cow/calf operation he also make sure his pastures have plenty of forage all year for his beef and beloved birds.

The hunt was at its largest in the 1960s-1980s. Invited guests have included Gov. Mike Hayden, then U.S. Rep. Sam Brownback, Kansas City Royal’s all-star Frank White, famous baseball coach Whitey Herzog  and Harold Ensley, “The Sportsman’s Friend” of television fame.

Some people waited many years for an invitation to the hunt. Now, Sundgren doesn’t even bother to send invitations. “Most of the guys know when we’re having it and just show up,” Sundgren said.

For about 30 years the opening of prairie chicken season was the first weekend of November, kind of as a kick-off for the pheasant and quail season that usually opened the following weekend. It was moved to the third weekend of November a few years ago by the Kansas Wildlife and Parks Commission. Some commissioners have expressed an interest in closing the Flint Hills to prairie chicken hunting because of declining bird populations.

National Geographic magazine  has featured great photos of male greater prairie chickens on a breeding lek on the Sundgren Ranch.


Mountain Lion confirmed in Stafford County

A trail camera photo has lead to the recent confirmation of a mountain lion in Stafford County. A Kansas Department of Wildlife, Parks and Tourism press release said the camera had been set by a deer hunter, who was justifiably surprised to see the cat. No photo was provided with the press release. Biologists visited the scene to check for things like tracks, droppings and to compare the size of the animal in the photo to surround landmarks.

Sources in Stafford County say the photo was obtained a few miles east of St. John.


This is the ninth time a mountain lion has been confirmed in Kansas in modern times. After an absence of about 100 years, one was shot by a rancher in Barber County in 2007. Since, they’ve been verified by tracks, photos taken by a hunter and several times by trail cameras.

Biologists als0 tracked a cat with a GPS collar from Rocky Mountain National Park in Colorado, to northwest Kansas, down to southwest Kansas and into central New Mexico a few years ago.

Despite rural legend, the state has not been releasing mountain lions to control the deer population for several years, nor has a reproducing population been documented in the midwest, except for the Black Hills of South Dakota and northern Nebraska.

Most mountain lions found in places like Kansas, Missouri and Oklahoma are usually young males out searching for their own territory. Such cats from the Black Hills have shown up as far east as Connecticut.

Mountain lion biologists in Colorado, South Dakota and Nebraska have long said the big predators will be easily documented when they do move into Kansas. They estimate about 10 percent of an areas’s population are killed annually as road-kills or have to be destroyed for threatening livestock or moving into towns and cities. They also said the use of thousands of trail cameras placed by deer hunters are also great ways of confirming a visiting mountain lion.

The Cougar Network, a group that studies the expansion of mountain lions eastward from the Rockies, has rated most of Kansas as very poor mountain lion habitat. Though food such as deer, raccoons, dogs and house cats is abundant, they say proper denning areas are extremely rare over most of the state.

Hidden treasures show sadness on the prairie

I have long loved hunting the rolling prairies of far western Kansas. Stalking high-racked mule deer amid steep canyons or crawling through yucca to sneak up on sharp-eyed pronghorns are as good as it gets for Kansas big game hunting for me.

Weathered natural stones, and a few crude crosses recently placed, are all that mark the final resting place of this family cemetery in a very remote section of Gove County prairie.

And I have shot thousands of photographic frames of glorious sunrises and sunsets, stunning rock formations and a wide variety of wildlife ranging from prairie dogs and prairie rattlers to great-horned owls and lesser prairie chickens.

But at least once a trip I stumble across something that takes me back to times past, and it makes me realize how good we have it in times present.

In the middle of the roughly 24,000 contiguous acres we hunt is an old stone house, with remnants of a roof. We’ve guessed they used a nearby box canyon as a corral, and a tiny spring as their source of water. It had to be at least an day’s ride towards any sliver of civilization.

