Tuesday, February 11, 2014

Put it in the books

This season has been filled with many ups and downs.

At times it felt like there was a little black rain cloud over my head! Take for example the evening before Thanksgiving, hunting the tail-end of the Kansas rut, with just a few minutes of shooting light remaining a breathtaking whitetail buck started walking down the lane toward my stand. ~PAUSE~ Now rewind several hours earlier....I had somehow managed to squeeze an evening hunt into very rigid travel plans made by my lovely wife, the trade-off was catching a ride with my father in-law to our destination at a prearranged time. Due to the intricate structure of the plans and precise timing involved, I had decided it was a good idea to not silence my phone in the event plans needed altering. ~UNPAUSE~ Now at 50 yards, this typical 10-point is continuing his approach completely unaware of my presence. His scheduled arrival would put him at 22 yards in my "bread & butter" shooting lane. So sure of this deer's impending fate, with each step he took in my direction, I contemplated various excuses I would provide my wife and family to explain my extreme tardiness from the pre-Thanksgiving festivities. The moment of truth had arrived, now at 23-yards and only one tree left to clear before getting the green light, I drew. Maybe it was the creak of the stand, or subtle noises from my jacket, or the slide of the arrow across the rest, but something had grabbed his attention and his approach ceased one step short of becoming a trophy on my wall. At full draw, all I could see from behind the scrubby hedge tree was 166" of antler (the duration of his pause actually allowed me to calculate a rough B/C score)...as he lifted his foot to take his last step, it happened. A vibration in my left chest pocket, an innocent one second vibration, a silent warning which would become the precursor to disaster. Time stood still, image the feeling of seeing the timer reach zero on a time bomb, all that's left now is the boom! The boom in this case came in the form of a loud phone screaming in my pocket!! Immediately upon detecting the unnatural noise, I watched what had now become 175" of antler whirl and blow away. At 70 yards he paused and briefly looked back in my direction, but quickly sprinted off when he heard the raunchy string of obscenities I had unleashed. There was nothing left to do but sit in my stand under the little black cloud and weather the storm.....the real salt in the wound was The Call, it was my wife calling to make sure everything was on schedule, I explain how ill timed her call was to which she replies, "why would someone trying to be quiet not silence their phone, that's just dumb!"

On at least three separate occasions this season, I got phone calls on a Thursday or Friday with a scouting report proclaiming epic numbers of waterfowl had been located and plans were made for a weekend slaughter.  Not one shot was fired on these so-called "slam dunk" hunts, my phone went silent by late season as all of buddies drew weary of my bad ju ju.  

All of this said I cannot complain about this season, I was fortunate enough to hunt more days than most managing to fill the freezer and am still alive to tell about it.  This year's  hunting adventures spanned 2 countries and 7 states.  The best part was all the friends I was able to spend time with along the way,  I especially enjoyed spending time with my boy as his interest in the outdoors continues to grow!  


Wednesday, November 21, 2012

Jump Start

For as long as I can remember, I have always wanted to hunt ducks and geese in Canada.  The thought of being able to work birds which had not been shot at from Canada to Kansas held a certain appeal. This Spring an invitation was extended to hunt waterfowl in Humboldt, Saskatchewan. The owner of the farm promised his property was some of the best in North America.  After a 24-hour drive, I found myself initially disappointed in the landscape.  Referred to as the "prairie pot-hole" region, it doesn't take much to see why.  There are few trees and crop (wheat, peas, barley and canola) fields as far as the eye can see.  The disappointment quickly faded, after taking a closer look, you begin to notice the hundreds of pot-holes scattered around, then you notice that each pot-hole is covered with ducks and geese.

The first evening was spent scouting a field to set-up for geese the next morning.  It didn't take long to find a field which was holding birds.  It was then I learned all land in the providence, unless posted, is open to hunting!  Our first goose hunt saw some slow shooting, but in the afternoon we set-up for ducks and had a four man limit in 30 minutes!  Each day the same routine was followed: field goose hunting in the AM, a breakfast break, slough duck hunting in the PM, then field scouting before sunset followed by dinner.  Never had I been witness to such numbers of ducks and geese.  On one particular pot-hole, which was only 25 yards long and 25 yards wide, the ducks never stopped trying to land on the water. Even when shots were fired, another flock would circle and commit to land...we literally shot ducks as fast as we could load our guns. 

