Tuesday, November 24, 2009

Pheasant Hunt 09

Thursday morning I set out for central Kansas on my annual pheasant hunt with long time friend Mike Conroy and members of his family. Leaving here at 8:00 I met up with Mike's father big Mike in Fort Scott around 3:00 and we proceeded to Ottowa to join Mike and the rest of our party before heading to La Crosse. The little town of La Crosse, Kansas was our home base from which we hunted Friday, Saturday and Sunday morning. Friday morning started cold and windy and due to malfunctions in guns, gloves, fingers, and aim the first couple of opportunities came and went with no birds to show for it. We finally shot a couple of quail and then a pheasant which hit the ground running. Despite a fine brace of hunting dogs including Luke the beagle, Jack the German shorthaired pointer, and of course Finn the Boykin Spaniel, we were unable to locate this pheasant that had fallen in a thick stand of Indian Grass. After searching for a while we continued our hunt and things continued to be slow as we flushed a number of hens but had very little luck finding any roosters within gun range. We focused our efforts on WIHA land which is leased by the state of Kansas from landowners for the specific purpose of adding hunting opportunities for the general public. This program has allowed thousands of hunters the opportunity to hunt a variety of game in areas that are otherwise devoid of much public hunting ground. This has obviously had a positive impact economically to areas that other times of the year have little or no outside visitors. As we drove through small towns and down county roads we saw hotel and restaurant parking lots full, and trucks filled with hunters from places as far away as Ontario. We continued to search out fields to hunt and were finally able to put a pheasant in the game bag. As evening began to fall over the Kansas prairie we found a farmer outside his barn and after talking with him we obtained permission to hunt a large field of milo stubble. This field quickly yielded the second rooster of the day, and before the hunt was over, two more pheasants were added to our total. Day one ended with a meager total of 4 pheasants and 2 hard earned quail. Day 2 would begin optimistically with a large field of native grass surrounding a cut milo field. While this looked like perfect pheasant habitat, after completing the drive we had only one pheasant and a few quail to show for it. This was rather disappointing as we had added to more hunters and two more dogs to this days hunt. We decided to pay our friendly farmer another visit and again were given permission to hunt his fields. This time he decided to join us and showed us several new fields, but once again the hunting was slow and only one more pheasant was shot. We decided to move on with a few more fields being hunted and only one more pheasant and a few quail hitting the ground. It is not unusual to see big numbers of pheasants flushing out of range, or having lots of hen flushes throughout the day, but in our case we were just not seeing many birds anywhere. Following a lunch of ham and salami sandwiches we decided it was time for a change in strategy. We decided to shift our efforts to the north hoping to find more birds, and the rest of the day was spent scouting for new, and hopefully better places to hunt. As we drove the dirt roads we spotted a group of hunters, and observed pheasant after pheasant flushing in front of them, a good sign of things to come we hoped. Just down the road we found a good looking field of grass and our small party of three decided to give it a try. We took a quick hike around the field and kicked up nothing, deciding the pheasants must be running around our small line. We then joined back up with two others and hunted a cut milo field just before dark. In this field I was rewarded with a rooster flush directly to my left, and was fortunate enough to drop it with my first shot, ending the day on a high note. Day two ended with a beautiful Kansas sunset, and a meager harvest of 4 pheasants and 4 or 5 quail. Day 3 would break slightly warmer than the previous two, and we headed out before dark to a field where some of the guys had seen 20 or 30 pheasants flying in to roost the night before. Unfortunately for us, another group had beaten us to the field and we were forced to scramble to another location before legal shooting light. We found a nice half section of CRP grasses and could hear the roosters cackling in the pre-dawn glow of the prairie. Quietly we entered the field and began the final push with 10 hunters and 4 dogs. Quickly several hens flushed and a covey of quail got up prompting several shots but no connections. As we continued across the field pheasants continued to flush wild, with only a few hens flushing within range. My dog Finn had several good flushes on hens, and picked up a few flushes on several of the quail that had set down in front of us, but we were able to hit only one quail, and had no good opportunities on roosters on our first pass. As we watched a small mule deer buck bounce up the hillside in front of us we excitedly planned our next pass through this vast field of native grasses. Finally we were seeing birds, and although shooting opportunities were few, like most hunters we were happy to finally be seeing a good number of pheasants. The next pass would only bring us a few hen flushes, and as we lined up for the third and final pass of the trip, we sent several hunters down to "block" the field in an attempt to catch any roosters that might try to flush wild on us. I walked the far left side on this pass, and following several close encounters with pheasant hens, a rooster made the mistake of taking flight within gun range to my left. I quickly spun and shot, dropping the rooster to the ground, Finn had seen the pheasant fall, and was immediately on its trail as it weaved it's way through the clumps of Indian Grass and sideoats. After a short chase Finn collected our prize and as I wrung the roosters neck he got the final laugh by spurring me in the pinky leaving me with blood running down my hand. As we approached the blockers another rooster was harvested from the other end of the line, and a large covey of quail erupted in between all of us. I hit the ground as I feared for my life, but everyone was careful in their shot selection, and 4 more quail were added to our tally. Two of these quail were retrieved by Mike and Matt Conroy who along with the rest of the hunters and dogs spent 10 minutes or so chasing two winged quail around in circles until they could be pounced upon. By now it was nearly 9:00 and with a long drive ahead of us we decided to leave the rest of the birds for next time. This one field had yielded two roosters and five quail, as well as many wild rooster and hen flushes. Finally we had found what we had been looking for, but like most times, about the time you figure them out it is time to head home. Despite the low number of birds being harvested I think everyone enjoyed our time afield, and thanks to the WIHA program put forth by the state of Kansas with a little planning this type of hunt can be enjoyed by anyone. At about $45 per room, double occupancy, and good inexpensive restaurants, if you make reservations early a successful Kansas pheasant hunt can be enjoyed by anyone for very little money. If we had been a little smarter and shifted our hunting area sooner we might have even come home with enough pheasants for a Thanksgiving feast.

