Monthly Archives: February 2013

Hunting celebrity, “Spook” Spann sentenced in poaching incident

Hunting celebrity William “Spook” Spann, from Dickson, Tennessee, was formally sentenced in the U.S. District Court in Kansas City Thursday morning for a deer he shot illegally in 2007.

As per a plea agreement initially levied against Spann last November, according to court records provided Thursday, Spann’s sentence includes -

– Paying $10,000 in fines for the crime.

– $10,000 in restitution for the value of the buck.

–Spann is also in three years federal supervised release.

– He has been ordered to “forfeit to the United States the antlers in question, the mold of the antlers and any exact reproduction of said antlers.”

– Spann also had his hunting privileges suspended for six months within the United States, and for an additional six months within the state of Kansas.

Spann was hunting in central Kansas in mid-November 2007 when he arrowed a buck of about 230 Boone & Crockett inches on land he’d leased hunting rights from the landowner for $5,000, according to court records. Along with a cameraman, Spann stalked the buck and shot it during legal shooting hours, with legal archery equipment.

The crime was that his hunting permit was  a “Non-Resident, Hunt-Your-Own-Land” deer permit he’d purchased earlier in the month. Most non-resident deer permits are awarded after a spring drawing process, and for one or two large deer management units within the state.

The permit he placed on the buck was only valid on lands Spann owned or land he rented and actively farmed for profit.

That the illegally taken buck’s antlers were eventually taken across state borders also qualified for a violation of the Lacey Act, a federal wildlife violation.

Spann went on to garner a lot of media attention via footage of the hunt shown on hunting videos and outdoors television shows. He’s also appeared at many hunting shows, and operates a hunting website.


Hard to top the northern cardinal

A male cardinal shows its brilliance in Tuesday’s snow. As well as stunning looks, the birds are eternal optimists and extremely faithful to their mates.

We could all learn a lot about living from northern cardinals. They’re one of nature’s premier optimists, and know a thing or two about how to treat their mates.

Well before daylight amid Monday’s blowing snow, a male cardinal was happily trilling away from deep inside a cedar tree near our backyard. Most spring mornings, from the Black Hills to the Everglades, they’ve been the first bird I’ve heard in the morning while on spring turkey hunts.

Mated males and females are so tight she may finish a song that he begins, and the male will bring the female food while she’s incubating their eggs. Even now, weeks before the first eggs of spring, often where you see one you’ll also see the other.

Cardinals are the favorite birds of many people I know, but a lot of that is probably because of the male’s brilliant red colors. That they also aren’t too shy probably adds to the appeal.

Scouting a place to photograph pheasants on the snow earlier this week I happened by a deer feeder with a half-dozen or so male cardinals sitting about a snowy cedar, shining in the early morning light. Sitting in the warmth of Ol’ Red, a window down just enough to rest  a 400mm lens, the birds seemed to pose for about 200 photo frames in less than an hour.

Happy, brilliantly colored and seemingly ready to pose for easy photography…what’s not to like?

Deep snow poorly timed for wildlife

Goldfinches and other birds have been busy getting sunflower seeds from area bird feeders. Many species of wildlife not near such food sources could be suffering from recent deep snows.

Deep snows are seldom good for Kansas wildlife, but the storm of last week and the one still spreading across the state come at particularly bad times.

During interviews today, four biologists said the lack of cover and food created from two years of drought could make things tough for many kinds of birds in Kansas through these deep snows.

Adding to the lack of cover from the weather and predators, and a shortage of food, is that thousands of acres of Conservation Reserve Program grasses were hayed or grazed last summer as emergency feed for Kansas cattle herds.

Jim Pitman, Kansas Department of Wildlife, Parks and Tourism small game biologist, said cover was especially short and limited even before parts of the state got up to 18 inches of snow from the first storm. Now, he suspects many birds will fall to raptors that are in high numbers as they migrate through Kansas.

