Caribou Gear

Kansas elk 2023

Hunting in the snow Saturday afternoon/evening, I was cruising looking for elk and/or elk sign in the bottoms. I was disappointed to find neither in the thickest bedding areas or along the main trails connecting the main bedding areas. The herd from this morning had to have gone somewhere, now I just had to find them.

My last planned hunting day for the season was going to be a cold snowy one, and I was hoping that the herd was going to return to the bottoms that they had been using for the last week or so, so I Expedia'd a hotel room and made plans to be at the top of the forest's edge for a repeat of the cow party.
 
As this was Thanksgiving weekend, I had been feeling like I had abandoned my family by leaving Friday afternoon, to attempt to finish my elk hunt with a filled tag. kansasson stayed in Wichita with his pregnant wife along with our youngest daughter/her husband and Mrs kansasdad, while here I was off chasing elk. Conflicted feelings swirled around, almost like the blowing snow I was about to face on the roads today.

I set my alarm for an hour earlier to account for the slower driving times, but I was hoping that I wouldn't end up being the trail breaker all the way back to where I would have my last morning hunt on the post.

Putting on my fleece long underwear bottoms and multiple layers on top, I was on the road 2 1/2 hours before legal shooting time, and slowly made my way onto the recreation area. One set of fresh tracks from a big duelly truck made for decent travel on the side highway to the Fort, and further onto the "old highway" north, with them turning left at the major crossroads, while I was turning right. As I traveled I was trying to see whether I could see an elk trail or highway in the snow, but didn't see anything other than deer and coyote tracks until I made it to the area that I wanted to be focusing on. I did find two trucks parked next to each other, but saw no tracks in the snow, making me think that perhaps they had spent the night here?

I parked and went 150 yards to the west of where I had set up for the cow party the day before, and settled in for the first moments of the day to begin. By this time yesterday I had heard bugling, and lots of crashing around in the bottoms, with cow/calf calling loveliness. Today it was dead silence. No noise of any kind. Like the entire forest had taken a vow of silence.

Far away I could see the Riley county snowplow off in the distance, even seeing some sparks kick up as the plow touched the road, and I was fairly certain that on this Sunday of Thanksgiving I wouldn't be hearing any artillery or machine gun working their auditory assault on my eardrums. It was getting brighter in the eastern sky, but it was going to be a sunless day with the cloud cover sticking around. A stick snapped across the top of the draw that I was sitting on, and out stepped a young buck. I was able to stifle a giggle when it slipped in the snow, splaying its forelegs and nearly touching its chest to the ground as it struggled to maintain its balance. Two more deer followed him, each slipping at the same spot, but not so much as to nearly crash.

And then more silence. No cow party. No bugling. No wind to speak of, and because it wasn't yet warm enough, no dripping drops from the trees overhead.

Yesterday morning I had heard multiple vehicles drive along the tank trail or the paved road just adjacent to it. This morning it seemed like perhaps I had Fort Riley to myself. I sorta wished that there were a few more folks out and about, because I reasoned, might they push up an elk or two who would come seek sanctuary right where I was waiting in ambush?
 
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By 9 it became evident that there were no stirring elk down below, and there seemed to be nothing coming back to a bedding area from above. There was a little bit of wind picking up, which meant the overhead branches were causing a secondary snow to fall onto the forest floor. Picking myself up, I decided that the thing to do was start moving to find where the elk had been last night by picking up a snow trail.

Moving westerly along the flat I finally cut a trail. Looking at the hayfield, I could see a small elk trail (2-5 maybe?) with small and larger size hoofprints, and lots of loose powdery snow kicked up.
36595CE2-66CF-446B-86B4-95045F33AC43.jpeg

Excited, I hoped this meant that they were feeding/bedded nearby. I tried to tell which direction the elk had been moving, but it was tricky to decipher. At times it appeared that they were headed towards the bluffs and the creek, and other sections of the trail they were clearly headed away. Clear distinct prints were headed towards the bottoms, while slightly snow drifted prints were heading away from the bottoms. I hoped that meant the most recent movement was towards the creek.