P.S. Trout are biting good right now, while I was hunting we had Hargrove and his guys down catching fish after fish, including a 19 1/2 " rainbow, and a 30" BROWN!!

Monday, November 16, 2009

If Woodpeckers Were Deer. . .

As I sat in my deer stand opening morning listening to shot after shot, I felt as if I were the only person in Ozark county not having any luck. Following three hours of listening to what sounded like a Fourth of July fireworks show, all I had to show for it was a distant doe sighting, and a sore rump. Don't get me wrong, I had a wonderful time watching squirrels, mice, chipmunks, lizards, vultures and lots and lots of woodpeckers. If woodpeckers were deer I would have to get another freezer. I wonder if I went woodpecker watching if all I would see would be deer, might be worth a try. Saturday evening my hunt went much better. While I didn't shoot anything I had opportunities to harvest a forkhorn, a nice young 8 point, and a doe. I didn't take the doe as she was being pursued by the 8 point and also by a larger buck that I was never able to get a good look at. All in all a magnificent hunt that culminated in the doe being chased directly under my stand by the 8 point buck, neither of which had any idea I was there. My good friend Reid joined me for the opening weekend hunt, and he too drew a blank on opening day, although he saw several does, and passed on a spike which he brought in with his grunt call. Day two would prove to be a different story. Rising once again at 5:00 a.m., Reid and I enjoyed some coffee as we dressed for what would be a deadly morning. After careful strategizing we decided on which stands would give us the best opportunities and proceeded to them with the caution of a young Cherokee Indian on his first buffalo hunt. Slipping silently into my stand I eventually found a comfortable position and sat watching and listening for any sign of deer activity. A heavy fog greeted us Sunday morning and seemed to slow the deer's movement until it lifted. It was well after 8:00 before I saw my first deer, and nearly 9:00 before I had two does within range. I was hunting on the edge of some thick woods and the deer were staying back about 40 yards from my location with trees and shrubs blocking my view. After watching the deer for 30 minutes they disappeared only to return a short time later. As before, I watched the larger doe through my scope waiting for a clear shot through the woods. Eventually the doe stopped in a narrow opening between two trees and with my heart pounding I was able to take a shot that found its mark putting the second deer of the morning on the ground. As Reid drove by my stand I flagged him down and told him I had taken a shot but wasn't sure if I had hit it. As I approached his truck I noticed a big doe in the back and congratulated him on the first deer of the year. We went to the house, put on some cooler clothes and Reid, Amy and I went to see if we could find my deer. I thought the deer was about 60 yards from my stand when I shot so we started looking in that location but found no sign. We continued crossing back and forth further from the stand and I soon spotted the deer down on the forest floor. Relieved to have found my deer, we discovered that she had only gone about 30 yards from where she was shot, and I had misjudged the distance from the stand considerably. Now that the deer were recovered we field dressed the deer down by the river, and have enjoyed watching eagles swarming the offal yesterday evening and today. Today as I fed cattle and took care of the third coon I have trapped in the barn in three days, I saw deer everywhere. I guess there are plenty left, and like always they know they are safe in the campground and along the driveway.