I offer testimony that Canadian waterfowl hunting is amazing!  We shot hundreds of birds and only lacked 2 species of ducks from bagging every species the Central Fly Way has to offer.  I am already looking forward to going back next year and getting a jump start on the season.  


Wednesday, August 29, 2012

New Era

The beginning of a new era was ushered in last week when my son and nephew accompanied me on their first out-of-state hunting adventure.  Benjamin and Brock have both anxiously awaited their opportunity to hit the road and experience the joys of a full blown hunting camp.  No doubt their first trip will leave them wanting more!

After some serious diplomacy, convincing the moms the trip was worthy of an absence from school, we struck-out and drove west to New Mexico in pursuit of Pronghorn Antelope.  After a 7-hour drive, we arrived at the 136,000 acre ranch and joined a camp of roughly 25 guys.  The camp was hosted by the Sutherland family and was beyond impressive.  This years camp marked 20+ years of Sutherland family and friends gathering to fellowship and hunt.

While setting-up our tent, the boys became gravely concerned about the lack of air conditioning and other standard amenities offered by the camper, after several minutes of explanation, they came to the realization one could survive a few days without TV and AC.

The boys quickly made new friends with the other 5-6 youth in camp and set out to explore their surroundings.  Within the first few hours, they learned the desert is full of things which can cause pain...red ants, cactus, rattle snakes, taranchulas, and scorpions to name a few.  Never-the-less, they ventured fourth without fear!  

The ranch is home to several large prairie dog towns and a favorite activity was prairie dog population control.  There was also an area which had been setup as a rifle range and much time was spent shooting at targets.   

The ranch was full of deep canyons and we had a blast taking a jeep trail ride.

Without a doubt, the highlight of the trip was having the boys present when I was fortunate enough to harvest a nice antelope.  The trip was short, but I imagine the memories will last a long time!   


Monday, May 14, 2012

I Need More Tissues

The 2012 Spring Turkey Season will be unforgettable for many reasons, but mostly because of all the tears.  I have been humbled and honored to chase birds with some amazing people who have truly touched my life.  Hunting is supposed to be all macho, but on at least three separate occasions I have been teary eyed.  

The first waterworks came while hunting with my 7 year old son.  Early in the season, while sitting over the decoys waiting on the birds, Completely out of the blue, Ben gets up from my lap and throws his arms around my neck and says, "Dad I love you and I love hunting with you!" and then turns and sits back down in my lap.  I was so choked-up, I could not call! 

Then there was the Kansas Governor's Turkey Hunt.  After spending two days with Daniel Raikes and his father Stephen I felt like we were all long lost kin.  The entire Raikes family is so amazing, their demonstration of faith and strong family values is touching. During the Banquet, Daniel read his prize winning NWTF Essay. With a strong Kentucky accent and huge smile, he read his essay entitled, "Why I Hunt".  After reading his essay, he gave the most honest and sincere acknowledgement of gratitude to God, his family and those who gave him the opportunity to hunt in Kansas.  By the time he concluded his remarks, there were not many dry eyes in the room!  

The most recent tears came in Wyoming, where I was asked to guide in the Old West Invitational Turkey Hunt.  I was privileged to take SSG Joseph Fowler on his first turkey hunt.  SSG Joseph Fowler joined the Army in 1997, at 18 years old, in order to fulfill his lifelong dream of becoming a military police officer.  He served as a patrol military policeman until 2002 when he was accepted into the Military Working Dog Canine program where he was able to combine his love of animals with police work.

