Author Archives: Michael Pearce

The war on feral swine continues

A U.S.D.A. helicopter works a heard of feral swine found in northern Oklahoma this week.

A U.S.D.A. helicopter works a herd of feral swine found in northern Oklahoma this week. MICHAEL PEARCE/PHOTO

For yet another year, the tide of feral pigs trying to spread across Kansas has been stemmed. That’s thanks, mostly, to on-going efforts by the state of Kansas and the U.S. Department of Agriculture. Here are a few facts to hold you over until a March 9 Outdoors page feature on the subject.

– Feral hogs are the descendants of domestic pigs gone wild. The first appeared with Spanish explorers in the 1500s.

– The current U. S. population is estimated at more than 5 million feral hogs, of which about one half live in  Texas.

–  Feral hogs have been documented doing $10,000 or more damage to a farm field in one night.

– They are known to carry diseases that can be lethal to domestic swine, dogs and humans.

– Conservative estimates state each pig can do at least $200 in damage to crops, annually.

– Texas officials think feral swine do more than $100 million in damage to the state’s crops and other agricultural interests annually.

– Though Kansas only currently has a population of a few hundred within its borders, about 4,000 feral pigs have been killed in Kansas, or from herds just across the border in Oklahoma and Colorado in about the past seven years.

– Almost 1,000 pigs were killed over about a five year period in the Red Hills region west and north of Medicine Lodge. Biologists and ranchers feel that population has been wiped-out, except for a few scattered boars.

– Biologists credit outlawing sport hunting for feral pigs, which can scatter populations and encourage people to import and release pigs to create huntable populations, for greatly helping with eradication projects.

– Trapping has had a significant impact, with up to 42 feral hogs caught in a single night.

Part of 42 feral pigs recently trapped near the Kansas/Oklahoma border. COURTESY PHOTO

Part of 42 feral pigs recently trapped near the Kansas/Oklahoma border. COURTESY PHOTO

– More than 100 feral hogs per day have been shot via aerial gunning from helicopters several times by Kansas crews. Though impressive, that’s far below the many instances of 300 to 400 pigs aerial gunned per day in Texas.

– Earlier this week about 224 feral hogs were killed by aerial gunning just across the Kansas border, in Kay County, Oklahoma, including a herd estimated to be about 80 animals in one pasture. Further north, just across the Kansas border in Cowley County, only one lone boar was found and killed.

Again, for more details, check the March 9 Outdoors page of The Wichita Eagle.

More charges filed against celebrity hunter, Spook Spann

Television and video personality Spook Spann is again in trouble with wildlife law enforcement authorities. This is the third time in less than two years, for those who are counting.

Spann was originally charged and convicted in 2012 for illegally tagging a world-class, non-typical whitetail deer he shot in Kansas about seven years ago. Last year he was again in federal court for violating the part of his probation that stated he couldn’t hunt for up to a year in Kansas, and less time in other states.

YOU CAN CLICK HERE for a link to details about his recent arrest.

Raptor stand-off between night and day

We call it the Duck Line, though its actually wire staked along the ground to which we’ve also attached the carcasses of geese, pheasants, and wild turkeys after we’ve removed the parts we eat. Off and on since late December, Jake Holem, his mother, Kimberly, and I have put such leftovers in some wide-open cropfields not far from El Dorado Reservoir.

A great-horned owl, left, and a red-tailed hawk square off at a pile of waterfowl carcasses. Photos of hawks out so late are pretty rare.

A great-horned owl, left, and a red-tailed hawk square off at a pile of waterfowl carcasses. Photos of hawks out so late are pretty rare.

To the lines of fast food for assorted carnivores, we’ve had a myriad of red-tailed hawks, raccoons, immature bald eagles and coyotes. The hawks are the most common daytime predator and, eventually, the coyotes the most common at night, though it took them a few weeks to realize those carcasses with human scent offered them easy eating but no threat.

One photo I found of particular interest is one Kimberly e-mailed today of a great-horned owl and red-tailed hawk squaring off. It’s unique because it’s awfully dark for a redtail to be out of a roosting tree, and I didn’t know great-horned owls showed any interest in carrion.  Then again, the owl could have been trying for something else in the area or, foolishly, the hawk.