Thursday, November 12, 2009

Veterans Day Float (Thank you Vets!)

Yesterday was a another gorgeous day in the Ozarks, and on a day where we all were thinking of brave grandfathers and fathers, mothers, sisters, brothers, sons, daughters, granddaughters, grandsons, cousins, nephews, nieces, and second cousins twice removed, Amy and I decided to honor them by taking a float down secret creek. Secret creek refers to one of the many tributaries that feed our lakes and rivers here in the Ozarks. Following high water these streams can provide some of the best and most exciting floating available. Unfortunately you never know what you are going to get on these waterways until you are on them. Many times if these creeks are big enough to show up on a map they can be floated at times of high water. The particular creek Amy and I found yesterday was one we had been on before but this time we would float a longer section as we were granted access on private property. As we put in on this crystal clear stream we were soon mesmerized by the shear bluffs and boulder strewn riffles of this hidden gem. The valley was much narrower and riffles much sportier than anything you find on the main float streams of the Ozarks. As we darted through rapids, and bounced off boulders we were surrounded by unspoiled wilderness. A large family of otters played on the banks as we floated by, and a flock of turkeys was seen flushing in the distance as Amy shrieked from a near capsizing. A few mysteries also remain following this float. Two ducks were seen feeding in the distance and as we approached they dove never to be seen again. At this same spot Amy also swore she saw a big goldfish swimming around, and as we rounded the bend we saw something in the bushes Amy firmly believes was a wombat (might be time for an intervention). Floaters must also be cautious as these untraveled waterways are often filled with fallen trees often lurking unseen around a sharp bend. With little information available about many of these creeks, if you decide to try it you may end up having the float of a lifetime, or you could end up dragging your kayak around trees and over shallow spots all day long. Regardless of what the float might bring, it is definitely exhilarating floating new water for the first time, and the sound of water rushing around boulders as it drops through narrow canyons is sure to get your heart pounding as you approach unseen obstacles waiting just around the next bend.

Tuesday, November 10, 2009

Bucks and Beards

What a wonderful strech of weather we have had ever since the last big rains! The river did come up big (nearly to the top of the boatramp), and those of you who like to camp on gravel bar right need to bring some gravel next time you come, as mother nature is trying to make a new island in that spot. The last few days the river has gotten back to a fishable level and yesterday and today we had some fishermen float from Kelly to Sunburst catching about a dozen fish per person per day with a 17"rainbow and 18" brown being the two braggers of the trip. Most were caught on rubber legs with a few being taken on crayfish patterns. Rifle season is almost upon us in Missouri and with that I have been busy moving stands and planning strategy. I have bowhunted only twice with no luck and have discovered most of our deer are hanging out in the campground where we have created a refuge from hunters. This is great for the deer but not so good for me (the hunter). I also drive past 3 deer that bed within 15 yards of our driveway at least 3 times a day and they just smile as I go by. Lucky for them I am a sporting fellow, and also have a freezer full of Inky! The rut has really gotten under way and we have seen a nice little 6 point chasing does up and down the drive, like most bucks I see he'll be good next year if no one shoots him. My trail camera captured a nice little 8 point that should be a great deer next year (good luck my friend). The trail cam also has been taking shots of a group of about 5 gobblers that I wish would walk by my bow stand (wouldn't fresh wild turkey be a treat on Thanksgiving). I am excited about our neighbor not allowing any deer hunters on his place this year as it had gotten out of control over the past few years with more and more people hunting. They would always take anything that walked by so little bucks were always on the menu. While I don't go out specifically looking for big bucks, with the abundance of does (which are much better eating) I don't understand why anyone shoots those small and medium size bucks just to cut off their antlers and throw them in a box in the garage. I have only shot 3 bucks in my life, the first deer I ever shot was a little spike, and the other two are on the wall (not my wall unfortunately, maybe someday Amy will understand). Good luck to any of you deer hunters out there, and if you can come down and fish it looks like the next few weeks should be ideal (you might have to drag me out of my deer stand to get shuttled). Maybe you should call Riverside!
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