Robert Penner, of the Nature Conservancy of Kansas, said the lack of food has also forced many species of birds to feed where snow plows have scraped down to open soil along roadsides, leading to higher than normal roadkills.

Yet the current problem could eventually turn into a very much needed boost for wildlife populations this spring and summer in habitats starved for moisture.

More details are expected to follow in an upcoming article to be published in The Eagle later this week.

Kansas River float cancelled

The Arkansas River Coalition has cancelled Saturday and Sunday’s float down the Kansas River, set to begin near Junction City.  The Kansas River was to be floated because the Arkansas River is too low.

A online press release said it was cancelled because of  massive snow amounts.

The release also predicted that pending snow melt could also make it much easier to again float the Arkansas River southward from Wichita in the coming weeks. Floating the river has been extremely difficult since mid-summer because of declining water levels.

The group dedicated to protecting the Arkansas River often shares it with the general public through a variety of floats. Often, the group provides all needed equipment for those participating in events.

For more information, go to

Casts and Blasts from the Great Outdoors Photo Contest

Clarissa Peterson’s “Wood Duck” won first place in the adult division of the 2013 Wichita Eagle Great Outdoors Photo Contest.

Hundreds of photos were entered, and a few of us at The Eagle narrowed the field to 15 adult and five youth finalists. From there votes were casts online and at the Kansas Sports, Boat and Travel Show and winners were announced on Sunday.


Looking back from the day after, a few things of interest have appeared.

– As in years past, there was a fairly wide variance in the photos that did well online and those that did well at the Sports Show. The votes were combined evenly  to determine the overall winners.

– Clarrisa Peterson’s “Wood Duck” was the overall winner for the adult division and took first in the online voting but was fourth at the Sport Show.

– Overall second-place winner, “Shhhh! Don’t wake Mama!’” by Phoebe Janzen was second online but seventh at the Sports Show. It was a photo of three young screech owls with an adult on a tree limb.

–”No Compromise,” Joe Harris’ photo of two trophy-class bucks locked in battle predictably won the votes by a good margin at the Sports Show, but was the fifth most popular photo online. It placed third overall.

– Some photos did about equally well online and at the Sports Show. “A Great Day at Work,” the photo of the jumping bass by Linda Wallace scored ninth on both polls. “Rise,” Jordan Moritz’s sunrise silhouette of a whitetail buck  scored fourth online and fifth at the Sports Show.

– Under the, “Shows how much I know,” department, “Kansas Painted Bunting,” taken by Chuck Streker along the Arkansas River near Derby, scored last and didn’t get many votes online or at the Sports Show.  Of all the photos entered, I probably envied it more than any other because the birds are so exotic and secretive. No matter where it ranked, I wish I’d have taken it. My other envied photo was “No Compromise.” I’m out more than 100 days a year, and I’ve never come across two such nice bucks engaged in a serious fight.



A dog’s dedicated love, possible new world-record whitetail

OK, I’m not much for forwarding links, but here are a couple worth sharing.

CLICK HERE to see the touching video of a yellow Labrador retriever working and working to engage a young child with Down’s Syndrome. The dog is so tender, and insistent the child interacts with it. 

Several times every fall, rumors spread of a possible new world-record whitetail.

CLICK HERE to see a photo of an Indiana non-typical said to score over 300 points on the Boone & Crockett system. The trophy scoring club has made no official announcement.


Time to vote in the 2013 Great Outdoors Photo Contest

From about 300 entries, Wichita Eagle Photographers have narrowed the field to 15 adult and 5 youth finalists for the Great Outdoors Photo Contest.

Now, it’s up to the public to pick the winners.


Voting will also begin at The Wichita Eagle’s booth, when the Kansas Sports, Boat and Travel Show begins on Thursday.

“Sunset Shorthair” is one of 15, 11X14″ prints taken by Eagle photographers that can be won by those who vote on the Great Outdoors Photo Contest and the Kansas Sports, Boat and Travel Show.

