Thanks for posting how your season has been going. I've enjoyed reading them. We've finally had nice weather after the rain moved out. I hope you've had some time to go hunting and not got stuck on some muddy roads. Good luck!
Wednesday evening I hot footed it out of town, as I knew that the public wildlife area that I think I know like my own backyard was going to show extreme environment changes due to rain events in south central Kansas and subsequent lake levels rising. 6 feet above normal pool level, the lake and its tributaries had swollen and pushed critters out of their normal habitats.
Fields planted to corn and milo along the lake and creeks on the upper end were partially covered with water. Walking in, I was seeing deer beds in places I have rarely seen deer beds. The forests at the lake's edge were 5 feet under water, and the deer were seeking high ground along the fields edges.
I decided to go the "backdoor" way to get to "my" field, and hoped that the water levels would still allow me to get to where I wanted. Knowing that the deer were hanging out away from the lake's edge, I surmised that the turkeys may be doing the same, so I "hunted" my way down the treeline instead of walking at "hospital speed" as my dad used to say when he wanted me to move quickly from one horse hospital stables to the other. Two small field runoff cuts that normally would be damp after a rain required a full on jump to pass over. Continuing towards my targeted field, I kicked several more deer out of their unusual beds. And once on the move, they all seemed to mimic zombies with a slightly out of body experience look to their escape. It took me a moment, but I realized that I have seen that body language before in humans......Kansas residents coming out of their homes to examine what a tornado has done to their home and yard.
Traversing through the thick wild rose thicket pasture, I arrived at the next stream crossing. This one was going to be tricky as there is usually small pools of barely flowing clear water from a nearby spring, now it was out of its banks and quite muddy. I knew that I would be going way over my boot tops, but with the air temperature at 87 humid degrees I was totally ok with that. Stepping into the water and shuffling slowly forward I was trying to feel the edge of the cut bank, I relaxed at just the wrong moment and allowed my foot to slip into the deep water and down I went. Going down and bowing forward, I had water up to my armpits as I struggled to keep my feet below me and keep my gun and head above water. Popping up out of the bottom towards the far side of the creek, I made it to dry-ish ground. Looking down at my Badlands magnetic binocular harness I saw that phone and Gold rings were completely dry. The camera pouch was a different story however. The Nikon coolpix was fried. I pulled the batteries out and shook out as much water as I could, but in my heart I figured this camera had taken its last photo.
Squeezing as much water out of my socks as I could so I wouldn't squish with each step, I continued forward, dreading the next full sized creek crossing. As I suspected, there was no way to wade across the overflowing stream without swimming, or moving upstream and trespass on private land.
Peering through the treeline, I could see that the agriculture fields that I had hoped to reach were covered with standing water on over 1/2 of their area. The areas that the turkeys had been roosting on would be a big flight to reach from the water's edge. Areas that had been the haunt of hunters and loitering turkeys alike were under 1-2 feet of water. I was going to have to totally change my approach to get my second bird of the season.
Kansas springtime weather can be extremely active, and the TV meteorologists had predicted a very bumpy extended weekend. Friday morning brought hail/wind/heavy rains, and business issues required me to forgo a Friday evening sortie versus the wily Rio Grande turkeys of south central Kansas. I knew that I didn't want to head out anywhere stream crossings would be required in the dark without scouting out the route with full vision so I knew I wasn't going to go early Saturday.
A patient needed an "emergency" visit Saturday morning, and once again the heavens opened in deluge fashion as we were waiting for the adhesive to set. Going home to take care of the dogs, I kept a close eye on the radar, both past and predicted storm tracks. It looked safe to proceed as long as I was out of the field by 8 pm.
Leaving the highway, I could see that there had been lots of rain but the gravel road was fine to drive as well as I kept my speed a little slower than normal. I drove around the Wildlife area a bit, wanting to see what was happening with the high water levels. At a three way stop, I looked over to see a bedraggled coyote standing in the road. The recent rain/high water levels were messing with critters all over the hunting zone.
