The good news is that both pheasant and quail populations statewide have shown significant population increases over last year.
The bad news is that populations were so low in most places after several years of drought, even a substantial percentage increase may still not mean many birds in many areas when seasons open in November. The 2014 report by the Kansas Department of Wildlife, Parks and Tourism, based on summer brood counts, puts the state’s pheasant population about 70 percent higher than in 2013. Quail numbers have increased about 50 percent.
Jim Pitman, Wildlife and Parks small game coordinator, said the Smoky Hills region of north-central Kansas should have the state’s best pheasant hunting. There should, however, be isolated pockets scattered about with decent hunting based on a relative abundance of birds last fall. Some of those pockets are within 90 to 100 miles of Wichita. The Flint Hills region is expected to have the most quail. The report also indicated the Smoky Hills will have the best great prairie chicken numbers, too.
Lesser prairie chickens appeared to have pretty good hatches across much of western Kansas. For the first time in decades, hunting will not be allowed for lessers because they’re now on the federal threatened species list.
All of the reports of excellent antler growth throughout the summer appear to be true. I’ve gotten some emails and texts with some photos of some truly outstanding whitetail and mule deer. Several kids got outstanding mulies during the youth season. At least one should go more than 200 inches.
Some bowhunters report area whitetails are starting to scatter as this year’s mast crop ripens and begins to fall. Several people have commented recently on the abundance of most kinds of acorns, hickory nuts and walnuts. Turkeys should fair well on the acorns, too. It seems squirrels are about the only animals that routinely eat hickory nuts and walnuts.
Teal hunting has been hit and miss, with a few more misses lately. Several people who’ve been to Cheyenne Bottoms say numbers seem to be a fraction of what they were a week ago. Hunting pressure, though, remains high.
Sorry, I have no recent fishing reports but fall patterns should be rolling along nicely.
Saturday’s front page should have a feature on Cross Timbers State Park. It will be the final installment of our six part series focusing on one of the top state parks in Kansas. I saved Cross Timbers, at Toronto Reservoir, for last because the main focus of the story will be on how pretty that area can be when fall foliage has turned to brighter colors. I went down last fall, and shot the article, in advance for this month’s article. In other words, the photos you’ll see of great autumn colors were shot last year. The woods around the lake aren’t that pretty - yet.
Sunday’s Outdoors page will have one feature article on Greg Pickett, an Elk County rancher. Greg is an outstanding bowhunter of old, trophy-class deer and can hold his own with the best of hunters when it comes to waterfowl hunting. This time of the year, though, he’s just as happy grabbing a .22 and heading to the squirrel woods. As well as some great meat for the skillet, Greg likes to check some favored thickets and pick some paw paws.
The story is basically about how few people hunt squirrels and pick paw paws, but the immense enjoyment Greg gets out of both.
Down the road, I’m beginning to kick around where I want to be to cover the opening of pheasant season in early November. I’m thinking the same thing for waterfowl season’s opening, too.
I do know I’ll be doing a feature on a new hunting lodge that opened last year in south-central Kansas. It literally is one of the best in America, in terms of the quality of the accommodations and the hunting. I’ll need a full outdoors page to do this operation justice.
And we’re probably only a week or two away from finally getting to share the news of the special project several of us at The Eagle have been working on since mid-summer.
Busy week, again, but it’s been fun.
I spent a lot of time earlier in the week at Cross Timbers gathering a few more photos to go with Saturday’s feature story. Well before daylight Wednesday morning I made the drive from the state park down to Greg Pickett’s property in Elk County. I about backed out because I was driving in rain, sometimes hard rain and wind, all the way to Greg’s place. Fortunately, I didn’t brush the trip aside.
The rain stopped about the time I got to Greg’s and the sky cleared. It was a great morning because it was cool, calm and the damp leaves and grass let us move through the forest quietly. With the local red oak acorn crop maturing, the woods were busy with squirrels, deer and turkeys eating the acorns.
Greg was also one of my favorite story subjects. He’s one of the best all-around woodsmen I’ve ever been around, no matter what the state or country. If it can be done in hunting or fishing in Kansas, he can do it pretty well. But he has no ego, shares his knowledge well and is as happy as a kid when he’s hunting or fishing.
I’d like to have spent more time with him Wednesday morning, but I had to be on the road by 10:30 a.m. to help a friend at his oncologist appointment at 1 p.m. in Newton. For that reason, I didn’t carry my .22 on the squirrel hunt so I could concentrate on photography. We still had time to pick quite a few paw paws, and eat quite a few while in the woods, too. I couldn’t, though, hang around to shoot a limit of squirrels for myself, pick some more paw paws or taste some of Greg’s mom’s paw-paw bread, either. (He still sent me home with enough paw paws for Kathy and me to have them several times for breakfast or dessert. I also brought 20 or so to The Eagle for my co-workers to try. Most really like the sweet, banana-like flavor of the wild fruit.)
But after hustling back to Newton, and going on only a few hours of sleep, I got to wait four hours at the oncologist for the test results we were anxiously awaiting, meaning I could have spent several more hours in the woods with Greg.
Oh well, I was able to edit several photo galleries while waiting in the lobby of the clinic. More importantly, the test results came back pretty good for my friend. That ended the day on a very good note.