The opening of most bird seasons rolls across Kansas with all excitement and hoopla of a small-town homecoming game. But for many, those seasons close with little attention.
There are some of us for whom the closing day or weekends are as revered as the opener. And this is our time of the year, with the last of Kansas’ duck seasons ending Sunday, and turkey, quail, prairie chicken and pheasant seasons ending on Friday.
Our reasons for going are mostly sentimental, which makes our traditions even more endearing.
End a season where hunting began
Beattie, a small town in northeast Kansas, is never one of the state’s top areas for pheasant or quail hunting, but it’s where Jordan Martincich will be hunting Friday.
“It’s a place I’ve been going for 17 years. I shot my first pheasant up there,” said Martincich, a Pheasants Forever development officer. “I have a lot of fond memories up there of great hunts and great dogs.”
He is not expecting a lot of action.
“We used to see the large rises of pheasants getting up, 30 to 40 at a time,” Martincich said. “That was when there were substantial CRP fields up there, but every year we find fewer and fewer grassy fields, and bird numbers aren’t what they used to be.”
An added reason for making the drive up from his home in Ottawa is a chance to again work his English setter, Kate, who at 11 is facing some health issues that could make hunting difficult in coming seasons.
“She pointed her first covey of quail and her first pheasant in that area and I’d really, really like to shoot one more bird over her up there,” Martincich said. “We’ll be up there hunting until sundown. It’s a familiar place with a lot of memories.”
Chicken dinner on a duck hunt
Bob Snyder, commonly known as “Duckman” around Hutchinson, probably hunts at least five days a week from opening day on. Hunting on the last day of the season is no surprise.
For at least the last 12 seasons, I know he’s hunted the closing day because I’ve usually been within his group of special friends. Some years it’s been one of our bests hunts of the season. Roughly the last five years, it’s led to probably the best of many meals we share together through the fall and winter.
It was about that long ago someone suggested we head into Hudson for Sunday lunch at the Wheatland Cafe. They offer a ham and fried chicken buffet, with all the old-style veggies and trimmings. We’re pretty sure the first year was the only one when John Dick, a group regular, was able to attend.
We were an island of camo surrounded in a sea of people in their Sunday bests. We left small mountains of chicken bones on the table as we left. John had eaten especially hardy, and deemed the chicken as good as what he’d had growing up on a farm, fixed by his mother or grandmother. It has that flavor and tenderness.
That was about the same time we learned John had a brain tumor, and save a couple of pampered trips the next season, his duck hunting days were over. We were leaving the Wheatland on closing day two years ago when we learned John had been placed on Hospice care. He died a few months later.
If limits allow, we’lll head back out after lunch to hunt the final few hours of the season. We always seem to tell a lot of stories, the kind we’ve told over and over through the years, as we remember fun hunts and fun times.
Quite a few of those stories include John.
Back to Grandma’s
Most of his constituents will have to understand if Rep. Will Carpenter, R-El Dorado, finds a way to leave Topeka a few hours early Friday.
“If there’s any way…I can slip away, even if only for a few hours, I’ll be heading to Grandma’s,” said Carpenter. “It’s a special place. It’s pretty much where I grew up.”
Carpenter said his grandparent’s old homeplace was about 320 acres in Greenwood County, where he opened many quail seasons over the past 40 years and where he’s closed most of them, too.
“I always figured that’s what it would take to get me through to the next season,” he said.
Now, it’s just another chance to walk the same coverts where he made so many memories, no matter if bird numbers are high or low.
“Sometimes it’s just the place where I go to hang out with my dogs,” Carpenter said. “We can always have a good time.”
Just me and my dog
It’s been about four dogs ago, back in my days at the University of Kansas, when I started a long run of trying to hunt the last day of pheasant season, hoping for one more bittersweet day before the long months of waiting for another. Usually, it was just me and my dog or dogs.
Back in the day, the solo hunts were largely just a way to work up on spooky roosters more quietly. I eventually learned the dogs seemed to be happier when they knew they were working with just me. Later still, I learned I better appreciate their work when it’s just us afield, too.
I’ve missed several such days with Hank, my current Lab, but I’ve made the last few and we’ll be afield Friday. The plan is to work a couple of special spots for pheasants in the morning. If I get out early enough, I even know where I can set up and maybe pass-shoot a rooster or two to save the walking on the 13-year-old dog before I follow him through thick grass for the hour or so before he tires.
Since Hank would rather fetch one turkey than a dozen roosters or ducks, we’ll probably take a seat near a good turkey spot in the afternoon, put out a decoy and make a few calls. I can scratch the old boy as we wait for birds to come, and do a lot of serious reminiscing about another fall and winter we’ve shared.
At this stage of his life and mine, I see closing days as a celebration of blessings.