I didn't get to start my usual mantra of "nobody, nobody, nobody" as I approached "my" parking spot, because just off the public/private boundary, I saw a jake jet out of the field and start running down the road. Three other jakes joined him, and they ran down the road for more than a quarter mile ahead of me.
Turning into the parking lot, I knew that I would have the Wildlife area to myself this afternoon. Getting my pack and gun out of the car, I put together a plan to lure one of these jakes into taking a ride home with me. I was fairly certain that these tasty turkeys would turn right into the trees before they got to the river, and I planned to set up on the field's edge adjacent to the treeline and reel these boys to me. Walking towards the gate from the parking area, I looked down towards the river and saw a dozen turkeys at the end of the field. They hadn't spooked yet with my presence in the parking area as a screen of trees have grown along the fence-line that fully obscured the lot from the feeding birds. For me to approach this flock of feeding birds, I was going to have to crawl over the road fence, cross the road and get down into the borrow ditch on the far side of the road and then slither back across the road and into the public wildlife area, and approach along the watercourse treeline.....or..... take a chance and move through a 20 yard gap in the treeline and get to the hidden trail.
Chancing I could move slowly and remain hidden to 24 eyeballs, I tried the 20 yard gap move. Oooooops! Eleven of the twelve birds were feeding but one bird made me and called out the alarm. At first the flock barely moved, almost as if the sentry wasn't believable. Watching through the binoculars there were multiple legal birds in the flock, and they were getting more nervous with every passing moment. Finally the scramble was on, and the flock exited towards the woods and the river.
I decided to setup near where this flock had been feeding, as I hoped that either I could pull a road jake across the big field, or coax some of the feeding flock back out into the field. I put a hen decoy out just at the treeline edge, and settled down deep into the undergrowth using a cedar as a screen for a road jake, and the stand of poison ivy to screen my position from the feeding flock birds.
Settling in, I waited for thirty minutes before I gently called on my box call. I then might have taken a quick catnap of a few seconds, and then became alert enough again to scan the fields. I had my cellphone out and was texting to Mrs kansasdad who was in Colorado placing her mother's cremains in her final resting place, and texting my children as well. Box call, catnap, box call, catnap, rinse and repeat with a slate call.
I first knew he was coming as I heard some excited clucking. I though it was an alarm "PUTT" call, as they can sound very similar, but the superjake continued coming forward. Peering through the cedar branches, I could see his 5 inch beard and his fiery red head, and I recalled that I had decided that the first legal bird to come in would be mine. I slowly lifted my 12 gauge towards my shoulder, only to find that in my catnapping, my binocular harness had ridden up and over, and totally blocked my ability to shoulder my gun properly. Using the butt of the gun to slide the harness out of the way, I made certain to feel my cheek on the stock, put the bead on the junction of feather/no feather zone on his neck and fired my last shot of spring turkey season.
In all my years of turkey hunting, I have never had such a short walk back to the car. According to my range finder he dropped 245 yards from my front bumper.
I don't remember where I purchased this little piece of silicone rubber, but it is worth its weight in gold. It came in a three pack and was called something like the "silencer three pack". Two tabs on either side for easy grip, the big loop goes over the box of the boxcall, and the little loop goes around the paddle. Now no matter where I store the call in my pack, vest or bellows pockets of my pants, NO MORE INADVERTENT NOISES!!
The call originally came with some janky mechanism inside the box that lifted the paddle up off the rails. I probably broke that little piece of plastic on its third trip into the woods. Usually I would keep an extra sock or my emergency merino beanie stuffed into the box, but sometimes the contents would shift, and I would hear a cluck or yelp (or a danger PUTT) with me moving along trying to be ninja stealthy.
Problem solved and ninja mode engaged.
