Friday, January 9, 2009

Two Weeks: Part V, Lesser Prairie Chickens

For the past couple of years I've always wanted to try to hunt the lesser prairie chicken and the scaled quail in Kansas. Both can be found in the southwest part of the state. Because of a very bad dought in extreme SW Kansas, I decided to leave the scalies for another time.

Lessers are supposedly in a bad way in most of their native range, having lost ~90% of their habitat to agriculture, oil and gas development, over-grazing, and pesticides. Texas limits the hunting to landowners, and by permit only. In New Mexico you have to win a lottery type drawing to hunt them, and I don't beleive they can be hunted at all in Oklahoma. Sounds grim, right? Well, I am happy to report that numbers are, at least local to where I hunted, pretty good. And I found a decent motel for $29 a night. That's a double bonus!

Because the weather was to be warm, I arrived on the scene before legal hunting hours for a little scouting. The first spot seemed a little over grazed so I decided to keep looking. On the way four chickens flew over the road and landed in some CRP.

I got out of my truck and I could hear chickens booming all around me, in nearly every direction. To the north I could even see some birds feeding in the winter wheat field. I observed them for a while and tried to take some pictures; I've Photoshop'd the best one here and you should be able to make out four birds.

I decided to look at the first spot one more time, and on the way back I flushed two more feeding in a cut milo field. I was very surprised to encounter these kinds of numbers, especially so soon. Another look at the pasture and I still wasn't impressed so I moved on. I hunted two smaller pastures with no encounters and it was quickly getting warm and I had forgotten to fill my water. If you ever run out of water, find a church. They always have an outdoor spicket, no one usually asks any questions, and if they do they are happy to help and do anything they can to point you in the right direction.

So, water refilled we drove to another spot. The scenery was pretty amazing, at least for Kansas.

Ike, being the wider dog, got the call as he had the previous two fields. We set our course into the wind towards a windmill that would hopefully have water in it to soak the dog. Well, it didn't. But being the pesky tinker type I figured out that if I climbed halfway up and released a lever I should be able to get some water. Shazaam! Dog wet, windmill off, and wind picking up I decided to change tactics. I had been hunting the ridgelines, basically all the high stuff, I know chickens like to be able to see a long ways. Because of the gusting winds I opted to hunt the low areas between hills, like little waterways. This change produced birds almost immediately. We'd hunt up a waterway, then at the top hop over to the next water way and hunt down. Nearly every one held birds, although they were spaced about a mile of walking apart. The birds were extremely wild, although on two occassions had I not spent both barrells on Hail Mary's I could have bagged a late flusher. As much as I hunt chickens, I really ought to know better. The second time I nearly hit the bird with my empty hulls as I threw them in frustration.

Oh well, I'll be back. Tired puppy...


mdmnm said...

Great series of posts and great photos!

What's the over/under?

Jon Uhart said...

SKB505 in 20ga, 26" barrels with tubes; recommended to me by the late hunter/author Terry Boyer. It's a nice little gun.