It’s also interesting that over a four or five days stretch, about every time someone checked the Duck Line there was a mature bald eagle in a tree nearby, or feeding on a goose carcass about 30 yards away. (We attached the dead birds to the wire with zip-ties, so that if a something became entangled, it could easily break free.) Still, we had no shots of the great bird.

Normally cautious coyotes became Duck Line visitors every night as the winter progressed.

Normally cautious coyotes became Duck Line visitors every night as the winter progressed.

It was also interesting how brazen the normally cautious coyotes became, staying at the Duck Line for a long time night after night and making the occasional daytime visit.

With the main hunting seasons closed, and eagles migrating out of the area, the Duck Line may be done for the winter. I’m guessing it won’t be hard to get Jacob and Kimberly to pitch again next season. I know I’ll be ready.

Pheasant photography not easy

My toes felt like icicles, and my arms were starting to ache from holding a heavy camera and big telephoto lens out from my body, cocked at a funny angle, for what seemed like an hour, but was probably an honest minute or so. A rooster pheasant five yards away had heard the tiniest scratch of the lens against the side of the pop-up blind and was on full alert.

A rooster pheasant is on full-alert after hearing the hum of a camera's auto-focus.

A rooster pheasant is on full-alert after hearing the hum of a camera’s auto-focus.

He left the scene, tail arrogantly cocked in the air leaving me vowing to be even quieter the next time.

Tuesday afternoon I spent three or four frigid hours in a blind near a deer feeder in western Harvey County. Both were set in an overgrown pasture of hedge trees and cedars. The feeder is intended for deer, but pheasants and a variety of songbirds eat the yellow grain. I’d also poured some sunflower seeds next to a nearby cedar to sweeten the deal.

An assortment of cardinals and Harris sparrows flushed when I walked on to the scene, and most were back by the time I was in the blind, and had my cameras turned on and ready to go. Piece of cake, I thought, when the pheasants showed up I’d fill a few hundred frames of the brilliant plumage glowing the in the late afternoon light, standing in strict contrast to the thick, white snow.

Boy was I ever wrong. I’ve had days when it’s been a lot easier to shoot them with a shotgun, compared to the photography challenges on Tuesday.

Problems included the blind being too close to the feed, which was largely because the pasture is so thick I couldn’t get more than about eight yards away.

The wind had also totally died, which gave the pheasants super-sensitive hearing every advantage.  Also because of the cold, the blind’s fabric was stiff and incredibly noisy.

A rooster pheasant that finally sneaked from beneath a cedar tree, to grab some food in the open.

A rooster pheasant that finally sneaked from beneath a cedar tree, to grab some food in the open.

The first pheasant to walk in heard the hum of the camera’s auto-focus, then went into some fast high-stepping when the shutter started firing and was gone in seconds.

The snow-coated pop-up blind was stiff and noisy Tuesday afternoon, when used as a photography blind.

The snow-coated pop-up blind was stiff and noisy Tuesday afternoon, when used as a photography blind.

At least six different roosters came to the feed, and all stuck to cover as best they could. They, and several hens, liked to stay under a huge cedar where some food had been scattered. Occasionally one would sneak out, peck a few kernels of corn then retreat back under the boughs.

More than half of the roosters spooked before I even got them in the viewfinder. Three or four frames is the most I got of any one bird, and my camera fires at about eight frames per second.

I’ll be out for a few hours early Wednesday morning, in another blind that’s further from a feeder and where the birds and the blind should be in warming sunshine. No matter, I’m danged sure wearing heavier boots  this time.

Jake and Me – another chapter

Sunday’s Outdoors page carried a feature story about a mentoring friendship I’ve had with 11-year-old Jacob Holem. The article describes what we’ve both gotten from the friendship, and chronicled some of our adventures. YOU CAN CLICK HERE TO READ THE STORY, AND FIND THE PHOTO GALLERY

While some people were reading the story, Jake and I were out in a snow covered field of corn stubble, trying to get the personable boy is first goose. Our previous trips had resulted in not a shot, let alone a bird in the boy’s hand.

