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Kansas elk 2023

Daylight savings switcheroo meant an even earlier start to our day. We were set up adjacent to a cut soybean field which had a fair amount of elk droppings, looking over a well used creek crossing. Super chilly and a touch foggy. It even the birds were stirring until later. Maybe they too were feeling the effects of “fall forward”?

We decided to use the creek crossing ourselves and stayed on the elk trail as it weaves through dense cedar patches, heading towards the elk bedding area told to us by a enthusiastic soldier we met on the tank trail the other night. I did pop out my “seeing any elk??, call my number” sign to a couple of trail cameras as we passed by.

Leaving the thick cedars and more out in the “open” which is waist to chest high sericia, grass and weeds to find bed after bed. Fresh green vegetation pressed down to allow elk to chew their cud and rest. We found a place to observe any possible comings and goings and sat down. But because the foliage was so tall and dense, one or the other would need to carefully stand up and scan for approaching elk.

I told kansasson that we would be hunting more with our ears than our eyes here. And thirty minutes later he caught my attention with a low voices “pssst, hear that?” Slight murmurings of hooves and bodies pushing through the jungle. We tried to imagine what we making this noises, and slowly rose to see if we could get a visual.

I had the bipod at full height extension and the 308 at the ready. It was clear that the noise was moving right to left, and from where I was standing I had determined that their were skinny shooting lanes across the way where an elk might be moving.

And then we heard a deer blowing and saw the flagging hind end as the doe bounced away. She sorta looked like a porpoise swimming across the ocean with her head/ body coming up for air, and then disappearing into the thick stuff, only to be seen yards away as she again bounded over the surface of the greenish sea of vegetation.

Giving Aaron a fist bump for his acute hearing we realized that the day was warming up and it was time to shed a couple of layers (it got to 72° later that day) As we were finishing up with putting our orange back on, we again heard a critter moving through the sea in front of us. Trying to be ready for a shot if an elk came through the trees heading to her bedroom, I heard Aaron say “there it is”.

Coming down the trail was a little spike whitetail, following the elk trail, and heading right at us. This little guy looked like a dik-dik from my Kenyan childhood. (My first “big game” animal from when hunting was legal in Kenya) This deer was stick still and staring straight at me, perhaps both of us feeling a little chagrined. Me because I had imagined I was hearing an elk, he because he had blundered into a close contact with a human.

Looking at this young deer, my subconscious knew something was up with the spike, but it wasn’t until I saw kansassons photo that I realized what I was seeing. He had a white outline of his eyeballs, as if he was wearing glasses.

The stare down lasted for more than a minute, and then he turned tail and ran back down the trail, looking like another dolphin swimming away.

We hung out for a little while longer and then it was time for kansasson to head home. “Hunting capital is hard to get, even harder to get when your wife is pregnant with our first child”.

I ran into town for a fast food drive through, and decided I would hunt the woods where I had scoped elk back in September. Following along the leaf filled elk trails, I tried to keep it in ninja mode, finding where the trail that parallels the river met a trail leaving the woods towards the hilltop hayfields.

Getting antsy and pulling stakes on that spot after an hour of laying in wait, I moved closer to the honeyhole. The late afternoon winds were dropping speed and become more unreliable in direction.

Move 10 slow steps, pause, go 10 more, move, trying to sound like a couple of elk or deer through the woods. Sadly my ninja skeelz were not up to the task, as just beyond the next dry feeder creek bed, three whitetail started to flag and run away. A couple of seconds later, up stood and elk and she joined in exit stage left movement.

I found a downed tree to sit behind, and hoped that in the last hour of hunting time I might be rewarded with another elk showing up. I knew my chances of that were close to zero when I looked up to the hillside to see two soldiers in orange and headlights sidehilling above the valley floor.

Overall the first couple of days of the November season were exciting. I will confess that I have had strong feelings of second guessing myself over not shooting the young cow yesterday. Do I really KNOW that she was a year and a half cow? Or did the high vegetation make her look smaller/younger? And then I know it was the right thing to do for the weekend. Should it come down to a last day of the season, she would be in real trouble.

More photos to follow this week
Year and a half old cow is great to eat! Chootem!
It was sooooo tempting. I vacillate between kicking myself for not, and happy that I didn't. If this tag drags along further than this weekend, there will only be time for shooting, and not thinking about whether to shoot or not.

My son was there, it was early-ish morning, and we would have had a pretty simple hike to get her out. In the extra tall overgrown vegetation, at first I had a hard time telling if it was a calf or a younger cow, or a big cow, as almost all of her body was hidden, and her face was mostly turned away from where we were. Her head and neck fur didn't have a super deep dark shade to it either. After the next calf came through, the size comparison was obvious, and then when the smallest to largest spikes came into view, I knew that she was likely a 1 1/2 year old.

