This week's migration of cranes, geese, bald eagles and other kinds of wildlife has the Quivira National Wildlife Refuge prime for wildlife watching and photography. The annual whitetail deer rut can also add to the possibilities at the 22,000 acre federal refuge about 30 miles west of Hutchinson.
For the past several days at least four whooping cranes have also been in the area. Several times the endangered white birds have been spotted in a wheat field within the section of private ground directly southeast of Quivira's south entrance. To be more specific, they've been about a half-mile west of the Stafford/Reno county line, and about a quarter-mile north of Fourth Ave. The birds have also been seen on the western edge of the Big Salt Marsh within the refuge.
Large flocks of sandhill cranes, whitefront and snow geese have also been spending time on the refuge. With lust on their minds, normally secretive whitetail bucks are also active throughout the day across most of the refuge.
Without question, the highlight at the mid-November refuge is to be at the Wildlife Drive, near Quivira's northwest corner, from about 4:30 p.m. on as big flights of cranes, ducks and geese come and go against the sunset.
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Saturday's opening of pheasant and quail season should see more smiles than during the past two opening weekends, when drought had both birds in a tail-spin across most of Kansas.
This year's crop is noticeably improved but the populations, especially for pheasants, is still a fraction of three or four seasons ago. Compounding the situation are large fields of milo that haven't been cut in many areas with pheasants. The birds consider it great habitat because there's plenty of food from fallen grain. The seed-laden heads also provide overhead protection from predators. Most farmers don't want hunters walking in the grain fields until after harvest.
The dry, windy and warm conditions that are in the forecast won't make things easy for hunting dogs or human hunters.
As already mentioned, the annual deer rut is getting cranked up. Road-kills are on the increase and motorists are urged to be extra-cautious.
Some nice bucks have been shot by bowhunters. Quite a few bucks over 150 inches have been shot. The best I've heard of is around 200 gross inches of antler.
Last weekend's opening of goose and the low plains late duck season were generally rated fair at best by most hunting parties. Good numbers of whitefronts were shot around Quivira and Cheyenne Bottoms but duck success was poorer than normal because of delayed migrations.
Sunday's Outdoors page is expected to have coverage of Saturday's opening of pheasant and quail seasons. I'm scheduled to be in north-central Kansas, basically in the Beloit area. Pheasants Forever biologists are allowing me to tag-along on a private land hunt where they think some of their habitat programs have helped pheasant and quail populations.
Down the road I'm planning an Outdoors page about a 10-year-old Kansas girl and her dog. The girl is Taylor Lux and her dog is Ranger, a redbone coon hound. Together, the pair have won several state and national championships. I got to spend an evening with both last weekend, and they surely know what they're doing roaming the woods in the middle of the night.
I'm also researching a story on what might be the most exciting way to hunt trophy whitetail bucks. It's a tactic that brings them to the hunter, and often in a very foul mood.
Other probable Outdoors page stories include a feature on a new south-central Kansas hunting lodge that's being ranked as one of the top waterfowl facilities in the nation. I'm also hoping for at least one feature on fall fishing. There should also be an update on the Kansas deer populations, and new regulations, going into the December firearms deer seasons.
I'm also going to take a step a bit outside my normal beat with a couple of articles on some unique places to eat in rural Kansas. In my travels I occasionally hear of a unique eatery where most wouldn't expect to find one.
For instance, a fine Italian restaurant in what's basically a ghost town in Kansas' Chautauqua Hills, or a place modeled after a prohibition-era Chicago speakeasy in the middle of the cattle country of our Smoky Hills.
These next few weeks are, without question, my favorite time to be a Kansas outdoorsman. It's a time when I generally get my best outdoors photography, and so enjoy days and nights in the place we call John's Quack Shack in the tiny town of Sylvia. I stay there, with Hank, my Lab.
It's a mix of work and vacation, covering things like the opening of pheasant and quail season while spending most mid-week mornings hunting deer or waterfowl, and the afternoons bowhunting or shooting photography in rural Reno and Stafford counties and, of course, on Quivira.
So far it's been a pretty good bow season. I haven't gotten to go as much as I'd liked, but I've had deer close on every trip.
When I headed to northeast Kansas late last week to cover the opening of duck and goose seasons, and to hunt with Taylor Lux, I got to hunt our farm north of Lawrence a couple of times. Despite high winds, I still got into action.
Last Friday afternoon I imitated the sound of a buck's fighting and rattled in a danged pretty eight-pointer that would have been a sure-thing for the record book. Chances are I won't get a buck with antlers that large this season, but there was no way I was going to fill my permit before the fun of November even began.
I kind of have my sights set on five or six bucks we have on trail cameras in Stafford and Reno counties. The two I'd most like to get aren't the biggest as per antler score. One is probably the largest-bodied whitetail I've ever seen. The other is just a flat-out bully that keeps chasing bigger bucks off the property I'm hunting.
The latter of the two made an appearance on the food plot I was hunting Wednesday afternoon and appeared to headed to within easy bow range. Unfortunately, for me, the slight breeze shifted just enough for a doe to catch my scent for a split-second. She snorted enough to put all 20 or so deer in the wheat on full alert. Nothing really spooked, but the old buck carefully kept his distance from the part of the field where I was hunting.
Another mature eight-pointer came through right at dusk but I didn't take the shot for a variety of reasons. Probably the top, would be not wanting to fill my any-deer archery permit so early in November. I also had a partially-disabled friend hunting the other end of the property, and I wanted to make sure I had plenty of time to help him if he shot a deer. He ended up missing. Hopefully he'll get one Thursday evening.
Actually my bowhunting time pretty much ends the end of next week. The week of Nov. 16 I'm headed to western Kansas with Jerrod, hoping he gets to pull off a successful stalk on a mule deer or whitetail buck on my favorite ranch in Kansas. Our hosts/good friends will also be hunting so I'll leave my bow behind and do my hunting out there with my camera.
Speaking of cameras, I wish I'd have had enough daylight to photograph or video the sights and sounds that passed overhead when I was leaving the woods Wednesday evening. I was under a loud flock of whitefronts that was honestly 200 yards wide and more than a half-mile long. The noise was amazing. I stopped in my tracks and just looked up and watched and listened until the last bird passed overhead.
Hank, my 13 1/2-year-old Lab, is having good days and bad. He fetched some ducks earlier this week, but stumbled a bit and needed some help in some rough areas. If he's asleep too long, it seems like a leg gets too stiff for him to get up easily. Some medication also has his hair falling out in handfuls, which makes quite the mess in our house and vehicles.
As long as his tail is wagging, Kathy and I keep helping with what he needs.
Oh, I'm still waiting news on the when and where of our next cookbook signing. I know it probably won't be until I'm off vacation on the Nov. 23.
The books will be available at a booth operated by The Eagle at Saturday’s Craftapalooza and Vintage Market at Century II, 10 a.m.-4 p.m. on Saturday. Sorry, I’ll be out covering the opening of pheasant and quail seasons.
For more information on ordering Michael Pearce's Taste of the Kansas Outdoors, you can go to www.kansas.com/cookbook.