For the Kansas outdoors, 2013 was a year of extremes. Weather patterns reached across the spectrum, as did some poltical and regulatory issues. Here are the top outdoors stories for the year.
The first half of 2013 saw a continuation of possibly the worst drought in recorded history across most of the state. In many areas, it was the third dismal hatch for ground-nesting birds, ranging from meadowlarks and sparrows on up. The fall’s pheasant population was the lowest in at least 60 years over much of Kansas.
The state’s lesser prairie chickens, already being federally considered for threatened or endangered species listing, had their population drop by about half from 2012. Several years of inadequate moisture and cover for raising fawns, and drought-related diseases, had lowered the state’s deer population in much of Kansas, too.
Mother Nature turned her spigots on full-bore around July 1 across most of Kansas and blessed the state with one of the wettest summers on record.
Most Kansas wetlands, including Cheyenne Bottoms, McPherson Valley Wetlands and the Quivira National Wildlife Refuge, were all nearly full for the first time in a decade by the arrival of fall migrations. Some say the McPherson Wetlands had its best duck seasons since they began management about 20 years ago. Cheyenne Bottoms hunters also enjoyed solid success from September’s teal season until ice-up earlier this month.
With the rains came impressive growth across much of the Kansas prairies. The added cover has made things more difficult for bird and deer hunters this season, but it all bodes well for good reproduction next spring.
Controversial waterfowl season dates
The Kansas Wildlife, Parks and Tourism commission drew the ire of many duck and goose hunters when it set waterfowl seasons in August. In at least two cases, they went against the recommendations of Wildlife and Parks biologists and most hunters.
Commissioner Don Budd, of Kansas City, got the southeast duck zone season set about as late as possible for a second straight season. A Wildlife and Parks survey showed about 60 percent of those who hunt in that region did not favor a season that late. Many feel too much of the public wetlands are iced over to offer much December or January hunting.
Commissioner Roger Marshall, of Great Bend, led a proposal for an earlier opening of Canada goose season than proposed by the agency. Biologists showed few Canada geese are usually in Kansas for Marshall’s requested early November opener. The commissioner’s request required a week be removed from the end of the season, a time that can historically see lots of Canada geese over most of Kansas.
State attempt at park funds
Early in the legislative session, state lawmakers tried to remove $500,000 from a state park fund that held rental fees from their cabins. Rep. Marc Rhoades, R-Newton , said the legislature was having to raise money through many ways to make up for recent tax cuts. Protests from the public, and state parks officials, helped keep the funds from being removed.
Hunting weapon regulations eased
Wanting to create more opportunities for hunters, Wildlife and Parks liberalized the kinds of weapons that can be used for hunting big game. Following the legislature’s lead, the commission made it legal for all hunters to use crossbows during archery seasons. It also became legal to use any center-fire cartridge for deer hunting in Kansas, including rounds as small as the .223.
Opponents say crossbows will bring success rates too high during the archery season, and the use of smaller cartridges will lead to more wounded game during the deer season. State biologists say research in other states show the changes will have little impact.
After several years in federal courts, Texas brothers James and Marlin Butler were sentenced in October to 10 and eight months in jail for poaching violations. The Butlers ran Camp Lone Star in Comanche County, an outfitting business. About 28 of their clients had been sentenced for poaching while at the camp in previous years. Some federal authorities said it may have been the largest trophy deer poaching case in the nation’s history.
Celebrity hunter Spook Spann, of Tennessee, was ordered in July to spend 30 days in jail after violating his probation that came from a 2007 incident where he illegally tagged a huge non-typical buck he shot in Kansas. Spann was originally sentenced in late 2012, and got in trouble when participated in hunts in Tennessee last spring. Originally banned from hunting anywhere in the U.S. for six months and a year in Kansas, at his re-sentencing Spann was barred from hunting anywhere in the world for one year.
Brownback issued citation
Gov. Sam Brownback shot his first wild turkey on April 11, and was issued his first wildlife violation citation about one hour later.
Taking part in the Governor’s Turkey Hunt in El Dorado, Brownback was hunting with guide Danny Armstrong when a flock of turkeys approached. During some confusion, Armstrong told Brownback to shoot at two different turkeys. He got them both, but only had one permit.
Brownback called a game warden and reported his mistake. He later insisted on a ticket when the agent offered to issue a warning. He paid about $200 in fines and assorted costs.
Fearing increased federal regulations following last December’s Sandy Hook shootings, Kansans joined shooting enthusiasts from every state in an unprecedented rush to stock up on firearms and ammunition. It was difficult to find most kinds of rifles and handguns in stock at retailers through the first half of 2013.
Locally, lines formed outside ammunition dealers an hour or more before the store opening and new shipments were completely sold within a few hours. Even now, it can sometimes be difficult to find .22 rimfire ammo.