Category Archives: Michael’s World

Blasts and Casts from hunting with Theresa Vail, Miss Kansas

I wasn’t surprised when I got the text on Sunday morning.  When I saw the name, I was pretty sure it would have a photo of Theresa Vail with a nice tom she’d shot just minutes before.

I was right on both counts. Knowing she didn’t fill her second turkey permit on Saturday’s second, and last, day of the Governor’s Turkey Hunt, I figured she’d be somewhere hunting for at least a while Sunday morning, even though she’d tagged a great bird on Friday.

Our current Miss Kansas really isn’t very good at failure. Then again, that’s not something she’s very familiar with.

Theresa Vail, Miss Kansas, didn't like not getting a turkey on Saturday, so she went out Sunday morning and called one up on her own. COURTESY PHOTO

Theresa Vail, Miss Kansas, didn’t like not getting a turkey on Saturday, so she went out Sunday morning and called one up on her own. COURTESY PHOTO

I’ve met a lot of 23 year-olds in my many more years. Probably none have been as impressive as Vail, for a wide variety of reasons. Obviously she’s very attractive, but that’s well down on her long list of attributes. I mean that very honestly.

Most people know she’s been an honor student majoring in chemistry and Chinese at K-State, while serving in the Kansas Army National Guard. She’s been into boxing, sky-diving, motorcycle riding and serious hunting. It was widely publicized, after she won the Miss Kansas pageant that she did all those things proudly, learned to sing opera off the ‘net for her talent and basically said, “This is who I am,” when she refused to cover her tattoos in the Miss America pageant.

I was blessed to be the first member of the media to really spend some time with Vail in her element.  A few days after she won the Kansas crown we met at a Wichita archery range for an interview and to talk bows and hunting. There was NO doubt the woman was serious about both. When I mentioned the Governor’s Hunt in El Dorado she was very interested and eventually jumped at the chance when an invitation was sent.

I spent Thursday evening, Friday and much of Saturday with Vail and her father, Mark at the hunt. YOU CAN CLICK HERE TO READ THE STORY ON SUNDAY’S OUTDOORS PAGE, AND SEE A PHOTO GALLERY FROM THEIR HUNT.  Some of the things I learned -

- She’s far more comfortable in hunting boots and camo than anything she’s worn on a runway or other photo shoot.

- She has a great sense of humor, and takes kidding well  but gives it back with just a bit more spice, most times.

- Like most intelligent women, Vail doesn’t like to judged by her looks and her title. She tensed up, but held her tongue, when a man basically suggested someone should help her load a shotgun.

- Don’t tell her she can’t do something unless you want to stand there and watch her do it…especially if you say she can’t do it because of her gender or age.

- You can tell by the way she looks at him that she truly idolizes her dad.

- When she makes a mistake, which doesn’t happen often, she owns it and fixes it with no excuses.

- She’s tough and dedicated. To get her to quit hunting you about have to carry her to the truck, which wouldn’t be easy if she really didn’t want to go. Years of serious physical fitness have her stronger than most men that outweigh her by 40 pounds. She belly crawled when asked to belly crawl and would have waded a deep, cold creek, if we thought it would have gotten her a better chance at a bird.

- She’s pretty strict about her Paleo diet, which basically means she only eats pure, unprocessed meat and the same with fruit and veggies. Ask, and she’ll tell you the many benefits the healthy diet have brought to her. The main one is that she simply feels better and gets better performance from her body. She will always stress that’s it’s not, in any way, to help her lose weight.

- Vail holds a grudge. When a flock of gobblers didn’t come to calls Saturday morning there was no doubt she’d be back, with guide/friend Pat Post, Sunday morning, if even only for a few hours.

- She prefers as much of a challenge as possible. When she and Post returned on Sunday, Vail insisted on doing all the calling, something she’d never done before. Like most of the challenges she’s faced and conquered, she said doing her own calling brought her great pride. She shot the tom at about 20 yards, with a new 3-inch magnum 12 gauge Franchi.

“It’s an unbelievable feeling, to go out and doing all of the calling,” she said. “I was way, way more excited than when I shot my first turkey (called in by Post) Friday morning.  I don’t have any more permits, but I just want to go out and call in some more birds. That was so exciting!”

- She’s excited about going on three elk hunts this fall, to film episodes for her upcoming series, “Limitless,” on the Outdoors Channel. She says she’ll kill an elk. That means out there somewhere, at least one nice bull is enjoying it’s last Rocky Mountain spring. Like I said, Theresa Vail really isn’t very good at failure.