Getting into tracking mode, I crept along as quietly as I could. As the morning was warming, the puffy light snow was beginning to become more dense..... less squeaky and more squishy sounding as I ninja'd my way towards the bluff's edge. I shouldn't have been surprised, but the elk trail took the easiest route from the top to the bottomlands and the creek's edge. I could see where these elk had reached a creek crossing that was fit only for daredevil elk and deer. Super steep drop, with a couple of horizontal roots designed to trip all but the most surefooted, the crossing here didn't find a shoal where crossing would be dry, but appeared to be crossing where the creek could easily be more than the top of my gaiters, so I was going to have to look for another way across if I was to continue to follow these elk.



Looking across the creek, I could see where the trail continued out into the cut soybean field, with everyone still moving in single file. Away from my familiar hunting areas, and towards the area where I had lost and found my wallet in September muzzleloader hunting.

I sat at the crossing for awhile, trying to come up with mid-day and afternoon/evening hunt plans. @kansasson was planning on leaving Wichita for KC mid day, but was still assuring me that he would be able to help in elk retrieval if/when it happened. The hunter who had tipped me off to the "cow party" bedding area said that there was no elk movement showing up on his cellular trail cameras. I hadn't seen any signs of elk other than this small group that seemed to be heading south, so I decided that I too would most likely head south.

Getting back to the SUV, I decided that based on how the road conditions were, I might travel towards the area that I had found my first Ft Riley elk back in my August scouting run, hoping to cut more elk tracks.
 
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By 9 it became evident that there were no stirring elk down below, and there seemed to be nothing coming back to a bedding area from above. There was a little bit of wind picking up, which meant the overhead branches were causing a secondary snow to fall onto the forest floor. Picking myself up, I decided that the thing to do was start moving to find where the elk had been last night by picking up a snow trail.

Moving westerly along the flat I finally cut a trail. Looking at the hayfield, I could see a small elk trail (2-5 maybe?) with small and larger size hoofprints, and lots of loose powdery snow kicked up.
View attachment 305789

Excited, I hoped this meant that they were feeding/bedded nearby. I tried to tell which direction the elk had been moving, but it was tricky to decipher. At times it appeared that they were headed towards the bluffs and the creek, and other sections of the trail they were clearly headed away. Clear distinct prints were headed towards the bottoms, while slightly snow drifted prints were heading away from the bottoms. I hoped that meant the most recent movement was towards the creek.

Getting into tracking mode, I crept along as quietly as I could. As the morning was warming, the puffy light snow was beginning to become more dense..... less squeaky and more squishy sounding as I ninja'd my way towards the bluff's edge. I shouldn't have been surprised, but the elk trail took the easiest route from the top to the bottomlands and the creek's edge. I could see where these elk had reached a creek crossing that was fit only for daredevil elk and deer. Super steep drop, with a couple of horizontal roots designed to trip all but the most surefooted, the crossing here didn't find a shoal where crossing would be dry, but appeared to be crossing where the creek could easily be more than the top of my gaiters, so I was going to have to look for another way across if I was to continue to follow these elk.



Looking across the creek, I could see where the trail continued out into the cut soybean field, with everyone still moving in single file. Away from my familiar hunting areas, and towards the area where I had lost and found my wallet in September muzzleloader hunting.

I sat at the crossing for awhile, trying to come up with mid-day and afternoon/evening hunt plans. @kansasson was planning on leaving Wichita for KC mid day, but was still assuring me that he would be able to help in elk retrieval if/when it happened. The hunter who had tipped me off to the "cow party" bedding area said that there was no elk movement showing up on his cellular trail cameras. I hadn't seen any signs of elk other than this small group that seemed to be heading south, so I decided that I too would most likely head south.

Getting back to the SUV, I decided that based on how the road conditions were, I might travel towards the area that I had found my first Ft Riley elk back in my August scouting run, hoping to cut more elk tracks.
Like watching the proverbial oncoming train wreck, I sense profound disappointment looming, but I can't let go of hope that the story ends differently than it might! AAAAUGGH! Go Kansasdad!!
 