In June 2005, Joe was deployed to Iraq with his K-9 partner Dak. Dak was an explosives/apprehension trained 7 year old Belgian Treveren. The pair served the area searching for weapons caches and assisting infantry members with raids and searching for insurgents. In December 2005, Dak and Joe were part of a three Humvee convoy in route to a warehouse to sweep a building where election voting was taking place in Baghdad. Only minutes from their destination, their Humvee struck a hidden anti-tank mine. Joe was immediately blown from the vehicle, on fire, approximately 60-80 feet through the air and landed, in oncoming traffic lanes. He quickly tried to extinguish the flames and assess his injuries. Unfortunately, his partner Dak and another soldier were killed in the blast. Joe was quickly rushed back to the base medical clinic and from there was airlifted to Balad, Iraq and then onto Landstuhl, Germany. After emergency surgery to try to save my limbs, he was flown to Brooke Army Medical Center in San Antonio, Texas.

In Texas, it was officially determined that he had sustained third degree burns to 54% of his body as well as a fractured ankle, fractured wrist, dislocated elbow and mild brain injury. He began the long process of recovery starting with many surgeries. He was in intensive care for five weeks and then in the step down unit for another three months. He was released from the hospital in April 2006, but continued to have surgeries approximately once per month until his medical retirement in October 2007. From the day of my release until the day he left Texas, he required extensive physical therapy which he attended 5 days a week for two to three hours in order to get the limited motion he currently has. To date, he has had 20 surgeries. He struggles daily with the limited use of his hands - because of the burns and the methods required saving them, he cannot bend his fingers or move any of them independently.

Spending time with Joe was a hoot, his humor and love of God and Country is inspiring.  Joe was fortunate enough to harvest a nice Merriam's turkey (his first turkey).  Joe must of told me 500 times how thankful he was to have had me take him out hunting and his smile was never absent during the event. He was recognized on stage during one of the evening festivities where he received a standing ovation from the crowd for his service and sacrifice. After reluctantly taking the microphone, he thanked those who made it possible for him to hunt in Wyoming and then made me stand-up and said, "Today this guy gave me one of the most amazing memories which I will never forget."

Guess what???  For a third time this season I was misty eyed!                   

Tuesday, March 6, 2012

Duck, Duck, SNOW GOOSE!!

Fresh off a trip to Mound City, Missouri in pursuit of snow geese, I have been reflecting upon this past year's goose season.  The season has had its lows, but they are overshadowed by the highs.  We have been fortunate enough to harvest hundreds of geese this year, both over water and in the field.  Our most recent adventure had us chasing snow geese during the Special Conservation Order.

If you have not had the opportunity to hunt near the Squaw Creek Refuge in Missouri, put it on your bucket list!  Late February and early March, the goose count will soar to over a million.  At daybreak the skies fill with geese and flock after flock pass over-head for what seems like hours.  The small town of Mound City swells with a concentration of waterfowl hunters all looking to extend their waterfowl season.  This year we were guided by the Goose Guru himself, Shawn Eldredge who is regarded by many as one of the top guides in the area.  Shawn owns Prairie's Edge Outfitter's and is one of many quality outfitters in the area.  We are already booked for next year with good buddy Kyle Graves of Top Gun Guide Service. My only advice is to book your hunt/motel early, bring lots of shells and pack plenty of bandages for your trigger finger!  

What a blast with Terry Tracy, Danny Armstrong, Ryan Armstrong, Mark Schulte & Dr. Mark Wellemeyer


Thursday, January 26, 2012

Grand Finale

In Kansas, there are two segments of duck season, the second segment lasts 9 days and occurs in late January.  These nine days are like the grand finale to an amazing fireworks show.  Approaching a 400 duck season, the show above the blind has been spectacular.  The last few days of the season have provided some amazing memories.  Having the opportunity to call ducks & geese with my son, Former KS Governor Hayden, Wichita Eagle Outdoor Reporter Micheal Pearce and all of my other good friends has been a cap stone to a near perfect season.    

Not all is good, I already feel some type of low level depression setting-in...college football is over, there is only one NFL game left, deer season is closed and by the end of the month: turkey, duck and upland seasons will also be closed.  All good things must come to an end, we have been hunting hard for the past 145 days and the 2011/12 season will be one to remember!  Keeping me sane is the anticipation of a few early spring snow goose hunts, spring turkey season and catching some fish...not to mention it's only 213 days until we get to do it all again!              