- Finally, to the elderly many from Georgia who repeatedly acted and talked inappropriately to Vail at the Governor’s Hunt, I’d suggest you don’t do it next year when she’s not under Miss Kansas response restrictions. On second thought, go ahead…but make sure I’m there to watch the outcome. :-)

Patterning shotguns for turkey hunting important, fun

Jake Holem counts how many pellets from his 20 gauge made it into the kill zone of a wild turkey target. Five was considered a safe minimum.

Jake Holem counts how many pellets from his 20 gauge made it into the kill zone of a wild turkey target. Five was considered a safe minimum.

Preparation for most kinds of hunting and fishing are a lot of the fun in both activities.

For turkey hunting, that can include making sure you have permission on private lands and heading out to scout for birds and their daily patterns. My favorite way is to head out a few days before the season and listen for where the toms are gobbling from roosts, then try to check fields for travel patterns. I like to do the latter with binoculars from the distance, to keep from spooking birds from their routines.

Practicing with calls is fun before the season, though most who’ve been at turkey hunting for a few seasons have no problem picking up from where they left last spring with their calls. Buying a few new calls, or decoys, is about mandatory, too.

Trying new loads in shotguns can be a big deal, too.

A 2 3/4" magnum 20 gauge shell loaded with1 1/8 oz. of buffered 7 1/2 shot patterned extremely well.

A 2 3/4″ magnum 20 gauge shell loaded with1 1/8 oz. of buffered 7 1/2 shot patterned extremely well.

Last weekend my main hunting buddy this season, 11-year-old Jake Holem, and I set out to experiment with a few loads from his new turkey choke for his Tri-Star 20 gauge and I wanted to run a few new loads through my well-used Benelli. We printed a few special turkey head and neck targets we found online, the ones that show the location of the brain and the spinal column. A few empty pop cans also gave us an idea of pattern densities and where our patterns were hitting.

Our goal on the paper targets was to get at least 5 pellets in the spinal column and/or brain.

Some of the things we learned -

– Jake’s 20 gauge shot low, which means he had to aim at a bird’s head to insure the pattern was well distributed in a tom’s head and neck.

– As with many 20 gauges I’ve worked with, a Winchester 2 3/4″ shell, loaded with 1 1/8 oz. of #7 1/2 shot, with buffering in the shot column, patterned better from Jake’s gun than any three-inch load we tried. Unfortunately I haven’t been able to find those loads in about 15 years, and I’m down to about 40 rounds.

– We also learned that Jake’s gun patterned well enough at 30 yards to easily make lethal shots at that range.

– Also, though my shotgun with a Carlson imp/mod. choke throws great patterns with 3″ #2 steel, it does very poorly with #3s of the same exact shell. Go figure?

– My shotgun is best with Hevi-Shot, 3″ #5s, followed by the old stand-by of 3″ #2 steel. I’m good to 40 yards, but would sure love to keep the shots under that distance, which normally isn’t a problem.

Having spent the time trying several loads in his shotgun, and practicing shooting left-handed, greatly helped Jake Holem make a great shot on this longbeard near Leon early Saturday morning.

Having spent the time trying several loads in his shotgun, and practicing shooting left-handed, greatly helped Jake Holem make a great shot on this longbeard near Leon early Saturday morning.

– Jake also learned that if he took his time, and shut his right eye, he could shoot his shotgun accurately left-handed…which was a good thing to know. Saturday morning the right-handed kid had to do just that when a flock of toms came in from our right.  The shot was 27 yards, and the shotgun, the choke, the load and the kid were on the money.

 

Ticks nothing to fool about

This may be April Fools Day and this blog is no trick, but anybody who ignores the threat of ticks is a fool.

YOU CAN CLICK HERE to read one of the dozens of articles and research papers published annually about the threat the world’s tiniest terrorists are spreading across the country.

This isn’t a scare tactic, it’s a fact of the outdoors for this millennium.

Coating clothing with permathrin is one of the best ways to avoid getting ticks, when used properly.

Coating clothing with permethrin is one of the best ways to avoid getting ticks, when used properly.

I’ve spoken with several people, including some in Kansas, who have survived Lyme Disease and all have said it’s taken them months for recovery.

A good friend, Luke Templin, contracted Rocky Mountain Spotted Fever while turkey hunting on our farm last spring. Even though the disease was detected before any serious symptoms set in, it took him several weeks before he felt totally over the bad experience.

I’ve heard of people who have basically been crippled for life from Lyme Disease.  A young woman who several in my extended family knew died from the disease several years ago.