Jake Holem, left, and MIchael Pearce ended the goose season with a lot of bangs...and limits of six Canada geese, apiece.

Jake Holem, left, and MIchael Pearce ended the goose season with a lot of bangs…and limits of six Canada geese, apiece.

Funny what a difference timing and weather conditions can make. For each of the past five or so years I’ve had my best goose hunts of the season in February. Ditto on this cornfield when there’s snow on the ground, and the decoys are more visible.

At daylight we scattered about six dozen decoys.. Jake used a broom to clear several areas of open ground, like a flock had found a place where the wind had blown some snow away, and food was being found.

We barely had gotten into the goose pit when the first flock came over. In fact, Jake didn’t even have his gun loaded but I dropped a goose. We had to hustle because more were coming. I shot a bird and as I was pulling on another, it faltered and fell….Jake had his first goose. It wasn’t long before he had a second, and third, and fourth, and eventually sixth.

Sunday was one of those days when all seemed to be working. The birds were coming off parts of El Dorado Reservoir and assorted ponds, and their flight path had them passing within easy sight of our decoys. I doubt there was a total of 10 minutes all morning when we didn’t have geese in sight, and many wanted in on our spread.

Geese responded to calls, both Jake’s and mine, and we passed up probably a dozen opportunities at birds that were in range of my 12 gauge magnum, waiting for geese to come in close enough for Jake’s 20 gauge,…which was quickly going through his partial box of ammo. One of the highlights was a lone white-fronted goose, the first I’d ever seen over the field, that came down from way up in the sky, wings cupped until it was about 20 yards out.

Had the limit still been three Canadas per hunter, like last year, we’d have been done by 10 a.m., or about 90 minutes of hunting. Thankfully, the limit is six per person.

When Jake was getting cold, and down to about a dozen shells, his mom, Kimberly, came and brought more yellow shells and cups of hot cocoa. As we warmed in Kimberly’s pickup, a flock of about nine worked within 25 yards of where we sat.

Four groups, from one to a dozen or so in a bunch worked the spread the 30 minutes we were away from the blind, including a nice flock that flushed from near the blind when we headed back at about 11 a.m. At about straight up noon four new birds worked in from the east. Jake hit one hard and Hank, my Lab, closed our season with the retrieve.

Guns unloaded, we were only about half-way through picking up the decoys when Kimberly arrived at the blind again, with a large, steaming cheese pizza and other snacks.

So Jake and I mostly stood outside the truck, reaching in for piece after piece of probably the best-tasting pizza I’ve ever had, watching more geese come and go, while talking about the morning’s hunt. We got a few photos, finished picking up the decoys and headed to a spot out of the wind to clean Jake’s birds. As we were beginning the process, Jake looked up and saw a bald eagle barely clearing the trees above the river.

“I could see his yellow beak he was so close,” Jake said a few minutes after the bird flew from sight. “That was really exciting to see him that close.”

All in all, the entire day was pretty exciting, and a great way to end our hunting seasons together. Now, come on spring turkey seasons and fishing!

Casts and Blasts from Gumbo-thon, 2014

Some smells are just meant for certain seasons….the smell of freshly-cut grass the first time in the spring. Those of us old enough, remember the smell of burning leaves in the fall. Yesterday the smell of simmering gumbo filled our house, a sure sign that we’re in probably the coldest week of the winter. I call it gumbo-thon. Here are a few bits about it -

About four gallons of gumbo that includes turkey, pheasant, venison and, unfortunately, store-bought sausage.

About four gallons of gumbo that includes turkey, pheasant, venison and, unfortunately, store-bought sausage.or the coldest week of the year, and make it early enough that it can sit and season for a few days and take us through the weekend. A few facts -

– I learned how to make gumbo from Margaret Simien, mother of Wayne Simien, Jr., past KU All-American. She’s been like a big sister to me since we worked together in Leavenworth when I was in college. She learned it from her mother-in-law, a Louisiana native.

– She taught me how to make it per “batch.” though the least I’ve ever made is a double batch. A batch contains, roughly, one onion, one bunch of celery, the meat of about two chicken breasts and a package of tube sausage and, of course, shrimp.