Once on a four-hour stalk on a 28-inch mule deer buck for Jerrod, we crawled upon the skeleton of a stone foundation maybe 20′by 20′. Probably the remains of an old homestead, I wondered what stories the stones could tell…like of the pride the people felt when they finally owned land, and the fears they must have felt come drought or hard winters. I wondered how long they’d stayed, where they’d come from, and what made them leave.

And several sites on the ranch show an odd stone sticking up from the prairie in places they wouldn’t naturally be. They’re tombstones, marking the final resting place of unnamed people who probably breathed their last nearby. In this land where the Cheyenne battle the calvary nearby, and the Butterfield Stage passed between rock formations, I’ve wondered about the causes of their demise.

Last week we passed a crudely fenced tiny cemetery not far from a crumbling homestead. It was obvious the graves were originally only marked by simple local stone stuck in the ground. Within the past few years someone, possibly a descendant, had made simple, wooden crosses and placed them by the weathered stones. Basic black, hand-lettering did its best to pay tribute to the dead.

One four-year-old child was identified by name, and had lived from 1902-1906. Another said something like “25-year-old female” with several guesses to her possible last name. A couple of  graves carried no crosses. Someone had stuck a few plastic plowers by each grave, their colors as faded as the memory of those beneath the ground.

Stopping the hunt and standing amid the graves for a few minutes, I contemplated what it was like in those early days, to watch a child dying with no hope for getting them medical help, and what it must have been like to awaken the morning after you’ve buried a spouse, and head into another day of dawn to dark chores.

Suddenly, not getting a deer that day didn’t seem that big of deal

Wolves in Kansas?

OK, so now we know documented mountain lions have been crossing through Kansas for about the past five years, but will another big predator soon be here, too?

For the second consecutive year it appears a wolf was probably killed by a deer hunter in Missouri.


If you’ll remember, in 2010 a firearms deer hunter thought he was shooting at a large coyote in northern Missouri and discovered it was something much larger. After first saying it was just a super-sized coyote…as in 10 or more pounds bigger than the current world-record. DNA later showed that wolf probably came from a population in the Great Lakes area. Populations are high enough in that region that some states are holding seasons this fall.

Now, though, the wolf population in the Northern Rockies is also expanding rapidly and has spread far outside where the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service predicted when they reintroduced them to the Rockies several years ago. Several big game groups say the wolves are devastating area deer, moose and elk populations to near record-low numbers.

So, does that mean will someday have them in Kansas…probably so. Once they make it to Colorado, it’ll be an easy walk out on to our prairies.

Though I’d love to hear them howl at night, I can’t say I want them chasing our deer or feasting on our livestock.

Stay tuned…

Casts and Blasts from Pheasant Opener, 2012

A few things that didn’t make Sunday’s Outdoors page feature on the opening of a pheasant hunting season with few pheasants and few hunters. YOU CAN CLICK HERE TO READ THE STORY.

— Returning from hunting mule deer in western Kansas Friday afternoon, it seemed strange to see “vacancy” signs on motels in Scott City, Dighton and Ness City. All three towns have long histories of great pheasant hunting, and motel rooms booking up a year in advaces.

A rooster pheasant that escaped hunters Saturday morning, Kansas’ opening of pheasant season.

– Cris Collier, Great Bend Convention and Visitors Bureau president estimated motels in her town would only have about 60-percent occupancy for the weekend. Rare has it been for years, for there to be even one room available for the opening of pheasant season. Collier said the drought has hit Great Bend businesses even harder than in most towns because thousands of nights’ lodging and meals are usually sold to people enjoying Cheyenne Bottoms. It’s been mostly dry through all of the waterfowl seasons.

– “Worst ever” seemed to be the common cry from hunters I spoke with, or heard about. The worst was a group of 40 hunters that shot just seven pheasants on opening day. That’s 1/6th a bird per hunter…easy to divide up the bag though….every hunter could go home with one pheasant leg, wing or breast half. In past seasons I’ve heard of many groups of 20 or more getting limits on opening day.