As someone who is in the outdoors a lot, I’ve been guilty of not taking the threat seriously enough. I’ve found more than 20 ticks on my body several times, I used to go entire springs and summers with no real prevention because I didn’t want to put chemicals on my body, and still don’t relish the concept, but…

Like many, now my favorite alternative is to treat my clothing with permethrin. It lasts for a few months, even through a few washings. I coated my camo, from boots to cap, with it on Monday morning and it’s been given plenty of time to dry. (You don’t want the stuff on your body when it’s wet!) I, and millions of others, recommend it highly, but be sure to read the directions before you apply it.

YOU CAN CLICK HERE FOR MORE ADVICE ON HOW TO AVOID TICKS. 

3-D Archery, great afternoon…even if you do get beaten by a kid

Jake Holem removes a well-shot arrow from a 3-D target. Yes, it's the one I missed totally. PHOTOS BY MICHAEL PEARCE

Jake Holem removes a well-shot arrow from a 3-D target. Yes, it’s the one I missed totally. PHOTOS BY MICHAEL PEARCE

Should you be wandering around out west of Clearwater anytime soon, please keep your eye out for an arrow.  It’s a Carbon Express, probably with neon yellow and green vanes.

It might be anywhere from five to ten miles west of town and about two miles either side of  103rd. I can get you no closer than that. I just know it’s not sticking into a foam antelope target like it should have been. But hey, that I only lost one arrow out of 48 fun, hunting-like animal targets won’t have me complaining.

Saturday I spent the afternoon, and some of the evening, at the Ninnescah Bowhunters 3-D archery range. My 11-year-old outdoor buddy, Jake Holem was with me, testing out his new bow. Kimberly, Jake’s mom, was along to enjoy the day outdoors, keep score, congratulate Jake on his mostly great ones…and console me on my many failures.

Once a month the long-standing archery club tucked down near the Ninnescah River, hosts a day or two of shooting at 3-D targets. They include foam, live-sized likenesses of assorted deer, caribou, mountain goats, coyotes, mountain lions, bobcats, bears, turkeys, a wolverine a super-sized cobra target Jake loved and the danged antelope target that seemed to have some force-shield that deflected my arrows.

Some shots were on open prairie...

Some shots were on open prairie…

Throughout the property club members have placed the targets in hunt-like situations. Some are down in nice timber and some are on tall grass prairie. Most are shot at ground level and a few from high ridges or elevated platforms.

Some offer complete views of the target. At a few stations you have to be about half contortionist to lean out, in, up or down to thread an arrow through a tiny opening surrounded by really big trees.

(To the member who  placed the shooting spot on a side–hill only a billy goat could climb, and only offered a tiny fraction of the standing bear for the target…nice try, I did NOT put an arrow into either of the Sequia-sized cottonwoods my arrow had to pass within inches of…so there!)

Different classes of shooters shoot from different places on each target. I enrolled in the “hunter” class, because that’s what I am, a bowhunter and not an avid target archer. Most of the shots were from 40 shots on in, with a lot around 30 yards. Much of the challenge is estimating the shooting range. Range finders aren’t allowed for those keeping score.

Jake was in one of the three youth classes, and had shots from about five to 23 yards.

Others were in river bottom timber. All were a lot of fun.

Others were in river bottom timber. All were a lot of fun.

The crowd was light, but the members on hand were very helpful and supportive. (And hopefully one will find that wayward arrow, too!)

We walked the course mostly on our own, Jake and I shooting while Kimberly kept score and tried not to laugh, (loud enough for me to hear, anyway,) at some of my shots.

Saturday afternoon the weather was stunning, and I particularly liked the walks down along the Ninnescah. With nothing but open air and deep water behind those ten or so targets concentration was important.

It was also just a danged pretty view, especially when Kimberly noticed a mature bald eagle sailing down the stream (the first she’d ever seen) and the bird perched on a limb across the river.

Darrell Allen, a member I’ve known for years, said it would take about three hours to do the course. Not our group of slow-pokes. They have you shoot the same 24 targets, twice, but they change the location from where you shoot. It took us more than four hours, with only a minimal rest in between, but a fair amount of time looking for my lost arrows.

My range estimation was a bit off on the first round, and I just knew I’d shoot better the second. But a lost arrow, and a couple of other total whiffs say differently. The angles and distances offered were harder on the second round. Fatigue also played a factor, too. Yes, Jake shot better than I did but I did OK, though.

Jake’s ready to go again, maybe back to Ninnescah Bowhunters or maybe a range by Hutchinson. Kimberly is also showing an interest in giving archery a try, and she may be rigged up with a bow in the next week or so.

Great, that means next shoot I may have two beginners putting me to shame. Oh well, …

photo 4As for the matter of that lost arrow. If you happen to live anywhere within a five mail radius of the 3-D course, and you happen to find an adult-sized arrow stuck in, say, your house, a tire on a automobile or a piece of lawn furniture…you have my sincere sympathy and complete denial. :-)

Click here for more information on Ninnescah Bowhunters.