As this was Thanksgiving weekend, I had been feeling like I had abandoned my family by leaving Friday afternoon, to attempt to finish my elk hunt with a filled tag. kansasson stayed in Wichita with his pregnant wife along with our youngest daughter/her husband and Mrs kansasdad, while here I was off chasing elk. Conflicted feelings swirled around, almost like the blowing snow I was about to face on the roads today.

I set my alarm for an hour earlier to account for the slower driving times, but I was hoping that I wouldn't end up being the trail breaker all the way back to where I would have my last morning hunt on the post.

Putting on my fleece long underwear bottoms and multiple layers on top, I was on the road 2 1/2 hours before legal shooting time, and slowly made my way onto the recreation area. One set of fresh tracks from a big duelly truck made for decent travel on the side highway to the Fort, and further onto the "old highway" north, with them turning left at the major crossroads, while I was turning right. As I traveled I was trying to see whether I could see an elk trail or highway in the snow, but didn't see anything other than deer and coyote tracks until I made it to the area that I wanted to be focusing on. I did find two trucks parked next to each other, but saw no tracks in the snow, making me think that perhaps they had spent the night here?

I parked and went 150 yards to the west of where I had set up for the cow party the day before, and settled in for the first moments of the day to begin. By this time yesterday I had heard bugling, and lots of crashing around in the bottoms, with cow/calf calling loveliness. Today it was dead silence. No noise of any kind. Like the entire forest had taken a vow of silence.

Far away I could see the Riley county snowplow off in the distance, even seeing some sparks kick up as the plow touched the road, and I was fairly certain that on this Sunday of Thanksgiving I wouldn't be hearing any artillery or machine gun working their auditory assault on my eardrums. It was getting brighter in the eastern sky, but it was going to be a sunless day with the cloud cover sticking around. A stick snapped across the top of the draw that I was sitting on, and out stepped a young buck. I was able to stifle a giggle when it slipped in the snow, splaying its forelegs and nearly touching its chest to the ground as it struggled to maintain its balance. Two more deer followed him, each slipping at the same spot, but not so much as to nearly crash.

And then more silence. No cow party. No bugling. No wind to speak of, and because it wasn't yet warm enough, no dripping drops from the trees overhead.

Yesterday morning I had heard multiple vehicles drive along the tank trail or the paved road just adjacent to it. This morning it seemed like perhaps I had Fort Riley to myself. I sorta wished that there were a few more folks out and about, because I reasoned, might they push up an elk or two who would come seek sanctuary right where I was waiting in ambush?

Man, on that morning at about 9:30am I was driving past Ft. Riley heading back to Colorado, I recalled you had the tag and I was wondering if you were out there in the fresh snow!
 
I used the internet wayback machine to search the KDWP website and found that the "Any-Elk" tag expires today. Hope you're ending the new year right. Either way, Happy New Year Kansasdad!
 
Like watching the proverbial oncoming train wreck, I sense profound disappointment looming, but I can't let go of hope that the story ends differently than it might! AAAAUGGH! Go kansasdad!!
Been following along, but dying for the finale! However grand or lackluster it may seem to you, we’re all looking forward to it.

My last day scheduled to hunt was the Sunday of Thanksgiving. I'd be lying if I didn't feel a significant amount of pressure to seal the deal on an elk today. Having not seen any elk in the morning, I had to put a plan in motion to find out where these elk of Saturday morning had gone, or find other elk to stalk.

Warmer temperatures and cloudless skies were causing the snow to get wetter by the moment. The tank trails that had seen traffic yesterday and this morning had well defined wet gravel showing, while the asphalt highway section was nearly clear anywhere the sun was able to get the warming/melting going.

As I was eating some lunch, I decided to head west along driveable tank trails (some of them are adventurous enough while dry as they ascend/descend steep Flint Hills slopes) to find evidence of elk movement in the receding snows. Seeing bunny, coyote and deer prints, I moved east and south around the impact area, heading towards the August scouting success fields.

Deer were up on their feet in multiple places on the edge of the impact area. Watching them and not the road I hit a small patch of black ice hiding in the shade which got my rear wheels a little squirrely......pay attention to that kansasdad!