Those who vote at the Sports Show can register to win one of 15, 11X14 outdoors prints shot by Wichita Eagle photographers.

Voting will end at about noon on Saturday so the ballots can be counted. The winners will be announced on Sunday’s Outdoors page of the Wichita Eagle.

Those who entered the contest should have one free admission ticket to the Sports Show, at the event’s ticket window at the Kansas Pavilions. Just tell them you’ve entered the contest, give them your name and they should give you the admission ticket.





Saving the best goose hunt for last.

Most hunters afield for Sunday’s closing of goose season encountered a lot of birds, including some mixed flocks of Canada and white-fronted geese. FILE PHOTO

Usually we guesstimate numbers of geese in a sizable flock. But I know Sunday one particular flock held an even 60 small Canada geese and three white-fronted geese.

I know because they were floating in front of me, spread well enough for a good count.  All were within 30 yards.

Though that’s easy shotgun range I couldn’t shoot. I already had limits of both species, and was spending the rest of Sunday morning enjoying one of the best waterfowl shows I’ve ever seen.

And to think, I almost didn’t go afield that last day of goose season.

For weeks I’d planned on taking a landowner’s friend on his property in Butler County. He backed-out too late on Saturday for me to make new plans.

It wasn’t until about 8 a.m. Sunday  that I decided I’d go hunt a local pond on Sunday, as much to spend a few hours afield with Hank as any realistic hope of getting geese.

I’d scouted the pond Friday and saw no goose tracks or droppings.

The last of 18 floating decoys and 36 shell decoys weren’t out until about 9:30 a.m.  Twenty minutes later I was surprised and delighted to see a small flock of big Canadas heading my way, battling the howling wind.

My first shot was  miss. My second dropped a big goose on the opposite shoreline.

I gave Hank the OK to be off on the retrieve.

He was half-way across the pond when a flock of about 30 Canadas came in sight from the east. About half set their wings and coasted towards the decoys.

Checking, Hank had made it ashore and had flattened so he wouldn’t spook the approaching birds.

Two fell after three shots. I gave Hank a hand-signal to fetch the first bird, then let him grab a gimme floating near shore. He loved trailing the third  bird 100 yards out into a bordering pasture and making that retrieve, too.

Limited-out on Canadas, I decided to just sit back, sip some coffee, eat some snacks and see if anything else was flying.

(I quickly learned that at least one Lab prefers Girl Scout shortbread cookies dunked in creamed coffee compared to dry.)

The last hunt of the season provided a limit of three Canada geese and two whitefronts, and memories of thousands of more birds seen. PHOTO BY KATHY PEARCE

I’d left the gun loaded on remote chance I’d see a snow or white-fronted goose. In about 13 years of hunting the pond we’d taken only one of each species.

Soon I’d find this wasn’t just another weekend. One time I looked north and saw a scene that reminded me of Quivira’s Big Salt Marsh as many thousand geese lifted into the air from a distant crop field.

I’m guessing I’d found myself in the middle of a major migration. Others did, too. Most goose hunters I talked to did very well in south-central Kansas that day.

Looking out from a lay-out blind, another flock of Canadas was only  minutes away at the pond I was hunting, with eight or ten landing at the edge of the decoys before flying off.

To my huge surprise, the next flock along was about a dozen whitefronts, squealing their familiar series of high-pitched honks.

Somehow two fell at one shot, filling my limit of those, too.

We enjoyed five more flocks coming to the decoys, all with birds down on the water.

One flock had a sandhill crane trailing behind, the first I’ve seen up close in Harvey County.

The 60 small Canadas and few whitefronts dropped from an estimated 400 birds milling above the pond. They came when I’d already gathered, and stacked my shell decoys in a big blob on the shore.

At the time I was just laying on the short grass pasture, a dog the color and size of an angus calf, every bit as visible, too.

