With November coming to a close, deer hunters in Kansas are getting set for Christmas.
No, not Dec. 25 ... Dec. 4-15.
That is when the rifle season will take place in the state, and when a flood of outdoors enthusiasts will be climbing into tree stands and deer blinds for many long, cold hours waiting for that monster buck to come walking past.
Of course, most successful deer hunts are made many months ahead of time, thanks to scouting and food plot cultivation. Winter rye, oats, wheat and clover offer great forage for deer during the cold winter months, which make maintaining a good food source a key tenant of success for landowners looking to bag a big buck. Turnips are great as they offer a ton of nutrients and protein for deer during late season and can be easily dug up by deer even when snow covers the ground. Harvested corn fields are another good source of nourishment for a variety of different species during the winter months, including deer, turkeys, waterfowl and uplands birds, which is why hunting them is a favorite tactic for many hunters in the Midwest.
Baiting deer is legal on private property in Kansas, so many opt to use large feeders full of corn or dump piles of plain or flavored corn, apples, acorns and other forage to draw in deer. The practice is illegal on all lands managed by the Kansas Department of Wildlife, Parks and Tourism, however, including lands enrolled in the Walk-In Hunting Area program.
Baiting also may be a contributing factor in the spread of chronic wasting disease, foot rot and other cervid illnesses, as it is easier to spread disease in areas where deer concentrate in large numbers and in close proximity. Thankfully, CWD hasn't been a big problem in northeast Kansas ... at least not yet. Since the surveillance period began in 1996, positive tests for CWD have been quarantined to the western half of the state. As of February 2019, the KDWPT has found 215 free-ranging deer and one captive bull elk carrying the disease — out of a sample size of more than 27,000 tests — since 1996.
Setting up between a deer's bedding area and a food source can be a good tactic for getting deer during daylight hours as they travel in the evening. Deer may wait until well after dark to finally head to food sources, especially as they get pressured more and more as the season wears on. Using several trail cameras along that path can help you figure out when deer are on the move and where the best place to set up is to get a legal shot.
Another important tip is to stay warm — even 40-degree weather can chill to the bone when you're sitting still for hours on end. Layering is key, especially on the head, core body, hands and feet. Try to fit at least two pairs of warm, thick socks on your feet, and you can even throw handwarmers in the bottom of your boots for added warmth. This makes having loose-fitting boots a good thing. Fitting a few pairs of smaller gloves under your thick gloves can also help you endure the cold, as well as having a handwarmer tube, which looks a bit like a fanny pack. Wearing heavy shirts or a hoodie under your coveralls also can help. Remember, you can always take layers off in the blind if you get too hot, but it's pretty tough to add layers after the fact.
Post rut/second rut
The state of Kansas is home to two species of deer — white-tailed deer, which are more prevalent in the timber-filled eastern half, and mule deer, which are found exclusively in the plains of western Kansas.
For white-tailed deer, we are currently in the post-rut part of the cycle — though some call this time of year the second rut as the does that weren’t bred the first time around will enter estrus again. This can lead to bucks being more carefree during the first few days of the rifle season, which can lead to them making mistakes that put them on somebody’s wall or dinner table.
Again, food availability is essential, as does will go where the food is and bucks will go where the does are. Morning hunts are ideal during the first few days of the season as bucks are chasing during that time, while evening hunts near food sources are more important as the late season stretches on. Also, be aware when driving during this time as deer will be moving in big numbers early on. I saw multiple deer on the move late Friday night crossing N.W. 46th Street.
Kansas also has a small elk population, with a firearm season that coincides with the deer firearm season. Most of the elk in eastern Kansas are in a herd near Fort Riley, with other herds along the Arkansas River in far western Kansas, along the Ninnescah River in central Kansas and contained in Maxwell Wildlife Refuge. Some elk, however, have been known to break off from the herds and head to other parts of the state, including a bull elk in 2013 that was photographed in Topeka and a near state-record bull shot with a muzzleloader on Sept. 6, 2018, just south of Winchester in Jefferson County.
Kansas residents will need to carry a valid Kansas hunting license, as required, as well as a deer tag, to harvest deer. Hunters under 16 and older than 74 do not require a hunting license.
For white-tail hunters, an Any-Season White-Tailed Deer permit runs $42.50 for general residents and $22.50 for resident landowners/tenants. A non-resident tenant license costs $87.50, while a resident youth license runs $12.50 for those 15 and younger.
Mule deer require an either-species permit, which are subject to a drawing during the summer months for firearms season but can be purchased over the counter for muzzleloader and archery season.
Elk also require a special permit to hunt in Kansas, and though hunting in the most populous elk areas also requires hunters to win a drawing to secure a permit, an unlimited number of resident and landowner/tenant Either-sex Elk permits or Antlerless-only Elk permits authorized for Unit 3 are over-the-counter at vendor locations through March 15, 2020. Elk Unit 3 consists of most of the state.
The statewide deer and elk archery seasons also are still ongoing, and many hunters may choose to continue using that method during late season rather than firearms.
As a side note, the Marshall County chapter of Whitetails Unlimited is hosting its annual banquet on Feb. 1, 2020, at the Marysville National Guard Armory, 306 N. 19th Street in Marysville. The event begins with a social hour at 5 p.m., with dinner at 7 p.m. Tickets are $35 single, $20 spouse, $20 juniors (15 and under). For more info or to purchase tickets, go to https://tinyurl.com/sgs7l7b/.
Ducks Unlimited Hooters Wing Ding
The Topeka chapter of Ducks Unlimited will host its annual Topeka DU Hooters Wing Ding beginning at 5:30 p.m. Dec. 5 at the Topeka Hooters off Wanamaker at 6100 S.W. 10th.
Dinner begins at 6:30 p.m., with an auction at 7 p.m. Tickets are $25 for a single ticket and $40 for couple/buddy tickets, and each ticket includes all-you-can-eat wings and two beers.
For more information, contact Thad Wende at 785-845-5210 or Cheech Kehoe at 802-233-1472.
In other area DU news, the Bluestem DU Dinner is set to take place from 6 to 10 p.m. Feb. 15 at the El Dorado Civic Center, 201 E. Central in El Dorado.
For more info, contact Scott Starkey at 316-206-3133 or Chris Megredy at 316-258-7401.