By the time that was really concrete information in my head, she was walking directly away from me without a classical lethal shooting solution.

Kansas pheasant and quail season opens on Saturday, so my plan is to anticipate hunters/dogs pushing elk out of their resting places during the day. My plan for Saturday and Sunday will to be in all day hunting mode.
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I had a half day scheduled at the office, and then ran home to load up the guns and head north. Saturday could be a madhouse with bird hunters opening weekend, so I wouldn’t be sad at all if I could fill my tag Friday afternoon. Road construction on I70 slows my arrival by more than thirty minutes, but as it turns out, I didn’t suffer from not seeing any elk.

Pulling off the highway and hopping out, I’m excited to see a dozen elk on the cut ag field. They barely lift their heads as I’m outside the SUV grabbing the binoculars and rangefinder from the backseat. 165 yards away, and directly into the sun, I fight glare at its worst, as I try to snap a photo.
As I watch, more elk are filtering out into the field. If I didn’t care to follow the rules, I imagine I could have slipped on my hat and vest, taken two steps past the fence and picked one out. The post rules state that no firearms are to be discharged with 100 yards of a road. I imagine that rule was made for the interior roads/tank trails and might not apply here, but I get the odd feeling that taking my cow like this might feel like I was shooting an elk off the McDonald’s parking lot in Estes.

After getting dressed I hop back into the car, and again the elk pay me no attention. I drive down the road, hoping to find the next turnout unoccupied. As I gain the hill, I can see that this isn’t the case.

Driving back to the initial parking spot, I see that the elevated road bed means I cannot safely pull of onto a shoulder, as there isn’t any shoulder. As I arrive, the original dozen elk have doubled in size. Calves, younger cows, mature cows and eventually spikes are feeding. And then comes a couple of branch antler bulls, the last one to step out is a bull that most anyone would be happy to take.

I grab my shooting sticks and gun and start walking directly away from the herd. Walking along the highway, down in the ditch, I get out of direct sight without the herd panicking, so I walk 300 yards and cut into the woods. Finding the elk trail in the trees, I head back towards the herd, this time feeling like I’m really “hunting”.

Reaching the woods edge, having to dodge steaming fresh piles of elk poop, I see that the herd has drifted towards the creek on the edge of the field. Binoculars up, I count a verified 36 elk, and I notice that this elk herd is catching notice from the adjacent road. Multiple cars turn in to watch the elk ooching away towards the opposite corner of this field.

My ears are enjoying the chorus of elk calls, and sometimes my brain tries to tell me that there are elk sounds coming from places other than the ag field. Elk are spread out along the edge of the field/creek interface, and then I notice a cow step out of the woods, in shooting range. 187 yards per the rangefinder. She is moving with a mission: to catch up to the rest of the elk in the field.

Following her is another cow closely escorted by a calf, and then another cow. This last cow clears the underbrush and stops mostly broadside with my crosshairs on the lethal spot, and the safety off. Just before I start to squeeze, she starts moving again. A 9x scope and the glow of last moments of daylight create a beautiful sight picture of tannish yellow ready for the first and final shot.

And I click the safety back on.

I probably don’t want a Yellowstone style tourist habituated cow to fall on this field. In full view of the highway. Or……maybe I do. She stops again out at 2fiddy. Scope is not weaving and bobbing, but smoothly steady. But she’s further than I’ve ever shot at an animal. The safety stays off. She lives to see another day, maybe we will meet on the morrow.

After legal shooting time comes, I return to the SUV retracing my steps. Loading the gun into its case, I grab the binoculars and see that the herd has reversed its direction of travel, and they are spread out over the beanfield right where I was hopping they would go, but hoped it would be before dark.

I plan on catching this herd heading back to bedding sights in the morning. And will take the best comfortable shot for my Kansas elk.
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After the calf encounter in the first moments of the day, it was an elk-less day.

For my first ambush spot I had hoped for elk would be lingering around where I had last seen them in the dark last night. I was right, sorta, as witnessed by a lone lost calf. And I stubbornly stuck to the spot hoping that quail hunters might flush elk towards me at the gates of the sanctuary.

At 10ish a very light smattering of rain started. As soon as it started it fizzled out. And then 5 minutes later another little band of rain fell. Much like an intermittent wiper blade, Ma Nature cycled us through multiple waves, each one with more and bigger drops falling.