– Tuesday morning I really intended to just make a double batch, but ended up making a quatro-batch, which is about all my large plug-in roaster will hold. I have that problem of stopping once I get started making gumbo. No matter, it freezes well and we always seem to have plenty of friends wanting to help reduce the load.

- I started with the legs and thighs from a mature tom turkey shot last week. I separated them at the joint, placed them in a tall stock pan and added about a gallon of water, one chopped onion and one chopped bunch of celery. With the lid on, I let them simmer for about five hours. The meat was tender enough to be easily shredded with my fingers and I had a great starting stock for the gumbo.

- I added all that to the roaster, with three more onions and three more bunches of celery chopped. The water was sprinkled liberally with seasoned salt, garlic powder and Creole seasoning, and tasted for testing. I like my stock to be almost too spicy for me to handle. That will make it about right when more meat is added and the gumbo is put on rice when eaten.

Gumbo is an excellent destination for the thighs and legs of wild turkeys, simmered with onion and celery for about five hours.

Gumbo is an excellent destination for the thighs and legs of wild turkeys, simmered with onion and celery for about five hours.

- As for other meats, I kind of went to the “beer and worm” fridge in the garage, and found what hadn’t been frozen yet from hunts the past week or so. That included all the thigh meat from six pheasants, and one slab of turkey breast meat. From the freezer I added a loin and roast of venison, too. All was cubed, of course, and added to the gumbo that was not at a high simmer.

– I hate to admit it, but I had to buy four packages of sausage (oh, the shame!). I used to take elk or wild pig into Parson’s in Derby, and have them make it into brats, but not this year.  I also used to use Johnsonville New Orleons style sausage but I can’t find it any more and I refuse to pay the shipping on the real stuff from Louisiana.

– In the past, I’ve also added duck, spoonbill catfish, bison, elk roasts, moose roasts, limb chicken (squirrel), cottontails, a lot of wild pig, and several things I can’t remember, I’m sure.

– Yes, I can make a roux from scratch but no, I don’t. Every couple of years I’ll order several large jars of what’s basically a concentrated roux from cajungrocers.com.  This batch used about a cup, first dissolved in boiling water, then added to the gumbo.

– The entire conglomeration simmered together for about four or five hours before I moved the entire roaster to the cold garage. One of the secrets of making really good gumbo, is to not eat it until it’s set for at least a day or two.

– I’ll share about half of this year’s batch with some friends living west of Newton (Yes, PJ, that includes you!). They’ve had several people sick and were very kind in letting me enjoy some of the best pheasant hunting of my life, on their lands.

– Oh, I don’t like to add the shrimp until just before the gumbo is re-heated and served. This year, though, high shrimp prices may mean quite a few bowls without shrimp. Ste. Kathy, my wife, actually prefers her gumbo without shrimp.

– No, I don’t use okra, but I sometimes add peanuts or cashews to a bowl to give it some crunch.

Sometimes, pheasant planning works

Pheasant hunters are some of the greatest planners in the outdoors.

There were WWII island invasions with less details than some of the pheasant drives I’ve been on, with hunters coming towards a cover from all directions, a push with wingmen to be exactly 41.237 yards ahead of the other hunters. Unfortunately, pheasants are really bad and falling such plans and normally find plenty of ways to run, flush wild, hold tight, fly the wrong direction….of the scheming gunners.

Friday, on Kansas’ last day of the season, all went as planned for me and my ancient Lab, Hank.

For about the past three weeks we’ve been dibbling and dabbling on some pheasant hunts at some fantastic spots in Harvey County, normally only hitting a covert for  a half-hour to an hour, taking a bird or two and then heading home happy. Even as late as Thursday morning,  we only hit a patch long enough to take a pair of roosters, including one with Boone & Crockett tailfeathers, before resting the field in advance of Friday.

So for Friday, the season’s last day, and possibly Hank’s last pheasant hunt (he’s about 13) we went for broke, heading to  the best spots I have in Harvey, Reno and Stafford counties.