The woods on the NE and E of the impact zone were broken up with multiple ag fields, and I was hoping for a scene like found on the iSportsman website of a herd of elk bedded enjoying the warming sunshine. Making it all the way to the south terminus of the pavement and the eastern most edge of the post boundaries I found no elk trails, and no elk out sunning themselves.

Lunch started to hit my lower intestinal tract in a certain way, so I decided that I would drive to where the post had a rudimentary latrine setup. Pulling into the parking area, I was a little surprised by the depth of the snowdrift, and for a split second thought that I might get high centered. Powering through with the SUV and the latrine duties consecutively, I now had a crucial decision to make.

The southerly winds that were quickly melting the snow were not at all favorable to allow me to still hunt the bedding area I found in August, but would the elk be there and moving out into areas that I could sit in wait for them? The cut soybean fields were partially uncovered now and by the late afternoon, almost all of those fields would be open. And perhaps those cut corn and winter wheat fields off post would be beckoning.

I checked in with the trail camera guy. "Any elk of any of your cellular cameras?" Not one. They had vacated the two areas that he had eyes on.

You don't leave elk to go find elk. A comment spoken in almost any FreshTracks episode involving elk hunting. I couldn't get that out of my mind. And I had elk tracks crossing Wildcat Creek and heading downstream. Yesterday morning I had at least a couple dozen elk within shooting distance before legal shooting time. At least some of them had made tracks downstream. I was going to try to reconnect with those elk.
 
To get my SUV closer to where I planned to hunt, I had to do the whole leave the Post, drive past Junction City and get up to the NE part of the post, accessing it from a county highway. In the end I would be hunting less than 2 miles away from where I was currently sitting, but would take just under an hour to get to my parking spot. I was going back to the area where I had had my wallet mishap.

I resolved that I would hustle in and check for elk sign, and if I found none, I would go to the far east of the post where I had heard those magical August chirps and mews so long ago.

The wind had shifted around more from the west which was favorable for me coming in from the east. Crossing the slightly higher creek (thanks melting snow) I planned to make it all the way around to where I had lost and found my wallet, and if I found elk tracks, hunt until the bitter end. If no elk sign, I would have just enough time to hustle back to the far east zone to catch some elk heading off the post for an evening raid on the neighbors fields.

Just minutes into my searching I ran across muddy elk tracks alongside the first ag field. Were these from before yesterday's snow/melt, or were they relatively recent? All throughout the day I hadn't seen any hunters afield at all. And now I was hearing several cars driving along a tank trail that I hadn't had enough courage earlier to attempt while there was still a covering layer of wet snow. Listening to determine if they were stopping or continuing, it seemed like they motored on and I might have this edge of the post to myself.

I made up my mind, I would make my last stand here. Crossing the creek again, I was heading for soybean ag fields that make up the post border, and beyond that had winter wheat planted on private.
 
The tenant farmer for this part of the post also farms the land adjacent to the post. Coming around a corner of a field and looking across, I could see several rifle targets set up just across the Fort/private line. This must have been where I had heard rifle range shooting back in September that wasn't coming from the impact area rifle ranges up above. The county highway was in view just a half mile away, but as I had personally witnessed, this didn't seem to deter elk coming out in the open on other fields, so on I trudged in the mud to get to a ambush spot that would intercept elk filtering out to put the feed bag on.

Whitetail deer were reading the script, some of them well within bow range. My plan was to work west so that I would have a clear view of a very large ag field, and a handful of these deer were between where I was, and where I intended to make my final stand. I considered whether I should risk bumping these deer risking that they would alert any nearby elk, or stop where I was and be content. I stopped and got in some wonderful "aiming practice" on these young deer. Hindsight would tell me that I should have risked moving and blowing these deer out, as there were no elk sighted tonight.

Getting back to the SUV without wrenching a knee or ankle in the deepening mud, I felt a little sick to my stomach. Such a longshot to draw a tag, and at first I hadn't been successful in the draw. And then that amazing phone call from Jason in Pratt (KDWP HQ) telling me that while I hadn't drawn, I was first alternate and someone was not taking their tag..........Euporia!! Mrs kansasdad had just come into the living room to witness the look on my face. Pure shock, I'm sure.

