Home is where the birds are

Sid Sizemore takes shots at a covey of quail that was pointed by his dog, Hanna.
Sid Sizemore takes shots at a covey of quail that was pointed by his dog, Hanna. The Wichita Eagle

As they usually seem to do, the covey of quail flushed within the same nano-second, the whirring of hundreds of wingbeats mixing together into a small roar as around 18 birds boiled from a small jungle of wild plum. After a breath-catching pause, Sid Sizemore fired three shots and one of the birds fell

While the birds had startled Sizemore, they hadn’t caught him by surprise. His German shorthair, Hanna, had found the birds with solid, no-quivering, eyes-widened, “Hey, Boss, they’re right here” kind of point. The hunter has come to expect a lot from the hunting spot.

“We’ve gotten a lot of pheasant and quail here, plus ducks, geese, deer, and in the spring it’s always good for a few turkeys,” Sizemore said as he left the patch of brush, a small pond, and grasses between a field of milo and tall grass prairie. “That’s not bad for a spot no more than an acre in size.”

Such is why he calls central Kansas home.

Where the birds are

Heading across the countryside that warm, fall day, Sizemore’s naming of the countries in which he served sounded like a United Nations roll call. States where he’d been stationed, or at least trained, during his Army career, sounded like about half of our country. It’s not by accident he got his final assignment in Kansas, or that’s where he stayed when his 23-year military career was finished.

“The Army wanted to station us in Louisiana in ’97 but I really wanted Kansas, or Colorado. That was strictly because of the hunting,” said Sizemore, who retired from the Army in 2006, and now works in logistics for an energy company. “I was over in Germany and a couple of guys were talking about how great the hunting was around Riley and it sounded like heaven to me.”

The native of Indiana had grown up hunting cottontails, ruffed grouse, squirrels, turkey and deer. He found all but the woodland grouse in Kansas, and more.

“The first thing I did was to look around and find someone who knew the area, and really knew what was going on so I could learn a lot from him,” Sizemore said. “I did, and I learned enough that in ’98 I purchased my first bird dog and away I went.”

Some of his first hunts were on Fort Riley for greater prairie chickens, pheasants and quail. He then started moving out onto private lands around Abilene. Sizemore and his wife now live in a classic rural farmstead more than 100 years old, and purchased more than 400 acres of land.

The land is well-scattered across the area and it all holds great wildlife habitat. Sizemore said he’s worked with biologists on how to get the most wildlife from each parcel. Much of it is Conservation Reserve Program grasslands. It is kept healthy by spring burning to remove any built-up thatch that makes it tough for birds to move around on the ground. The burning also promotes the growth of forbs, which provide the seeds adult birds eat and the insects pheasant and quail chicks rely on the first few weeks of their lives.

Hunting on public lands

Sizemore is also a big fan of Kansas’ Walk-In Hunting Area program, which often leases more than 1 million acres from private landowners and opens it up for the public to hunt. He has a few favorite fields in his area where they’ve done very well.

“We shot limits of (four) pheasants on opening day on walk-in, and there were 10 of us,” he said, driving down the road pointing at fields enrolled in the program. “In my experience, there are some pretty good walk-in areas in Kansas.”

And he tries to sample as many of those parcels as possible. Able to hunt an average of three days per week, Sizemore usually spends some of that time on public grounds.

“One of my favorite things to do, really, is to grab a (WIHA) atlas and just take off exploring,” he said. “We may be heading out toward Finney County or Hill City to do some hunting, but we’ll map out some good-looking walk-in spots and hit those as we travel. Some aren’t so good, some have been pretty good. The only way you know is to put the dogs down and get in and hunt.”

Sizemore considered heading for a field of walk-in after moving the covey of quail, but headed toward a field of privately-owned CRP. He said he’s had good success asking to hunt such private lands, and thinks other hunters would, too.

“(Landowners) may have family coming in to hunt, but if you ask they’ll then tell you when that is and might let you hunt after that,” Sizemore said. It ups his odds of access, he said, if he keeps his hunting groups small, like maybe himself and his dogs. If close to his home, he also helps the landowners maintain good habitat by assisting in burning, mowing and planting grass and forbs or food plots.

A darned good spot

Ten minutes into a pass down the field’s south side, headed west, Hanna was making short casts back and forth, stopping in short points before moving on as she obviously worked the scent of a running bird. Eventually a rooster pheasant flushed at about 25 yards,but in the wind was quickly at 30 and past. Sizemore took two shots and missed.

A few yards further a covey of quail flushed on their own, many of the birds heading back and landing where Sizemore and Hanna had just walked. He kept going westward, hoping for bigger birds.

“I shoot quail on the rises, but I don’t normally hunt down the singles,” he said. “I think you do that a few times you can really put a hurt on a covey. I like hunting pheasants better, anyway. I really like just getting out and walking the grass behind the dogs, working birds.”

There was no shortage of birds in that field of grass, and pheasants flushed here and there throughout the big loop he and Hanna made. Most of the birds, save a few hens, flushed out of shotgun range. Some were very spooky because of the building wind. Some were bumped by Hanna as she struggled to scent the birds in dry conditions.

Things got particularly interesting at the field’s northwest corner, where it dropped a bit in elevation and worked its way toward a harvested cropfield and waterway. A steady procession of roosters popped from the grass, all getting out of range before Sizemore had a chance to get his gun up. Rather than wound a bird at long range he held his fire, knowing better hunting conditions, including some snow, will give him a better chance at those same birds later in the season.

“We’ve already had some good hunts here this year,” he said. “There’s no doubt this is a pretty darned good spot.”

Actually that’s what Sizemore thinks of a gigantic spot that’s bordered on the east by Missouri and the west by Colorado.

“Oh, we may build a new house sometime,” he said after the hunt. “But we’re not leaving Kansas. This is home.”

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