Hank, with the four rooster limit from Friday's hunt the last day of the Kansas pheasant season. The photo was taken Sunday afternoon.

Hank, with the four rooster limit from Friday’s hunt on the last day of the Kansas pheasant season. The photo was taken Sunday afternoon.

About 8 a.m. we did an early raid on a roosting area that’s basically at the edge of a friend’s yard. The first rooster was holding tight, flushed close and fell dead. The next took a little trailing by Hank before the flush, then a lot more after the shot. With super-dry conditions, it took the old dog about 20 minutes to catch up with the wing-hit bird. With a self-imposed two bird limit on that property, we headed west.

Grass where I’d seen five or six roosters a month ago held just a hen in Stafford County. After lunch in Sylvia, I passed on a chance to hunt some CRP in Reno County because of the field’s immense size and thickness. I could tell Hank was already tired, so we headed back towards home and Harvey County. We got to the property, which was across the road from where we’d hunted that morning, with about 90 minutes of daylight left. Basically I was counting on the final 20-30 minutes.

For most hunters the pheasant season that closed Friday was the worst of their lives, but there were some good pockets of birds scattered about. Michael Pearce found his best hunting of the past several seasons in Harvey County.

For most hunters the pheasant season that closed Friday was the worst of their lives, but there were some good pockets of birds scattered about. Michael Pearce found his best hunting of the past several seasons in Harvey County.

Hank and I took a seat near the field’s north end, where pheasants often traveled back and forth between the lush grass and a neighbor’s soybeans. We’d seen three roosters sail into the grass when we got up with a half-hour of season remaining, quietly walking along the field’s western edge, so we could work it into the northeast wind.

Two more roosters sailed in about the time we started the season’s last push.

Most longtime hunting  dog owners will tell you scenting conditions improve greatly just before sunset. Friday was no exception. Hank hit scent where we’d seen one of the birds land and started trailing, and 50 yards further it came out of the grass cackling. It’s partner had landed about 60 yards away, and Hank was hot on its scent when it flushed and also fell.

With a limit of four filled, my first in several years, I set the gun and vest along a farm trail and just followed the dog as he worked out the rest of the grass. He was still pushing up hens as grayness  settled over the field, including a cluster-flush of about a dozen brown birds at the field’s northeastern corner.

I hated to see the season end, since there’s no promise Hank may be around for the next or at least be healthy enough to hunt.

Well, if there is a perfect hunt for ending a season, or possibly a hunting career, a rare day when all the pheasant planning comes through is certainly it.

 

Last day of duck season…four out of five ain’t bad

Four mallard drakes from Sunday's final hunt of the 2013-14 waterfowl seasons.

Four mallard drakes from Sunday’s final hunt of the 2013-14 waterfowl seasons.

All I was allowed to shoot was a single mallard when I headed to a blind Sunday afternoon. Andy Fanter and I had hunted the same blind in the morning, when he’d taken a limit of five drake mallards and I’d shot four.

The buffet at the Wheatland Cafe in Hudson had left me literally about as full of friend chicken as I could be as I headed for the final sit of the duck season.  Friend Bob Snyder joined me in the afternoon, needing three drakes. for himself.

Scores of times in our 13 seasons of  friendship we’ve dropped the four drakes we needed from a single flock. Bob had also shot some nice full-limits of ducks on afternoon hunts several prior days. No problem, right? Mother Nature had other plans.

The ducks flew late in the afternoon, which isn’t unusual when it’s warm, and by that time the wind had totally died. Decoys looked as lifeless as lawn ornaments on the water. Calm conditions also lets the birds circle and circle a spot looking for danger.

Oh, there were a few chances.

A drake and hen flew within 25 yards of the blind just as I’d arrived, before my shotgun was loaded. Another pass was in range but silhouetted, so I couldn’t tell the drake from the hen. Yes, hens are legal, but not something we target at the wetlands Bob creates and manages.

The last half hour had plenty of ducks around, and one pair gave us several in-range passes. I passed on a shot I should have taken, and took one I shouldn’t have and missed.

…and fifteen minutes later the duck seasons that began on a hot September morning for teal were finished until next fall.