Wednesday, January 11, 2012

KDWP&T Poor Proposal

Disclaimer:  I am not anti-tax or against government, the better part of my livelihood is dependent upon revenue derived from taxes and government imposed fees.  To some it may seem like a great hypocrisy that someone whose paycheck comes from the tax payers could complain or try to avoid a specific tax.  However, I do support equatable taxation and sound fiscal policy.  

In the midst of tough economic conditions, governmental agencies have been forced to critically assess their operations and find ways to streamline operations and do more with less.  The nationwide financial crisis has been brought down to a state level by major budget cuts to state agencies. No amount of streamlining can change the fact it takes a significant amount of money to sustain operations.  The Kansas Department of Wildlife, Parks & Tourism is certainly no exception.  The Department has been realigned in an effort to improve efficiency and operations have been downsized to provide only minimal levels of service.  With insufficient funding and the prospect of further budget cuts to KDWP&T as the State Legislature convenes the 2012 session, the agency has begun looking internally for much needed revenue.  A proposal brought forward during a recent KDWD&T Commission meeting seeks to remove the long standing exemption on annual hunting/fishing licenses for those 65 years old and older.  The proposal aims to increase the amount of revenue derived from annual license sales by expanding the number sold each year.

Another reason cited for removing the exemption is to increase the states share of federal aid derived from the Federal Aid in Wildlife Restoration Act, popularly know as the Pittman-Robertson Act.  The purpose of the Act is to provide funding for the selection, restoration, rehabilitation and improvement of wildlife habitat, wildlife management research, hunter education training and the distribution of information produced by the projects.  Funds are derived from an 11% Federal excise tax on sporting arms, ammunition and archery equipment and a 10% tax on handguns.  These funds are collected from the manufacturers by the Department of the Treasury and are apportioned each year to the States by the Department of the Interior on the basis of a formula which considers the total area of the state and the number of licensed hunters in the state.   

For as long as I can remember, residents of Kansas who reach the age of 65 have been exempt from having to purchase an annual license.  The problem I have with the proposal is the agency is requesting those currently exempt not be grandfathered.  I understand the average age of the core population of sportsman is increasing and licenses sales among younger sportsman is on the decline, but to not grandfather those who have reached the exemption age and now require them to purchase an annual licenses is poor policy.  

Take my Grandpa for instance, who will celebrate his 70th birthday in September.  He has been exempt from buying annual licenses for nearly five years, keep in mind he is still required to purchase big game tags, migratory bird stamps and turkey permits.  Next to getting a senior discount at Golden Corral, my Grandpa's excitement about turning 65 was focused on the fact he would no longer be required to purchase an annual hunting/fishing license.  Under the current proposal, this privilege would be stripped and after a five year hiatus, my 70 year old grandpa would be required to purchase a fishing/hunting license.  Also, consider individuals who made a decision not to purchase a lifetime license because they were 15-20 years from turning 65 and it would not have been cost effective to spent $400-$600.   

There is no doubt the KDWP&T is underfunded and must seek out means to generate additional revenue to sustain current operations and plan for the future.  In my opinion, the proposal to remove exemptions from those 65 years old and older is not viable.  As an alternative, to increase the number of licensed hunters (to receive a greater share of Federal funding), establish a special licensing fee ($1-$2) for those 65 years old or older.  I would further recommend KDWP&T tackle the "elephant in the room" and recommend wide-sweeping change to Kansas Personal Property Tax Statutes as it relates to the taxation of boats as a means to generate revenue.

In Kansas, boats are taxed at a much higher rate than vehicles, real estate, campers and other personal property. Each county uses a marine blue book to get an appraised value of the boat. This value is taxed at 30 percent to give you the assessed value. That figure is then multiplied by the local mill levy and this is the amount of taxes you pay.  For me, on my 2008 boat ($24,000 appraised value) the Kansas property taxes would have been $1,193.  This is more property tax than I pay on both 2007 Dodge Ram ($20,000 appraised value) and 2011 Toyota 4-Runner ($44,000 appraised value).  By storing my boat in Oklahoma (primarily used at Lake Texoma & Grand Lake), I pay only $150 per year!     