PS: the box has a significant memento feeling for me, as my parents bought it for me along with a Primos Ol Betsy slate call just as I was getting into turkey hunting. Still my favorite two calls.
Now that I have finished my spring turkey season, I asked if kansasdaughter2 or her boyfriend Jeremy wanted to go after a free range turkey. Jeremy decided that he did want to have a go after a wily turkey. On Friday we went to Wallyworld to purchase his first ever license (Kansas allows "apprentice hunting without requiring a completed hunter safety class) and turkey permit. He was happy to allow me to buy his first licenses. The weather fronts that have continued to dump heavy rains all May kept us from going afield, as the weather channel promised heavy downpours, accompanied by hail and heavy winds.
The flood control lake is full to the brim, the highest level ever, and a big release of water is contributing to downstream flooding. Flood warnings abound, and the animal behavior has been significantly changed. Deer v motor vehicles seem to be way up, as the regular bedding areas are fully underwater. Coming back from a weekend in KC (Royals win in extra innings over the Yankees!) we saw that the lake level would only need to rise one more foot to threaten swamping the turnpike roadway.
Monday afternoon Jeremy, kansasdaughter2 and I headed out to the wildlife area, happy to see that the bridge was passable, and although there was field runoff on the road surface, we made it to the empty parking lot. Going over the shotgun's working components, we reviewed my safety expectations, and I could tell that Jeremy was listening well, and asking good questions.
As we pulling on our packs, I looked across the road to the private land, and saw four hens emerge from the woods 200 yards from the parking lot. We waited for a bit of time hoping that some legal birds might be following along, and were rewarded with two big boys popping out a minute later. I explained to Julia and Jeremy that we might luck out and pull these toms away from the feeding hens, but that would mean that we would be making these boys go against nature.
We crawled a couple of yards to get past on open spot that might get us busted by the birds, and double checked to make sure we were not busted. As we stood there, we heard a jake gobble down by the river. And by "we", I mean Julia and Jeremy heard the bird, but I hadn't. Wanting to trust the young ears, we moved towards the ambush spot I hoped to call the private land birds, or pull the birds out of the public land woods to our south.
Settling in to the treeline, trying to find the most poison ivy free areas, I put out a hen decoy just at the edge of the treeline. Hoping that no return gobbling simply meant that they were coming in silently, I was glad to hear the (jake?) gobbling along the river continued. Jeremy and I worked out how the monopod could be very helpful in holding a shotgun in a motionless position if we knew that a bird was approaching.
"Dad!", and I slowly turned around to see where Julia was sitting behind me. "Look!!!" Pointing to her right, Julia drew my attention to the 5 foot black ratsnake slithering along the swampy ground heading directly towards here. Getting up out of her seat, Julia started snapping photos, and alerted the snake to human presence. The snake slowly moved into the trees and was soon lost to sight into the trees.
We decided that our attempt at pulling birds towards us was a bust, so we went to see if we could cross the creek and get to areas that hunters will not have been without extreme efforts. Finding the spot where the road crossed the creek, we found out we could descend to the fenceline, but the fence here was tight and well strung, so getting under, through or over was going to be tough. Looking at the time, I told the Jeremy and Julia that we should call it an evening and they agreed.
Making it back to the parking lot, we went over to check the mulberry tree to see if any berries were ripened. Jeremy is the epitome of a picky eater, so he surprised me when he took an offered berry to try. "Tastes like grass" he said, and when I tried the barely blush berry (not deep purple indicating full ripeness) I had to agree with him. It did taste like grass.
The season ends on the last day of May. I generally work half days on Fridays, so there may be one more desperate attempt to get Jeremy his first turkey this spring.
PS: turkey teriyaki has become such a family favorite that I can't get permission to try a different preparation. Rave reviews once again with last weeks jake.
Kansas spring season runs statewide through May 31st. As a last ditch effort, I went out with Jeremy to try to help him get his first turkey on the last day of the season.
