Category Archives: Wildlife

Ah, November – more on the magic of mule deer

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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Sorry for no recent updates, but some time off work required me keep my fingers off the keys…but also allowed me to continue one of the better Novembers of my life.

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A young mule deer buck, with a doe nearby, stands but a few yards from a county road in western Kansas. PHOTOS BY MICHAEL PEARCE

That includes a few more days in western Kansas mule deer country after covering the opening of pheasant season, and that great afternoon when both of my host’s sons bow-killed nice deer within minutes of each other – one a nice whitetail and one a very good mule deer.

I’ve never made any secret of my appreciation for the Kansas mule deer herd. I most enjoy the spot-and-stalk hunting in the country they call home. It can include table top-flat fields of wheat or milo stubble and hair-thick fields of CRP grasses. My favorite habitat, though, is the often steep and broken canyon country that trace the river and creek bottoms of western Kansas.

The deer are usually more visible than whitetails, especially when young and especially during the rut. Some label them as “stupid” or “too easy” because of their visibility from roads at this time of the year. A lot of that has to do with rut, as bucks stick with does no matter where they find them.

Earlier this month bucks not wanting to leave does bedded near roads, or often pushed into the corners of tall barbed-wire fences offered some great photography opportunities.

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The day before this was a trophy-class mule deer buck, but the next morning he’s broken one of his main beams. It’s the one on the deer’s right side.

From my point of view, I can assure you that some mature mule deer bucks seem to be quite accomplished at staying out of the range of rifle and bow hunters. Every year  monster bucks are seen for the first time by some really good hunters. Many quality bucks die of old-age though some quality hunters were on their trails for years.

Stay tuned for the story of one good buck that seemingly made a bad decision last week.

Ah, November – a special double on deer

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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Life was already pretty danged good as Stacy Hoeme and I toured some backroads late Saturday afternoon.

I’d come out on Wednesday and we’d enjoyed a few days of trying to get me within archery range of a nice mule deer.

Chaston Hoeme, left,, and his brother, Joshua, right, both bow-killed nice bucks Saturday evening. Chaston’s is a 5X5 mule deer and Joshua’s a nine-point whitetail with several sticker points. Stacy Hoeme, their father, center,is in the middle and probably happier than both young men combined.

Saturday morning Stacy and six others had done far better on pheasants than they’d expected. I was pretty pleased with how my camera work had gone as I covered their opening day hunt, too.

YOU CAN CLICK HERE to read about the hunt and see the gallery of photography.

So while Stacy’s sons, Joshua and Chaston, headed to deer blinds Saturday afternoon, my longtime friend and I just kind of cruised around, talked and looked at some pretty country.

Then at about 6 p.m. Joshua called and said he’d just shot a nice whitetail, a basic nine-pointer with some cool stickers. Stacy was understandably ecstatic because he and his sons have a long tradition of bowhunting together, though not as often since Joshua’s career now has him living in Salina. Chaston his a senior at K-State so he’s not around many weekends for hunting, either.

We immediately headed the truck northward, to go see what Joshua had shot, and to help him get the buck loaded in his truck.

We hadn’t traveled five miles when we got a text from Chaston saying he’d just shot a very nice mule deer buck. The shot had been good, he was sure, but he had yet to go looking for the buck.

I’ll never forget the look on Stacy’s face when he heard the news. Nor will I ever forget the speaker phone conversation between father and son, as Stacy, who was more pumped than I’ve ever seen him, tried to calm Chaston away from rushing out and looking for the deer by himself.

Long story short, both of the boys had made great shots. Joshua’s whitetail fell within sight of his blind, and where we could drive right to it. Chaston had made a perfect shot and we easily tracked the buck to where it was down in a deep ditch. Being old, Stacy and I coached the boys as they grunted, tugged and dragged the huge bodied, 5X5 buck a steep bank.

We later learned Joshua and Chaston had shot their bucks at almost exactly the same minute, though about 15 miles apart. Both bucks are trophy-class and well-earned by the young men who’ve been avid archers since they were old enough to get their first permits in Kansas.

Stacy , by the way, had already affixed his archery permit to a 163-inch ten point whitetail earlier in the season.

They weren’t even my sons, but I was positively giddy and felt blessed to be around for the success and so much happiness. I’ve known “the boys” since they were very little, and have enjoyed watching them mature into the kind of young men that give me quite a bit of faith in the future of America.

More importantly, I sincerely enjoyed watching the amount of joy Stacy carried and his lived the incredible evening with his favorite hunting partners.

Congratulations Joshua and Chaston,…and congratulations, Stacy, too. That evening has been the highlight of my hunting season.

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.

Ah, November – sunset at Quivira National Wildlife Refuge

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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Many of my November days are spent hunting ducks with Hank in the morning and sitting in a blind hoping to arrow a buck in the afternoon.

At least once a November, though, I spend the afternoon inside the Quivira National Wildlife Refuge burning a few hundred digital frames at rutting whitetails and assorted waterfowl.

Sandhill cranes against a brilliant sunset at the Quivira National Wildlife Refuge, a favored photography stop in November.