In between flocks I worked to gather the rest of my rig. At one time I had just the floating decoys sitting on land, and a small flock of Canadas lit amid them, too.

It was about noon when we finished the last of the coffee and cookies, and I brought the truck to the pond’s edge for loading.

After clearing three gates, a barn lot and farm yard, I looked back and watched about 200 geese landing on the pond.

It’s always kind of sad to see five month’s of hunting seasons end, but this one certainly sent me out with a smile.

Steve Harper Scholarship renewed, to help Kansas students

The Outdoors Writers of Kansas and Kansas Wildscape are renewing the Steve Harper Scholarship.

A scholarship for Kansas students is named after Steve Harper, past outdoors writer/photographer. He died in 2000.

Harper, a longtime photo editor and outdoors writer/photographer for the Wichita Eagle, died in 2000. A scholarship in his name was suggested by Gov. Bill Graves and others. The $1,000 scholarship program was funded by donations shortly after Harper’s death from cancer at the age of  55. Funds expired after about 10 years.

Applications may be made by students graduating from a Kansas high school planning on attending a Kansas four-year college, with a nature/wildlife-based major. The student must also have career goals of staying in Kansas. College students with a similar major and goals may also apply.

The program will issue one $1,000 scholarship annually, directly to the student’s college.

Harper was known for his deep love of Kansas, and published hundreds of articles and photos about enjoying his native state. He also rated Kansans as some of the finest people  in America, especially those that possessed great deals of commitment and motivation.

Scholarship applicants will be judged by members of the Outdoor Writers of Kansas and Kansas Wildscape. Selection criteria will include past and current involvement in nature/wildlife-related projects, scholastic achievement and projected potential.

For information on applying, contact Debbie Brandt at Kansas Wildscape at 785-843-9453 or


Best-ever dog poem, dog update

According to the Chinese I was born in the Year of the Dog. Can’t argue that fact, since canines have been a vital part of my life since before I can remember. I’ve played with them, trained them, hunted with them, cherished them and mourned them.

And I’ve written much about them and read even more.

By far, the best I’ve heard or read comes from an unlikely source. It’s a poem actor Jimmy Stewart wrote and read aloud on The Tonight Show in 1981. It’s about his dog, Beau, and is more touching and masterful than anything I could write in ten lifetimes.


Hank, with the last bird of duck season. It was a big, drake pintail.

OK, speaking of dogs on Jan. 27 I ran a column about Hank, my aging Labrador Retriever. Here are a few more details.

– The story mentioned we’d do a hunt on a favored wetland the last day of duck season. We did, and the hunting was fair with three of us shooting ten. The last bird of the season, which I shot and Hank retrieved, was a stunning drake pintail. If a season has to end, that’s a good duck to end it on.

– Unlike the story predicted, we did not make it out the last two days of upland bird season for pheasants, quail and turkeys. I had to head to Austin to help our daughter, Lindsey,  with her sweet Australian Shepherd, who had been badly mauled by a pit bull at a dog-friendly restaurant last Sunday. Lady Bird will, thankfully, be fine and narrowly missed being a fatality. The man who brought the pit bull to the place crowded with dogs, and where the scent of food filled the air, did so even though the rescue shelter, Austin Pets Alive, had warned him the pit bull had problems dealing with other dogs.

– Hank and I will probably make a trip or two to a shooting preserve for a few pheasants. He’s also never retrieved a chukar, so I may buy a few of those to see what he thinks, too. Hopefully we’ll make it out a time or three before goose season ends next Sunday.

–Oh, about he photo we ran last Sunday of Hank looking skyward… He wasn’t watching ducks pass overhead. Instead, he was staring at the hand of a nine-year-old boy, Brett Wiggers, who was waving a piece of jerky in the air. Where Brett’s hand went, so did the dog’s gaze. Hank’s as addicted to venison jerky as he is fetching turkeys. Read More »