The public wildlife area that I know so well might as well as be a new piece of property, as the heavy rains/floods have altered the land and animal behavior significantly. This very large field is 3/4 inundated by the flooded lake. Previous tom kill sites from this spring are 6 feet or more under water.
We stayed hidden in the trees, and watched the far side for signs of life, and finally located the toms across this field. Our attempt to pull them across the ag field to where we were hiding along the edge was in vain. A cagey tom at this time of the season has been chased for a full two months. All the dumb and hormone addled birds have already been plucked and eaten, and these few survivors weren't having any of my sweet sweet hen songs.
Heading back to the parking area, Jeremy told me that he had had a good time, and was planning on taking his hunters safety class.
The last two years have had a complete sandplum failure in south central Kansas, with three springs ago having quite sporadic fruiting. I have blamed a hard cold front for nipping the fruit, and sadly our pantry/storeroom shelves are bare of the delectable jam made with this native fruit.
Mrs kansasdad and I decided that coming home from Colorado (Lake Grandby lake trout morning outing with three over 32 inches boated) family week, we should detour past our favorite plum haunts to see if this year would finally be a bumper crop. Bushes were full of soon to ripen fruit, so we made plans to get out early Saturday to beat the heat.
Enterprising Facebook Marketplace sellers were advertising $15/gallon of sorta ripe plums, and even the newspaper carried a story about picking and canning sandplums, so it seems perhaps that word about sandplums is getting out into the public consciousness.
We arrived at one of our spots at a public access area, and looked for bushes full of fully ripened plums. As there were so many plums on each bush, we could afford to be picky in our selections, leaving the less ripened fruit for another day.
After 30 minutes or so at the first stopping spot, we decided to move further uphill towards other patches. Driving along the roads of this public area, it is like taking a trip down memory lane........
there is the spot that I got three fall turkeys with two shots,
just over the hill there is where that young coyote attacked our turkey decoy,
here is the spot that we almost got stuck that day trying to get down to the plum honeyhole,
remember that huge mulberry tree over there??, that mulberry pie you made was so good!
that spot there on the lake is where I called the poacher hotline when somebody was shooting in the refuge,
here is where we saw those very young turkey poults that last time the picking was good........
Arriving at the back road to the higher sandplum spots, I tried to see if there had been recent vehicle traffic shown by sandy tire tracks in the road. It seemed like we would be the first ones down the road that day. Pulling over, we slipped under the fence and once again went to plucking little orbs of ripening goodness until we figured we had taken enough that day to make it worth the next steps in the process of making sandplum jam.
Sort, wash, boil, mash/strain, discard stones/skins and repeat. I know my wife well enough to help get the kitchen assembly line set up, and then excuse myself to go cut the grass, so as to be out of "HER" kitchen. She has learned that she likes to use gallon size ziplock bags, filling each with 6-8 cups of sandplum ambrosia, for freezing. Later she will make additions of pectin and sugar to taste before the final canning takes place.
The weather forecasters had predicted a cold front to come through so that high temps would be in the low 80's today. SOOOO WRONG!
Thankfully it took us only 90 minutes to complete the task at hand, and even though we were the early birds, the heat and humidity left us drenched with sweat. The processing of the plums will take about three hours with our setup, and when we get to spread the jam over the buttery toast, it will have been so worth it.
The local suburban turkey habitat is shrinking once again. Since I began wandering through this neighborhood, the turkey population has risen and fallen, with this spring showing a decline in numbers. On the west side of the watershed the pecan grove and horse pastures are unchanged, but the furthest east side pastures have been converted to apartments, and now the next fields over have been cleared of vegetation and flattened with huge earth moving machines. This field has historically been where I see the hens/poults feeding starting about mid summer and into the fall.
sorry to see that. Fields that I played on as a kid by my house now are developed with multiple houses on them. Family farms being sold and divided into lots. Every time I go to my hometown it is more and more developed