– Phil Kirkland, the game warden I featured in the article, knows a thing or 200 about quality pheasant hunting. Kirkland, 60, started pheasant hunting near his boyhood home in Dodge City back in the famed Soil Bank days of the early 1960s. He was also a game warden in bird-rich northwest Kansas in the mid to late-1980s, when CRP was in its beginning.

- Kirkland also knows a bit about bowhunting. For about 10 years a typical mule deer buck he arrowed was the Kansas state record. He’s also one of the most avid, and successful. trappers in the state, too.

Sandhill cranes, great off-limits mule deer buck, make for a great day

In terms of deer taken, day #2 of my trip to western Kansas to hunt with a friend was unsuccessful.

As far as enjoyment, and memories made and things seen, it was  a great success.

A great western Kansas mule deer follows his does Wednesday morning. Think he’ll go 30″ across his antlers?

We saw three or four very good mule deer, including what I thought was a rare buck with a 30-inch antler spread. ..a few minutes after he and his herd jumped to the wrong side of the property line. An even better buck somehow gave us the slip and disappeared amid knee-high cover with a harem of nine does. My friend, one of  Kansas’ top mule deer bowhunters, has been trying to get him for two or three years. They don’t get that big, or that old, by making a lot of mistakes.

Kind of ironic that back around Stafford and St. John some friends cancelled their annual opening day sandhill crane hunt because there aren’t many birds in the area. About 130 miles to the west we watched several thousand descend on a remote wheat field. The morning air was so still we could honestly hear the trilling of the birds from about three miles away.

The air was so still Wednesday morning the sounds of these sandhill cranes could be heard three miles away…even by an old, somewhat deaf outdoors writer.

We’ve seen a lot of coyotes and all have had good fur, which is good to see after years of severe mange. We’ve also flushed some prairie chickens that were probably lessers. This particular ranch is one of the first where lessers and greaters were documented sharing a common breeding lek, and hybirds between the two species found.

Oh, for all of you pheasant fanatics…we’ve driven 420 miles the past few days, through what had been some of the state’s top pheasant counties in 2010…and we’ve yet to see a hen or a rooster.

Good luck to you guys…. you’re going to need it to find many birds

The agony of a miss, the joy of seeing good neighbors

Tuesday was the first of several vacation days visiting friends in western Kansas and bowhunting for whitetail and mule deer.

My desire for high antler scores is largely gone, thanks to what I consider maturity as a hunter, and because many of the places where I hunt the landowner is a trophy hunter. It wouldn’t be right for me to shoot a buck they’d be proud to have on their wall. It’s my decision, not theirs’.

So my goal the past few seasons has been an old buck on his way down, or a deer that simply would never mature into something that would score high.

Tuesday we saw my perfection. It was an ancient, grey-faced old mule deer buck that had only grown one antler.

We were lucky to see him burrowed deep in a pile of yuccas, and the wind covered the sound of my steps enough for me to sneak well within bow range.

The buck eventually saw or heard something, rose, moved a few steps and looked around. I rushed the shot that should have been easy and missed. I’d shot bulls-eyes at that range hundreds of times through the summer and fall on targets. Such chances don’t come often. My emotions since have since ranged from disappointment to anger at myself.

We did find the buck bedding in an open yucca flat later in the afternoon, and crawled a solid 200 yards on our bellies. When we were 60 yards out he stood and milled around a bit. The plan was for me to slide another 20 yards closer when he bedded again. Such never happened because a trophy-class 10-point whitetail came to scene and pushed the big mulie from the spot. The 10-pointer, when it passed at about 25 yards, caught my buddy trying to get ready for a shot.

Even unsuccessful and at times painful because of cactus and uncomfortable positions, the stalk/crawl was great fun.

Mid-day our hunt had to take a few hour break as my friend had to climb aboard a combine for a bit. A local farmer died last week before he could finish his milo harvest. About eight combines owned by his friends gathered and finished the task for his family…an no charge.

It was good to see such kindness in western Kansas, though it hardly came as a surprise.

Wednesday we’ll be back amid the canyons and yucca, again looking for a mule deer almost nobody but me would want to shoot.