Category Archives: Outdoors photography

Quivira National Wildlife Refuge to allow deer and turkey hunting, eventually

After about three years of discussions, research and gathering public input, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service recently announced limited deer and turkey hunting will be allowed at the Quivira National Wildlife Refuge.

 After about another three years of discussions, research and gathering public input, the first seasons may be held.

A whitetail buck photographed at the Quivira National Wildlife Refuge last November.

A whitetail buck photographed at the Quivira National Wildlife Refuge last November.

“Very basically, we have the opportunity to put on a deer and/or turkey hunt based on this plan,” Mike Oldham, refuge manager, said of the refuge’s recently approved Comprehensive Conservation Plan. Such plans are designed to give federal refuges management directions over about the next 15 years. Most segments have to undergo a federal approval process, and the public most be given chances to comment at about every stage.

The plan also states that no changes will be made in regards to what parts of the about 22,000 acre refuge can be hunted. Also, the entire refuge will remain closed to all hunting when endangered whooping cranes are present.

As per the deer and turkey, Oldham said Quivira will follow federal guidelines for designing hunting opportunities that should allow for some herd control, offer some recreation for hunters while not interfering with wildlife watchers, photographers and those hunting private lands that border Quivira. He hopes to work closely with the Kansas Department of Wildlife, Parks and Tourism and will not rush into any actions.

“We know we don’t want to start with a big hunt. We want something like where you have to draw a special permit,” Oldham said. “We also probably won’t allow unlimited hunting days. It could be something like where the hunters come for an orientation meeting on Friday, then maybe get to hunt Friday afternoon, Saturday and Sunday.” Oldham said the hunts, which could start with less than 10 hunters at a time, could include the September’s youth season and the January season that’s held to hunt only antlerless whitetails. Permit numbers and hunting days could expand quickly should the need arise to harvest a significant number of deer, such as because of a disease outbreak.

Dogs training for the 2013 Master NationalDue to long-standing complaints that all hunting has been stopped when whooping cranes are present, the refuge had considered just permanently closing the hunting areas where, or near where, the whooping cranes usually congregate near the Big Salt Marsh. To make up for the loss, Quivira considered opening new areas in the eastern part of the refuge. With such a change, hunting could have possibly been allowed in those areas when whoopers were present elsewhere.

Losing access to the North Lake area, a favored hunting area north of the Big Salt Marsh, didn’t fit well with hunters.

“The vast majority, probably around 80 percent, of the public we heard from asked us to not close North Lake. They said if they had to choose, they’d rather have less hunting time than not get to hunt that area of the refuge,” Oldham said. “We also heard from non-hunters and they all said we shouldn’t do anything that would risk a whooping crane getting shot by leaving all hunting open. We really did take the (public) comments to heart.”

CLICK HERE TO REVIEW THE ENTIRE CONSERVATION 

Riding and hiking the trails at Kanopolis State Park

Doje Kosek did a two hour trail ride to reach Red Rock Canyon, one of her favorite places near Kanopolis Reservoir. PHOTO BY MICHAEL PEARCE

Doje Kosek did a two hour trail ride to reach Red Rock Canyon, one of her favorite places near Kanopolis Reservoir. PHOTO BY MICHAEL PEARCE

It is the land once roamed by Carson, Cody, Custer and the Cheyenne.

It is a place where a famed frontier fort once stood past the edges of civilization and where native people battled hard to protect their way of life.

Kirk, below is this week's e-letter. Sorry, for some reason my computer won't accept my password to get into the system. I think I already have a storyfolder, with recipe attached. If not, just run this if you can. I'm at Kanopolis again today, and will be in for a long day on Friday. Solid cell service on the lake if you need me. Riding the trails in around Kanopolis State Park can include several well-marked water crossings, like this one being forded by Paula Avery, left, Ashley and Lacey Bowles. PHOTO BY MICHAEL PEARCE


Riding the trails in around Kanopolis State Park can include several well-marked water crossings, like this one being forded by Paula Avery, left, Ashley and Lacey Bowles. PHOTO BY MICHAEL PEARCE

It’s a landscape of caves, clear streams, jagged bluffs and vertical cliffs, sparse cactus and lush ferns, all  once bisected by herds of Texas longhorns headed to Kansas railroads.