One of those afternoons happened when I noticed the solid clouds of morning and early afternoon began to break at about 3 p.m. A connoisseur of great sunsets, I figured the clouds would be nicely fragmented by sundown…and they were.

For about an hour I cruised slowly , taking photos of some nice whitetail bucks distracted by raging hormones and tamed by never being legally hunted.

Never hunted, the rutting whitetail bucks at the Quivira National Wildlife Refuge offer great opportunities for photographers.

Finally, I ended up pushing the refuge’s speed limit to make it to the legendary Big Salt Marsh just in time for one of the better sunsets of my life. Flocks of sandhill cranes silhouetted against the brilliant colors added greatly to the photography and experience.

You can expect to see a column, and a lot more photos, about the day on a coming Outdoors page and on kansas.com/outdoors.

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.

Oil exploration crews = paradise lost

Stakes with flittering bright ribbon shows oil exploration crew are working an area, often hard enough to push wildlife to other places.

Literally hundreds of times I’ve told people it is my favorite quarter-section in Kansas. Thanks to the landowner’s preference for wildlife over cash crops, the 160 acres usually held more wildlife than a good parcel of 1,000 acres or more.

Bordering the  Quivira National Wildlife Refuge, the land was a magical mixture of food plots, farm fields, native grasses, dense thickets and a fine waterfowl pond. One December afternoon I sat in an elevated shooting house and counted, at one tim,  40 deer, 137 wild turkeys, 11 rooster pheasants and a combined 500 ducks and geese…all on that one piece of land.

Saturday morning I walked much of the property and deer tracks were rare enough to make me notice. Last year and the nine before they dug deep enough into the sandy soil to look like a popular national forest hiking trail. Most years so many saplings have been rubbed by bucks the place looks like it had  been through a tornado. I found just one rub, and two scrapes, and the latter usually pock the landscape like dimples on a golf ball.

Instead there were bright stakes planted in the ground and scores or orange tapes blowing in the wind. Tracks made by the oil exploration crew criss-crossed the food plots and the stands of tall, native grass.

Folks who’ve been through such explorations say the crews will be there at least another month, with coincides with about the time I’m done with my beloved November time from work.

It’s disappointing. It’s frustrating…but technically I have no reason to be angry. Many I’ve talked to who have also lost prime wildlife areas to similar crews this fall aren’t so open-minded.

Well, it’s not my property. It’s owned by a very good friend who has been extremely generous to allow me to be one of the very few allowed to access the land. If I lost access today I’d still owe him very sincere thanks for some of the finest outdoors experiences of my life.

I’ll be honest and say part of me hopes they don’t find oil there, but that’s not fair to my host. He’s invested a lot of time and money to places I’ve enjoyed for many years at the cost of nothing but my thanks and friendship. He deserves some pay-back from the land.

Of course if they don’t find oil, the stakes, ribbons and small army of workers will eventually be gone and the wildlife will probably quickly return. If crude is found, the wells and assorted equipment probably won’t cover but a fraction of the property.

Time will tell, and all I can do is wait patiently and appreciatively.

Quivira will be open for hunting this weekend

Wildlife officials have announced the Quivira National Wildlife Refuge will be open when duck season opens this weekend. The area is holding about 97,000 ducks, many of which are pintails.

Wildlife officials have announced that the Quivira National Wildlife Refuge will be open to hunting Saturday and Sunday, the opening weekend of Kansas’ low plains late zone duck season.

Mike Oldham, refuge manage, made the announcement this morning after staff members toured the area.

A similar tour Thursday morning located a lone whooping crane at the Big Salt Marsh wetland. Refuge regulations currently state that all hunting must cease if whooping cranes, an endangered species, are staying on the area.

Many years the refuge has been closed the first few weeks of duck and goose seasons as whooping cranes migrate through the area. Sometimes up to a dozen or more may spend many days at Quiriva, flying out to feed in nearby cropfields.

The whooping crane spotted Thursday morning wasn’t found on Friday.

Hunting has been poor to below average at Quivira that past two seasons because of the serious drought. Mid-summer rains this year flooded thousands of acres of  habitat at Quivira, and ducks are currently there in good numbers.

Oldham put the current duck estimate at about 97,000 birds, one of the highest opening weekend totals in history. Many of which are pintails and other “big” ducks. Up until recently most of the ducks in central Kansas have been tiny blue-winged and green-winged teal.

“It should be a good Saturday and Sunday hunt,” Oldham said. “On Monday we’ll take another look and make an assessment (if whooping cranes are present.)”

YOU CAN CLICK HERE for a link to more information about the Quivira National Wildlife Refuge.

Golden eagle predation on big game not “a first”

Many news services have recently run photography of a golden eagle taking a small deer in Russia. Most claim it’s the first time such a thing has been documented. YOU CAN CLICK HERE TO VIEW THE RECENT PHOTOS.

Not quite.

Golden eagles have been documented preying on fawn and adult antelope, even recently in Kansas.