And now it was over. Patients scheduled every day of the week and my tag would no longer be valid on Fort Riley once December rolled around. And I still had to get home tonight to be ready to see those patients.

Normal travel time from Ft Riley to me home in far east Wichita is just under 2 hours. Interstate 70, a "super two" State highway, and then the Kansas turnpike to get there. And with the snow/ice and holiday travelers, it took me nearly twice as long to get home.

That is a long time to drive and sit with your feelings about the long weekend and the entire elk adventure. Hunting in September with kansasson in the blistering heat with only 2 or 3 zones open for recreationists was frustrating, fun and hot. Hunting by myself and finding fresh elk sign and ending the month with elk in the rifle scope (spike, so no shot) and then two side by side running cows at 35 yards and correctly judging to not shoot, felt amazing. I was actually finding elk! The first weekend of hunting in November with kansasson stings when I think about having the yearling cow at 35ish yards, waiting for a more mature cow to pass by us to no fruition. And then a subsequent weekend showing up for a late evening hunt and eventually having 40 elk out on the field was spectacular. I'm kicking myself for not taking the 185ish yard shot on a walking cow, and I might never feel any better when I remember how rock solid I felt the crosshairs were as she angled away. The wispy grass just in front is really just a crutch of an excuse if I was really honest with myself.
 
Walking into the dental office, I pulled up the schedule to see who was coming in that day. And just to humor myself, I looked at Tuesday to see a full schedule, and then flipped the screen over to Wednesday.

2 PATIENTS on my schedule!?!?

Wow, I wasn't expecting to see that. Hope began to arise......I asked Brittany to contact those patients to see if they wouldn't mind moving their days. The first one contacted had written down Thursday, so he was fine to come then, and the other one had no objection to move. Suddenly I had a one last gasp attempt to get a Fort Riley elk.

Wednesday it would be. Leave the house at 2:30 and make my way north for one last Hail Mary.
 
Arriving at the parking area, there was no one where I had hoped to start my hunt this morning. I decided that I would lay in wait for elk to return to their bedding spot west of the parking area. This is the same area that earlier this month I had the yearling dead to rights had I pulled the trigger. With a SW wind, I would set up north of the main elk trail that brought elk down to their hideyhole.

Snuggling down into the tall weeds, I shot some ranges to find that the furthest possible shot would be under 120 yards, so the only problem would be getting a good view of elk vitals, as the fallow field was chock full of small shrubs and tall forb growth, with lots of it armpit tall.

Hopeful for success, I waited for it to get light, and strained to hear any sound of large animals moving through the vegetation. Just after sunrise time (full overcast day) I heard footsteps in the woods beyond the field edge. Several whitetail bucks were moseying along and soon out of sight. Heart rate is now allowed to reduce to standard rate.

Hours later, I come to the conclusion that any elk that might have been thinking about bedding in the cedars west of me had changed their minds.

Now what? The trail camera guy Mark said he hadn't seen elk in a since the snow hit. Deep in the dark woods where there was still some snow I couldn't find any evidence of recent elk. Time to move.

I have heard that in the late winter the elk will gather on the east side of the post, and sometimes gather in herds in the 100's. I've seen photos of these large herds up on the hayfields at the tops of the Flint Hills, some of them even daring to hang out in the impact zone. By the end of November, the deer and elk have already been dealing with 3 months of hunting (archery, muzzleloader and rifle) and they generally are not hanging out now where they were comfortable to be using during the summer.

I went back to the area that I had my elk-in-my-scope events from September hoping to find any evidence of recent elk activity. Moving around in the woods with mud and wet leaves it was easy to believe that I was being a good elk ninja. And nada, zip, zilch zero.

Heading back to the SUV, I felt about 4 inches taller when I arrived at the car. Soybean stems, leaves and mud were welded to the bottom of my boots. Ok kansasdad, what are you going to do to finally seal the deal on an elk?