And it’s only about 90 miles north of Wichita, and belongs to the public.

Pioneers say Oven Cave got its name because Native Americans used it as a place to smoke bison meet. It's now a popular hiking destination at Kanopolis State Park. PHOTO BY MICHAEL PEARCE

Pioneers say Oven Cave got its name because Native Americans used it as a place to smoke bison meet. It’s now a popular hiking destination at Kanopolis State Park. PHOTO BY MICHAEL PEARCE

Kanopolis State Parks is a vast place with nearly 30 miles of trails for horseback riders, hikers and mountain bikers who could get a Rocky Mountain-class workout.

Amid the trails is a very family-friendly trek less than two-miles round-trip, where young and old can scramble up and over and around a rocky trail used for centuries, and see visible signs of where buffalo once wore an obvious trail through solid rock through the millenniums.

Nearby you can sit in a cave, as ancient people once did, and see where they once drove buffalo over a nearby cliff to feed their people.

It’s a place where the earliest pioneers scratched names, dates and sometimes messages more than 150 years ago into vertical rock. Though now mostly covered by more recent scratchings, in some places the soft sandstone may still bear signs of markings left before the first European-Americans came through the land.

It’s the only place within a Kansas state park where trail rides can be purchased and enjoyed across that western landscape. For those with their own horses, there is the first state park campground designed to be very equestrian friendly. There are also about 200 primitive campsites and more than 125 with utilities for those who like living life easier.

A row of cabins overlook a lake with some of the best fishing in Kansas.

Check Sunday’s Wichita Eagle and/or kansas.com for more details on Kanopolis State Park.

Underwater view of the walleye spawn

Craig Johnson is a friend of about the past five or so years. He is also a good fisherman and a Kansas Department of Wildlife, Parks and Tourism fisheries biologist.

Now, I find out he’s a pretty good amateur film maker.

Fisheries biologist Crag Johnson is good at catching fish. He's also pretty good at videoing them, too.

Fisheries biologist Crag Johnson is good at catching fish. He’s also pretty good at videoing them, too.

A few weeks ago Johnson, the fisheries biologist for El Dorado Reservoir, sent me a link to a video he’d shot of the fisheries crew netting female walleye along the dam at Milford Reservoir earlier this spring. Sounded cool, but I wasn’t expecting anything like what came across my screen when I finally got around to opening the link.

The underwater footage of down in the nets is nothing short of flat-out neat, as is the knowledge that Johnson did it all with a single GoPro camera, at times attached to a stick of sort and placed under the water.

ClLICK HERE TO VIEW THE VIDEO.

Johnson said a sequel is coming soon, also dealing with the walleye spawn.

Should be fun stuff, too.

 

 

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. 

Video shows locked-antlered buck saved by Wichita hunter/Another by Pratt County Students

CLICK HERE TO ALSO READ AND SEE how Pratt Community College instructor Luke Laha, and his students, also worked to free a whitetail buck that had been locked with another for up to two months.

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Evan McAnally spent days afield last deer season, as much to gather good video as to eventually put venison in his freezer.

But it was weeks after the season and McAnally, of Wichita, didn’t have his regular video camera along when he got footage of “a once-in-a-lifetime experience.”

On Feb. 10 the 29-year-old used his cell phone to video himself freeing a trophy-class nine-point buck that had locked antlers with another nine-pointer several days earlier. Coyotes, it appeared, had already eaten the other buck down to its skeleton. McAnally could have left and come back a few days later, after the coyotes probably would have returned to eat the second buck alive, and the avid bowhunter could have had both sets of antlers for his wall. He said that wasn’t an option.