Disappointed? Nope.

Not one of my best duck seasons as far as numbers of birds killed, but still plenty of memories made.

Another wolf killed in Missouri

Biologists say what a landowner shot thinking it was a coyote has turned out to be another wild wolf shot in Missouri. It is at least the third such wolf shot in the Show-Me State in the past few years. YOU CAN CLICK HERE TO READ ABOUT IT.

It appears the wolves are expanding from a population of gray wolves in the Great Lakes area, which is where a wolf shot in western Kansas last winter was believed to have originated. YOU CAN CLICK HERE TO READ about the first official wild wolf to have been shot in Kansas in more than 100 years.

Meanwhile, a lot of eyes are on the wolf population of the northern Rocky Mountains, where states and parts of the federal government are feuding over control of the introduced animals some claim are expanding rapidly, and are wreaking havoc on many elk, moose and deer populations in Idaho, Montana and Wyoming.

Old shotgun, old dog, great spot = like old times

I have access to a great spot for pheasants, even this year, and it’s only about 15 minutes from my house. It’s the kind of place you don’t take lightly because access only comes from a very deep friendship with three generations of the same family. That they probably like my old Lab, Hank, as well as me certainly helps.

Since this family hunts deer on the same lands means I can’t access the dense CRP fields and food plots until the last of the doe seasons is over. No problem, January has always been my favorite month for hunting pheasants.

The long-awaited first hunt in the fields happened this morning, and I knew it wouldn’t last long. Hank’s about 13, and dense grass saps his energy fast. I figured he’d have an hour’s worth of power at best, especially with the warm temperatures and heavy winds.

At almost 13, Hank is down to about an hour of pheasant hunting. The shotgun was my father's pheasant gun and so far is two for two this month.

At almost 13, Hank is down to about an hour of pheasant hunting at a time. The shotgun was my father’s pheasant gun and so far is two for two this month.

All through the weeks of anticipating the trip I figured I’d be caring my Ruger over/under shotgun, which brought an end to hundreds of pheasants and quail before I became hooked on waterfowl hunting. But when I went to get it, I noticed another gun. It’s an ancient Remington 1100 semi-automatic with a cheap camo paint job.

It was my father’s pheasant gun up until he died in 1997. Jerrod shot it for waterfowl for a few weeks, hence the paint, before he moved on to a magnum model. Back in the early 1980s I’d carried the shotgun several times when dad wasn’t along. It’s still the only gun with which I’ve shot a limit of four wild roosters, with three shots, while standing in one spot.

When I lifted the gun for the first time in years last night it felt good, and snapping it to my shoulder it pointed exactly where I was looking. I left the Ruger at home.

The landowners had recently seen up to about 40 pheasants in just one part of the place, so I figured we would see birds. Indeed, two roosters and a hen crossed the road at the property’s edge as I drove up.

The land is a 1960′s mix of well-managed prairie grass with a lot of forbs. The fields are framed with brushy fencelines with nice plum thickets and just the right amount of cedar trees.

Hank and I looped around to get the heavy wind in our face and when the food plots were empty of birds we waded into the grass…but not very far.

I think 18 or 20 pheasants erupted from the grass a few yards in front of the dog. As usual, the illegal hens offered slam-dunk shots and several roosters flushed out of range. One did rise within about 15 yards but made a beeline right at the landowner’s house as if it was headed to the back porch, which means I couldn’t shoot.

Fifty yards from there, though, we pinned a running rooster where tall grass met an open lane and it fell amid a true jungle of plums, hedge trees and cedars. It took some time to get Hank over a woven wire fence, and to where he could even enter the thickets. He found the bird at the bottom of a dry creek.

The plan was to shoot one bird each trip the rest of the season, and head for home…but on the way back Hank again started working scent. Probably 100 yards from where his trailing began two roosters flushed inches from his pouncing paws. I shot one and let the other one go.

I’ll head back out a few more times before the season closes the end of the month. The trips will be short for Hank’s sake, and I’ll carry the old shotgun for mine.

But we’re off to a good start – old dog, old proven shotgun, two shots and two roosters in less than an hour. It kind of reminds me of old times.