Around 11 I decided that I would head back to the car as radar showed more robust rain coming, and it had been hours since the last shotgun blasts that were integral to my strategy.

The rain picked up to become a steady proper rain for a bit. I was hoping that this would make moving through the woods muffled and indeed it did that. With a southerly wind, I wanted to get back close to the area where we saw the elk beds last week, and be on the north side of the “field”.

I’ve only seen videos of Colorado’s oak brush, but this field is giving me the same vibe. Some of the tops of the buckbrush are taller than I am, with a near constant knee to waist high “underfur”. This stuff is thick and offers very short shooting lanes.

With the rain coming to an end, I went to get an overlook of the trail I hoped these elk from last night would use to get back to the feed field. I used highway and airplane noises to mask some of my ninja stalking and was hopeful that I would fill this tag this evening. Working my way towards this out of the way corner of the post, I flushed up two coveys of quail. I dropped pins for later and using a series of trails through the thick stuff I made it to where I wanted to be.

Mid afternoon I heard what I took to be a double gun shooting, about the same place that I flushed up a twenty something covey. Ten minutes later and another volley of shots ring out. Definitely closer.

I can hear the brush scraping across what I take to be nylon brush chaps. He is closer. Two more shots crack off, and I decide I need to show myself. I step out from my brushed in hideyhole and take my orange hat off and wave it up high. Just behind me 10 yards away I hear the flush and two more shots ring out. Feathers are at least ruffled, and I hear “dead bird Beau, dead bird”.

I call out as I wave my hat “hunter in the brush”.

“Dead bird Beau”.

Im hoping he has registered that there is a hunter close by, and call out louder, “hunter in the woods”.

“Do you have a dog?”

“I do not”

As we are talking, Beau is hunting dead, and he catches my trail scent, and swings over to me, touching his nose to my knee. I totally ignored this nice GSP(?) and watch him hunt for the downed bobwhite.

The bird hunter has finally positively ID’d my location, and he called good boi Beau over towards him, and they left never to be seen again.

The quail hunter didn’t help me at all, as the shooting, dog commands and finally my speaking out for my safety kept any nearby elk from showing themselves.

KState football did a number on Baylor today, for which I’m quite happy. What made me not happy was the traffic jam created by the happy wildcatters leaving manhappiness for points west.

One lane traffic in both east and west lanes for exit 303 to the west side of junction city has a reduced speed limit, and is often much slower that that. Tonight the back up started 4 miles before getting to the interstate. I averaged 5 mph for those 4.5 miles. And then 35 mph for the next six miles.

Teeth gritting slowness.
I had a thought that I could bypass the huge traffic jam on I70 by going through the post to get to Junction City. My visitors pass was granted authorization on Wednesday but as I’m hunting the periphery of the post I haven’t had to go through a security police ID check.

Pulling up to the guard shack with my real ID, the soldier scanned the barcode on the back of it and told me that I did not have a visitors pass that was active. I told him I received my authorization on Wednesday, he said “well it isn’t in our system yet. You’re gonna have to turn around”.

My mind starts to race. Does this mean that I was on Fort Riley property without a valid visitors pass as I hunted Saturday? By nature and by training I am a rule follower. And when it comes to firearms safety and trespassing issues I tend to be super cautious.

After doing the U-turn at the guard shack (when I was in the Air Force and we saw someone doing the U-turn we called it the “180 of a shame”), I found the first safe pull off and went to the Army’s online website to get a “valid“ pass. As you are only allowed one 7 day pass at a time, I had to cancel the one granted on Wednesday, and apply for a new 7 day pass. Customarily the authorization takes 30-90 minutes for confirmation, but as I went to bed that night I still hadn’t been given the green light.

When my alarm went off at 4 I still hadn’t been granted access, so I looked up the visitors centers Sunday hours, and saw that they opened at 8. I reset my alarm for 6, so that I could clear put of the motel least likely to ever have Mrs kansasdad stay in it, and head towards the visitor center. At least here I could get a manual visitor's pass.

Arriving a couple minutes after 7, I settled in for an hours wait, simmering sadness mixed with anger that I was not going to be hunting this morning when the elk should be on their feet. At 7:39 am my phone chimes in a text and says that the visitor‘s pass is again authorized.

Driving towards my hunting spots I try to figure out where I should hunt. Driving alongside the gravel road which is the base perimeter, I find a truck at every spot I would have selected to salvage a morning hunt. Driving along further, I find a truck in “my” access spot, so I continue further up the road to assess how many hunters are at it this morning. Consulting with the weather channel for wind direction and Onx for my pins for creek crossing, a plan coalesces.
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