Ah, November – the pleasure of prairie chickens

A flock of prairie chickens fly from a feeding area back to a broad Smoky Hills.

A flock of prairie chickens fly from a feeding area back to a broad Smoky Hills.

No question, November is my favorite month of the year. It’s a time of several weeks or so of vacation, with times taken out for covering the opening weekend of pheasant season and whatever other outdoors event that’s both fun and worthy of an outdoors page feature.

From time to time this November I’ll be blogging on how the month is going.

So far, so great.

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All of my Novembers have days of deer, ducks, geese, pheasants and fall turkeys. This one had a few hours of prairie chickens, too.

Hunting greater prairie chickens in the Smoky Hills.The fall Outdoor Writers of Kansas meeting was at Beloit recently, and Keith Houghton of Ringneck Ranch was kind enough to scout out a field for a group greater prairie chicken hunt.

FYI, the Smoky Hill region, including the Blue Hills near Ringneck Ranch, have left the Flint Hills in their dust when it comes to prairie chicken numbers because of kinder land use practices, with less burning and less double-stocking of cattle.

But even the best prairie chicken field in the state is a coin toss gamble at best. ‘Chickens may fly into a field every afternoon for a week, then skip a couple of days before hitting the same pattern again. Keith had them scouted as mostly coming from the south and east, as they accessed several hundred acres of poorly harvested corn field.

Most of the birds, of course, entered from the southwest were we had no hunters waiting, which may have been good. A few minutes before the end of legal shooting time Keith and some others moved across the field from north to south,

Hunters await flights of prairie chickens, using large bales of hay for cover.

Hunters await flights of prairie chickens, using large bales of hay for cover.

pushing scattered groups totaling about 180 birds back over our line of about eight hunters.

Sitting at the east end, I was the lone gunner to not fire a shot…but I sure got to fire my shutter several times as the birds left the field silhouetted ¬†against a classic Kansas sunset.

The tall grass prairies of the Smoky Hills now hold Kansas' best populations of greater prairie chickens.

The tall grass prairies of the Smoky Hills now hold Kansas’ best populations of greater prairie chickens.

With that, the sun pretty well set on one of my better Novembers…now, let’s see how things go during my second most-favored month – December!