I share permission on a sweet 80 acres near Newton with "Fred". From time to time this fall he would check in with trail camera photos of the coming and going of the turkey and deer, and to inquire about my elk adventures. I had told him that I was going to make a last ditch effort on Wednesday, but wondered if he would know of anyone near the post that might have elk frequenting their land, and would allow access for hunting. An hour later he sent me a photo of a wheat field full of elk, right at sunset. With the airport in the distance, I knew exactly where those elk were, and they weren't on Post property.

I figured these elk were either bedding on post and leaving to graze, or perhaps they were bedding in the steep wooded hills already off post.

I drove around to the east side to make an attempt at an intercept of these elk. I followed an unused elk trail away from the boundary road, looking for elk sign. Where was this herd staying during full daylight?
South of me there were several other hunters cars parked along the road, so I felt like I needed to find a spot and not meander aimlessly encroaching on their hunt. Deer firearms season was open (or opening the next day???)

Finding a spot close to where I have seen elk leaving the woods in the evening, I set up with the 308 on the shooting sticks and hope in my heart. Deer started to come out of the woods, using the known trail. And several other deer seemingly beamed down by the Starship Enterprise appeared out in the open heading towards the ag fields. How did they get out past me without me seeing them?

With a fully cloudy day, the lack of good shooting light was going to occur well before the "official" sunset + 30 minutes provided by my sunrise/sunset app. Sunset came, with no elk seen or heard. And then I had to question my ears.....was I wishing so hard that I would find elk that I actually was hearing elk? In a few moments, I knew that for sure I was hearing elk, but they were more south than I could cover in the remaining moments of my Fort Riley season. There were several ag fields, all bordered by trees, and I was too far north of where these elk had posted up for the day.

No elk were seen in this overtime attempt at getting a Fort Riley elk, but I was within a half a mile of the herd. Small consolation indeed, but special to hear an "elk party" as they spilled out of the woods in the failing last light.
 
The perceptive ones reading this may have detected in my last several postings reference the end of my "Fort Riley elk hunting". My tag reverts to a standard antlerless OTC (resident only) elk tag, just not on Fort Riley. Several more hunters tags went active for December antlerless tags and the "any elk" tag holders had until the end of December to fill their tags.

What I need now to pull off filling my elk permit is access to lands off post that might hold elk. North of the airport is where a large herd of elk moves back and forth from post to private and back again. On the far west side of the post there is another herd of elk that frequents private lands. Where I was doing most of my hunting I know that elk do leave the post and go onto private land northwards.

AD042D8D-03BA-41F0-8DED-9E15E0D203F2.jpeg
There are very few fences on the boundary of the post. Elk hair caught on a barb.


Mike, the post biologist told me that one of the landowners north of the airport gets multiple family members landowner tags, oftentimes filling more than a handful of tags on his property. Will I be able to convince him to allow me access? A long shot but worth a phone call or a door knock, I imagine.

I am finished hunting elk this season on Ft Riley. I don't think I'm done hunting there forever as they have prairie chicken, waterfowl, and quail, along with some niche fishing spots. Ive seen some very nice turkey and deer as well, so one year I might get a non-military member license to hunt these species.

My elk permit is still good thru March 15th off post. With the holidays over, and life calming down a bit, I hope that there will be more Kansas elk adventures to report with private land access, KDWP lands or Army Corp of Engineer land that sporadically has elk on it just waiting for old kansasdad showing up to luck into success.
 
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HOPE IS THE THING WITH FEATHERS -Emily Dickinson

Hope is the thing with feathers-
That perches in the soul-
And sings the tune without the words-
And never stops-at all-

And sweetest - in the gale - is heard-
And sore must be the storm-
That could abash the little bird-
That kept so many warm-

I've heard it in the chillest land-
And on the strangest sea-
Yet - never - in extremity,
It asked a crumb - of me.


I hung on so long waiting for the final roll of the kettle drums and the blare of the trumpets but, alas, it wasn't to be. A great narrative so far and March is a long time off, so we'll hold out hope.
 
@seeth07 good eyes! My understanding is that there is a small permanent herd south of the Kansas river that gets winter visitors coming off the post.
 
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