 

 

Frozen Dead Guy Days celebrates a death, with LIFE!

NEDERLAND, Colo. -

The mountain town of Nederland may be the quirkiest village in Colorado, or maybe the nation.

The 13th Annual Frozen Dead Guy Days featured a parade, that included the many coffin racing crews. PHOTOS BY MICHAEL PEARCE

The 13th Annual Frozen Dead Guy Days featured a parade, that included the many coffin racing crews. PHOTOS BY MICHAEL PEARCE

It seems to have more tattoos than Sturgis, more body piercings than an acupuncture college and brighter hair colors than the autumn leaves in New England.

A sign at a crosswalk says “Nedestrian Crossing.”If the town had an official song it would be loud laughter, and their official tree would be an over-sized hemp plant.

Nederlanders are always up for a good time, and last weekend they shared it with visitors from across the country.

The event was their 13th annual Frozen Dead Guy Days, where the Colorado town that’s left of Boulder on a map, and even more so politically, celebrates exactly that – their very own frozen dead guy.

The Polar Plunge has visitors pay for the privilege of jumping into an ice-covered pond, as fans cheer and pelt them with snowballs.

The Polar Plunge has visitors pay for the privilege of jumping into an ice-covered pond, as fans cheer and pelt them with snowballs.

For about 25 years Bredo Morstoel has been packed in ice in a Nederland shed. Bredo, affectionately known to locals as “grandpa” was born, lived and died in Norway. Hoping for the day when cryonics could bring the now 114-year-old back to life, his family in Nederland had his body shipped to Colorado. There, they kept him deeply-chilled.

Well, eventually the family in Nederland got deported leaving poor grandpa behind. National news crews descended on the unique mountain town, the government said poor grandpa had to be buried or cremated. Locals became involved in a debate about “the rights of the temporarily dead” and, well, Nederland still has a corpse packed in dry ice and a reason to party every March.

Since my wife, Kathy, spent most of her school years in Nederland, we’ve followed the events of grandpa and Frozen Dead Guy Days. Last weekend we attended for the first, but probably not the last, time.

We got there early enough Friday for Kathy to make a few runs on nearby Lake Eldora’s ski slopes, while I walked the few streets, had a few brews, some great barbecue and watched the town change.

By dark traffic on the streets and sidewalk had more than doubled since noon. Many came in costumes with a comical macabre theme, plus the amazing assortment of, well, “unique” characters such a weird event seems to attract.

The event got its official start that evening with the annual Blue Ball, where bands played, people danced, and beer flowed while an unofficial costumed king and queen of the event were named.

The coffin race is one of the event's biggest attractions.

The coffin race is one of the event’s biggest attractions.

Over the next two days was a parade that may have more participants than spectators, including those planning on participating in events…and oh, are there some events for those who love having fun.

The Costume Polar Plunge had people paying $20 to take a dressed up dip into a hole in the ice of a pond in a downtown park. An hour or so later six-person pallbearer teams, often in theme costumes, carried a living “corpse” in designer coffins around an obstacle course.

Meanwhile, on the main drag people were bowling with frozen turkeys to knock down the pins. There was also a frozen t-shirt contest, a brain-freeze contest for those downing slushy drinks, a frozen salmon toss and a snowy beach volleyball tournament.

Frozen Dead Guy Days is obviously a big deal to Nederland businesses, giving them a serious shot of income before the quieter time between winter ski and summer tourist seasons. Much of the proceeds also go to local public service groups, like the fire department.

We certainly didn’t see it all, nor did we hear all the assorted live music from about 20 bands. But one thing we also didn’t see were any fights or even any serious arguments.

Done up specially for the event? It's never easy to tell in the quirky town of Nederland.

Done up specially for the event? It’s never easy to tell in the quirky town of Nederland.

“Dude, bad place to stand, we can’t see,” at the Polar Plunge was about as hot as things got. (“Dude,” by the way, smiled and knelt down in the snow.)

Meanwhile, up in a shed, grandpa Bredo rests at about 100 or so degrees below zero, waiting for the day when science can bring him back to life.

Imagine the celebration if in some decade to come he is able to lead the parade for the event that’s held annually in his honor?

Until then, every March more and more people will gather at a small, quirky mountain town to celebrate the death of a man they never met, by getting as much as they can out of life for at least one weekend.

YOU CAN CLICK HERE TO SEE A PHOTO GALLERY OF FROZEN DEAD GUY DAYS.

 

 

 

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.