“We’re hunters, not cold-blooded killers,” he said. “I hunt to harvest an animal to eat, and to share a connection with the wildlife.” McAnally , who bow-killed a 24-point buck in November, added the thousands of hours he’s spent afield scouting, videoing and hunting whitetail bucks has also given him a deep respect for the animals.

“It was quite the sight, what that one buck had endured,” said McAnally, “and I tried to put into perspective what that deer had already gone through, being locked with the other buck and then the coyotes eating it right there. I really wanted to free it if I could.”

McAnally had driven 90 minutes to a family-owned pasture in Stafford County to check on his remote trail cameras and put out some food for deer and assorted birds.  He was walking across the brushy pasture when he saw antlers on the ground. A closer looked showed it was two sets of antlers locked together. To one set he saw the mostly eaten remains of a buck, to the other he thought he saw the complete body of a dead buck. Then, that “dead” buck stood up as McAnally walked near, and the deer began walking away, dragging his dead combatant slowly along.

Whitetail bucks often put their antlers together for light sparring matches, or sometimes in full-fledged fights. Occasionally they push with enough force that antler tines (points) from the two bucks bend enough to become interlocked. Most such fights happen during the November breeding season, as bucks battle over a doe. “I’m not sure if there was a doe coming into late estrous or what happened,” McAnally said. “Something had them really going at it.” He also finds it unique that the antlers withstood such pressure at a time of year when antlers are naturally falling off must bucks so another set can begin growing.

McAnally recognized both bucks from his trail cameras, which are left in the field and triggered by motion. The dead buck had lived on the property for at least three years. The live buck had shown-up during the past season. The bucks were last seen independently on trail cameras on Feb. 2. “They easily could have been locked like that for five or six days,” McAnally said. “You could tell by the looks of things it had been a while.”

Rather than call his cousin, Heath Getty, for assistance, McAnally decided to not waste any time getting the live buck untangled. He set his cell phone in the branches of a plum bush and went to the rescue.

“I spent a lot of the 30 minutes just easing in, trying to keep the buck calm,” McAnally said. “It kind of kept pulling away and I kept kind of talking softly and petting its neck a bit. I’m not sure if that really helped.”

After trying to free the locked antlers with his hands, McAnally walked back to his truck and returned with a saw and cut one antler tine from the live buck and two from the dead buck. Not realizing what had happened, the live buck kept his head down until McAnally lifted its antlers a bit so it could feel that it was free. That left McAnally a bit nervous, wondering if the buck might charge him. It didn’t.

“It kind of stomped the dead buck a couple of times, backed up and then took off,” he said. “You could tell it was kind of week and off balance, but that’s probably because of all it had been through for several days.”

As he was leaving the property later, McAnally saw the buck about 300 yards from where it had been freed, walking towards a creek for water. “I’m pretty sure he made it,” McAnally said. “He was kind of gaunt, but he was really in pretty good shape. I hope I see him again this fall when I’m out hunting.” If he does, McAnally said he probably won’t reach for his bow.

“I don’t think I could shoot him,” he said. “We kind of have a connection.”

 

 

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.

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!

Ah, November — time in western Kansas

A big mule deer buck appears to be posing for the camera, last week in Western Kansas. – Photos by Michael Pearce

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.

For the third year I’ve been able to head to western Kansas for a few days of spot-and-stalk hunting for mule deer in some gorgeous canyon country. Nope, I haven’t shot one on those trips, but I’ve missed a couple of times, spooked several more and always had a fantastic time.

Compared to sitting in a treestand, surrounded by lots of other trees,  I love the freedom of being able to sit on a high hill and use a spotting scope and binoculars to search the surrounding countryside for miles. Seeing big mule deer bucks hasn’t been hard, sneaking to within my 40 yard shooting maximum range has been.