Golden eagles are the real warriors of the bird world, unlike bald eagles which would just as soon feast on a dead carp as go catch and kill something. Goldens have caused problems for some ranchers for years, taking lambs, sometimes sheep, and calves.

They’ve been documented killing bighorn sheep lambs, antelope and mule deer fawns and occasionally adults of both species of deer. CLICK HERE FOR VIDEO OF A GOLDEN EAGLE TAKING DOWN A SMALL DEER.

A few years ago I blogged about a friend who happened across a Gove County golden eagle on a pronghorn fawn it had just killed. A few days later he and his father found a dead pronghorn doe with exactly the same kind of wounds — signs of talons on the backbone and feeding up high on the animal as the eagle held on. YOU CAN CLICK HERE TO RE-VISIT THAT BLOG.

In fact, in Wyoming a study was done documenting what golden eagles often kill. CLICK HERE TO READ THE STUDY IN WYOMING’S GREAT DIVIDE BASIN. Big game aren’t their main prey, that’s normally jackrabbits, but it’s certainly not too unusual.

A little more checking online finds videos of golden eagles preying on assorted mountain goats and even wolves in Asia.
Like I said, the true warriors of the bird world.

Central Kansas elk increasing

It’s OK, you can go ahead and tell people what you saw.

Ten years ago probably nobody would have believed you, but these days it would be hard for anyone to doubt that you’ve seen an elk in central Kansas.

Not only do we have elk scattered around, they are reproducing…at least in Reno County.

This bull elk, photographed recently by a trail camera, is one of at least two along a stream in Reno County. At least two cows, each with calves, are in the same area. Reports of elk in central Kansas increase annually.

A buddy recently sent me a couple of trail camera photos of a bull he has on some property he manages along a stream that runs through the county. As well as that bull, he’s seen another on the same property, as well as at least two cows with calves in the same area.

No clue where they’ve come from, but this is at least the third year elk have been seen, and shown up on trail cams, in the region of Kingman, Reno and Stafford counties. Last year a bull was poached near the Reno/Rice county line.

Looking back on 40 years of Kansas deer hunting

Back in ’73 any buck was a good one, and some people still thought bucks grew one antler point per year.

Monday’s opening of the 2013 archery deer season marks 40 years since I first had a Kansas deer permit. It was an archery permit, because at 14 I was too young for a gun tag. I really didn’t care, the main thing was that I was deer hunting IN KANSAS!

Some thoughts on how times had changed -

– The 1973 season was just the ninth in Kansas and I hadn’t even seen my first deer in the state until 1965.

– It was a time when seeing fresh tracks after a rain was exciting in eastern Kansas. People pulled to the side of the road if they saw deer in a field. Every sighting was reported to friends, family and quite often the first stranger who’d listen.

– Back then just seeing a deer while hunting was a major success. I hunted two years before I saw a deer while hunting.

– It was a time when anybody shooting a deer got their picture in the small town newspaper, and became somewhat of a hero in the local hunting community. Hanging a deer in the yard or open garage would stop traffic and pack the place for hours every evening.

– It was years before I ever heard the word “just” in front of a buck,…like “just” an eight-pointer, or just a three-year-old…Every buck was a trophy and the taxidermy shops were filled with basket-racked six and eight-pointers. Shoot, if someone shot a doe they at least had the hide tanned.

– Back then only about half of the landowners would let you hunt “their” deer because the animals were that special and some didn’t think there was enough to shoot. It was 25 years before they became “their” deer because they were worth money.

– Many of us took up bowhunting because we couldn’t draw a rifle permit every year, or often every-other year. Archery permits were unlimited, and got us into the woods year after year.

– The gear was so simple — recurve bows, maybe fiberglass arrows and either Bear Razorheads, Zwickeys or Pearson Deadhead broadheads. Most didn’t own camo, let alone grunt calls, rattling antlers, mock scrape materials, rubber boots, scent-free spray, scent-free clothing, deer decoys, trail cameras, feeders, food plots, portable stands, pop-up blinds, compound bows, release aids, sights, deer lures, outdoors television shows, videos, DVDs, specific magazines…you get the idea.

– The only “book” most of us cared about was B & C, …as in Betty and Crocker.  And back then few of us knew a thing about cooking venison, and much of it ended up tasting gamey and poor. (I’ve enjoyed those advancements more than the gadgetry, for sure…)

– The concept of getting to hunt with bow and rifle in the same year was not even a dream, nor was being able to  shoot up to six or seven deer per season. Most of didn’t see six or seven deer per year, including while we were driving down the road!

– Nor did we think people would someday pay $8,000 or more to hunt for a Kansas deer…nor did we think a time would come when it would be tough for kids from even small towns to find places to hunt.

– While the opportunity, success, and equipment have all increased, I honestly can’t say the enjoyment has…it was just such a great deal to be deer hunting back then. I still think the first set of antlers you wrap your fingers around, that you’ve shot, is the biggest buck of your life…I know they were for me.

– I often miss the simplicity of those old times, and think of those days when deer was a trophy, and the main enjoyment was just knowing we were actually getting to hunt deer in Kansas.