Below is an excerpt from an excellent article written by Marc Murrell, published in the Topeka Capital-Journal on January 15, 2011: 

Some say boats are a “luxury” item but I guess I don’t buy it. I know guys with boats that are 15 years old or cost $500 and the taxes paid on these are still way too high comparatively. Boats are lumped in with helicopters, hot air balloons, airplanes and other property. If a guy had his own helicopter, I guess I could consider that a luxury. But you wouldn’t catch many fish out of it or pull the kids tubing.
It’s almost like you’re being penalized for having or wanting a boat, especially looking at other items taxed in Kansas. To give you an example, I paid $879.63 for taxes and tags for the 2010 tax year on a 1999 Chrysler Sebring, 2000 Mercury Sable, 2003 Chevy 2500 HD 4x4, 2005 29’ Wildcat camper and a 2006 Chrysler Town and Country van. I bought a new 2010 Lund boat last June and the taxes on the boat alone are roughly $1,200 per year!
Granted, those four vehicles and camper aren’t new and have depreciated, so here’s a more timely comparison. If I bought a brand new 2011 Chevy 2500 HD Crew Cab 4x4 with a sticker price of $52,000 I’d pay only $721.89, or nearly $500 less for something a year newer and considerably more expensive than my boat.
These exorbitant taxes are causing some boat owners to skirt or break the law according to officials with the Kansas Department of Wildlife and Parks (KDWP).
“We’ve got boat owners registering their boats in other states to avoid paying property taxes in Kansas,” said Dan Hesket, assistant director of law enforcement for the KDWP. “Boats must be registered where they are used the MAJORITY of the time, so if an individual uses their boat in Missouri, Nebraska, Oklahoma or wherever they register it more than Kansas, then that’s fine. But if that boat is used in Kansas more, they’re breaking the law.”
Hesket said the KDWP has only written a handful of tickets on improper boat registrations over the years.
“We asked a couple guys with boats registered in Oklahoma when the last time they used their boat in that state and they said, ‘Never,’ so those were pretty easy,” Hesket said.
KDWP enforcement officers have no way to prove where a boat owner uses their boat, and as long as it’s properly registered when checked, it’s fine, according to Hesket.
“We can’t do anything about it,” he said. “Several of our surrounding states don’t have any personal property taxes on boats, so apparently it’s easy to do.”
The KDWP officials estimate about 10,000 boats are registered to other states. Oklahoma has nearly half of these. This costs Kansas’ counties hundreds of thousands of dollars in taxes. Even assuming a modest figure of $300 per boat, that’s $3 million.
The KDWP loses money, too, in boat registrations to the tune of about $300,000. This money would be available for matching money from federal funding sources also, increasing this figure dramatically. Hundreds of thousands of dollars could be used to improve boat ramps, docks, restroom facilities, law enforcement and boating education.
Is it right Kansas boat owners register their boats in other states?
Do you blame them?
Not really.
I blame the high rate of taxation on boats. If personal property taxes on boats were more in line with vehicles, campers and other personal property, it would alleviate many of these problems. Granted, there will always be those who don’t want to pay ANY taxes, but that isn’t the problem. This inequity in taxation on boats causes normally law abiding citizens to find a loophole.
So what’s the answer?
“It’s got to be changed legislatively,” Hesket said. “We’ve tried in the past but failed. Boat owners need to get organized and talk to their senators and representatives and tell them they want to see it changed.”
With the 2011 session of the Kansas Legislature kicking off last week, here’s a place to start.
You often hear politicians talk about wanting to help the “Average Joe” but in many cases their hands are tied. Not in this one. Someone could introduce a bill that could lower taxes for boat owners, while at the same time generating more money for counties and the KDWP. In addition, 70 percent of registered Kansas boats are 13 years or older. Bringing the property tax into reason may spur an economic boost to the Marine Boat Dealer industry and allow boaters to be in modern, updated vessels that are safer and more practical for the environment.
Individuals wouldn't be as inclined to break the law and money would be distributed where it should be if boats were taxed in a more equitable manner, or at least on par with campers and vehicles. It might encourage more families to get outside and enjoy Kansas waters fishing and boating. Boat owners aren't asking for a free ride, just one that doesn't sink them every year when they pay their personal property taxes.