A big-bodied mule deer buck takes off after a doe that was spooked from a patch of Walk-In Hunting Area ground near a county road.

This year’s first day of hunting found us watching a dandy buck with antlers about 25 inches wide, and seven points on one antler and six on the other. He was in a pretty good place for us to make a sneak…unfortunately there wasn’t enough wind to hide the sounds of an approach so we couldn’t even try. Those over-sized ears are on their heads for a reason, you know, and their eyes seem better than those on a whitetail, too.

Stalks or no stalks, kill or no kill, I always seem to enjoy some good photography when I’m out in those hills and canyons in the Smoky Hill River Valley. I’ll be honest, and tell you that most of the best photos I get are shot out the window of a truck or over the hood. Many of the best deer photos are of bucks on lands where we don’t have permission to hunt, so I take the photos from the road.

A mule deer buck seems to know it is safe on a piece of posted property.

This trip we happened across a wide, non-typical mule deer barely 100 yards off the road, directly across from where we could hunt. We stayed on the road for close to 20 minutes, taking photos and waiting for something special. It finally happened when the buck, which no doubt had a bedded doe nearby, moved to a small knoll with a nice sunrise in the background.

Another buck was politely positioned right behind a “No Trespassing” sign, too.

And to be honest, sometimes when I get a really great photo, it’s almost as satisfying as tagging a really great buck….almost.

Ol’ Red cracks 300,000 joyful miles

It happened as I’d hoped, on the way home from a fun hunt. OK, so it may have been better if Ol’ Red had been carrying a few limits of mallards or a nice mule deer buck, but we’d been into some nice bucks chasing does on Sunday morning.

Anyway, it was about half-way between El Dorado and Newton that my beloved ’95 Ford F150 rolled over 300,000 miles. All of those, by the way, are on the original motor and transmission, radiator, AC, water pump…..(yes, I know I’m now jinxed for a massive break down.)

When we bought the truck in ’97, with about 20,000 miles, I said my goal was 200,000. Even before I hit that I’d pegged 300,000 as an obtainable goal.

The ol’ truck runs sweet on the highway, starts like a charm and looks like…well, a hunter’s pick-up that’s been outside all of its life and far from babied. It has more rust than some junkyards, some sizable holes in the lower body, peeling paint, faded paint and missing paint. Ironically, it got it’s first sizable dents just two or three years ago, in the same week.

Though the truck’s not much to look at, the memories it carries sure shine in my mind. Jerrod was 10 when we took it on his first big game hunt, a muzzleloader trip for cow elk in New Mexico. We hit a blizzard going and he heart-shot a 2 1/2 year-old cow the next morning.

I once came  back from fishing in New Zealand and found a photo on the dinning room table of one large, horizontal blob of mud and three vertical blobs just as muddy. Lindsey and two friends had tried to sneak Ol’ Red out to do some four-wheeling in the country. From the looks of the photo, and the stories they later told, it’s amazing any of the four survived.

We took it as a family on fantastic vacations in Montana and other states. The old Ford was about on auto-pilot in 1997, the year I made scores or trips to our family farm to help care for my father in his final stages of cancer.

These days it’s mostly just me in Ol’ Red, and a lot of time Hank, my gray-faced old Lab is stretched out on the seat beside me. Truth is, there’s probably enough black dog hair crammed down into the crack in the seat to start a few new puppies.

This week it was a movable photo blind at Quivira as I got good photos of Monday’s amazing sunset, sandhill cranes, trophy whitetails and more.

I have no idea how many more miles the beaten old truck has in it. I only log about 8-10,000 per year.

I realize that the truck isn’t worth what one monthly truck payment might be on a newer version. Right now insurance and taxes are pocket change.

But for the first time in 16 years I’m actually beginning to think of myself in another truck a year or two down the road.

No doubt, though, no other vehicle will ever carry as many memories as Ol’ Red.