Michael Pearce

The Eagle's outdoor reporter highlights the latest hunting, fishing and wildlife news.

Old farmhouse provides ideal refuge after great days

01/17/2010 12:00 AM

01/17/2010 1:23 PM

I doubt most people would think much of the old farmhouse. It's a simple two-story structure made when homes were built for functional shelter.

The design is as plain and simple as the people who built it about a century ago.

But some of my happiest nights have been spent within the house that's seen more time without indoor plumbing than with it. Much of that's because of the amazing days I've spent on the land that starts just outside the walls.

A friend that grants me access bought it 30 years ago because of its wildlife potential.

I admire his taste in property. Walking the land is like stepping back a half-century, to before the days of clean farming.

The rolling sandhills are dotted with dense stands of wild plum thickets and a proper scattering of cedar trees.

Dense ribbons of switch grass planted during the Soil Bank program more than 45 years ago slice between small crop fields that seldom see a combine.

That's because they're harvested by the wildlife that often comes in droves from the neighboring Quivira National Wildlife Refuge.

Though it's 160 acres in size, the property usually supports more wildlife than land 10 times its size.

On the farm, I've shot limits of ducks, pheasant, turkeys and a record-book buck in the same week.

It's my go-to place if I need a fall or spring turkey for the grill or a quick whitetail doe for the freezer.

And the wildlife watching is better than the hunting. Three times last fall I watched whooping cranes on, over or within a few yards of the property.

Shortly after Thanksgiving, four cranes passed so low that we heard the whoosh of their wings.

Another time I watched a litter of young jackrabbits frolic by the driveway.

One afternoon last month, I watched a combined 500 ducks and geese on or around the property's pond.

A nearby wheat field had a flock of more than 150 turkeys feeding and chasing one another. At the same time, I saw pheasants and heard quail.

Eventually, a few dozen deer trickled from the refuge towards the land's food plots and wheat fields. I shot a big doe early enough in to have the venison skinned and cooling on snow drifts before dark.

The last few minutes of daylight were spent sitting on a tailgate with my dog. I watched long skeins of geese silhouetted against a classic sunset as they headed for Quivira's Little Salt Marsh.

Such days are often topped by nights in the quaint farmhouse. It's been remodeled and is comfortable and warm with more than enough hot water to shake the deepest set of mid-winter shivers.

Most times I'm the only person there, but not alone. There's a perfect place for a tired Lab to stretch in front of the fireplace while soup or gumbo simmers on the stove.

There are plenty of chairs for drying damp clothes and room to spread equipment as I try to decide if the next day will bring ducks, deer, upland birds or all three.

But it's the last minutes of the day I most relish in the old house. Rather than a bed upstairs, I spread a sleeping bag on an old living room couch and lay there, one arm draped over the side so I can massage tired canine muscles.

Most nights, the music of calling geese and sandhill crane flying overhead are the last sounds I hear. Sleep comes fast and deep.

The next day begins with the sounds of a pre-dawn alarm. With it comes the crescendo of the dog's heavy tail pounding the floor with building excitement.

I feel the same way as I flick on the lights and start the coffee in the tiny kitchen.

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