Council Grove Wildlife Area News

Area News

2014/2015 Hunting Outlook:

Upland Birds:  The fall hunting outlook for quail on the area is fair.  Hunters should see quail numbers that are similar as compared to last fall.  Breeding populations this spring were near average following fair production last year and some periods of snow cover in February.  Cool and wet conditions during the peak hatch month of June may have hampered production, but mild temperatures and timely precipitation during the remainder of the summer have enhanced area upland habitats and should have proven favorable to those pairs successful in raising a brood.  Adult pairs were often observed this summer on or near the wildlife area without an accompanying brood, indicating failed nesting attempts, but several coveys were also observed or reported early this fall in areas where habitat developments and enhancements have recently occurred, indicating that some production has taken place.  Hunters should be aware that cover conditions will be heavy as a result of timely rainfall that occurred much of the summer.  Within most habitat areas, natural vegetation and area crops should provide good food and cover conditions for wildlife, including quail, and should help to sustain breeding populations into next spring.  The wildlife area lies outside the primary range of ring-necked pheasant.  Hunters occasionally encounter pheasants on the area, but numbers are low.

Waterfowl:  The fall hunting outlook for waterfowl on the area is fair.  Waterfowl populations are reported to remain strong following another good production year within breeding habitats to the north.  Habitat conditions however here are not nearly as strong as those experienced last year.  Abundant precipitation and a slight flood in June kept lake levels full, or nearly so, for much of the summer.  Food producing plants could not become established within dewatered zones at the upper ends of the lake until late this summer.  As such, a thin fringe of food producing vegetation became established along some lake edges, but stands are not nearly as extensive as those witnessed last year.  Late summer and early fall weather was mild and relatively dry, contributing to declining lake levels which has pulled water away from food and cover edges.  Currently, food producing vegetation will not be available to feeding waterfowl without precipitation and increases in lake levels.  Weather will undoubtedly play a part (as it always does) in determining the extent of waterfowl use this year as well.  Many years see waterfowl numbers achieve an early peak in late October, followed later by a more significant peak in mid-December.  Mild conditions this fall have already delayed fall migrations by a week or more.  Notable waterfowl numbers were not observed this year until just before Halloween and during the first week of November.  Hunters are encouraged to visit the area website to view weekly waterfowl population and habitat condition updates.

Deer:  The fall hunting outlook for deer on the area is fair.  Reports from last season indicated that many hunters saw fewer deer and fewer older bucks.  On the bright side, deer remain relatively common on the wildlife area, but observations suggest that populations are reduced and younger deer predominate.  The 2012 EHD outbreak that struck many Midwestern states is believed to have had an impact in Kansas, but deer losses were not as extensive as other nearby states.  Frequent and large reports of die-offs were lacking within the county and on the wildlife area in that year and conditions have not been conducive for additional outbreaks of this disease since 2012.  Antlerless deer and fawns were a common sight this summer, and reports of a few nice bucks have been received, suggesting that an area breeding population remains strong and will provide hunting opportunity into the future.

Turkey:  The fall hunting outlook for turkey on the area is good.  Area and regional populations remain strong following good production dating back to at least 2012.  Many broods were again observed this summer indicating a solid level of production on the wildlife area.  Hunters should find good turkey numbers this season and should be able to look ahead to the next spring season with some optimism. 

Small Game:  Opportunities to hunt fox squirrel and cottontail exist.  Of the two, fox squirrel, typically provide greater opportunity.  With much of the area wooded and with hunting interest in squirrels low, the area can provide some attractive hunting.  Squirrel populations appear to be particularly strong this year with a noted increase in young animals following good production this spring and summer.  Cottontail populations are often not strong, but can provide some opportunity in upland areas away from flood zones.

Furbearers & Coyotes:  The area is open to the hunting and trapping of furbearers .  In most years, good opportunity to harvest beaver and raccoon exists.  Coyote and bobcat populations are generally fair, providing some opportunity.

Hunters Reminded of Recent Changes to Public Lands, Big Game, & Turkey Regulations:

The Kansas Wildlife, Parks and Tourism Commission has recently approved new regulations relating to hunting on public lands, and hunting of big game and turkey.  Designed to provide hunters with equal opportunities on limited public lands, and to simplify equipment regulations for the hunting of big game and turkey statewide, the following regulations have been enacted:  

  • Fall turkey game tags are valid only in Unit 2 (north-central Kansas).  They are NOT valid on Council Grove or El Dorado Wildlife Areas. 
  • Baiting is illegal on public lands. Bait is considered any grain, fruit, vegetable, nut, hay, salt, sorghum, feed, or other food or mineral capable of attracting wildlife. Liquid scents and sprays are not considered bait.
  • Only two portable blinds or tree stands are allowed per hunter on public lands.
  • Portable blinds and tree stands must be marked with the owner’s name and address or KDWPT number. Portable blinds may not be left unattended overnight on public lands.
  • Decoys may not be left unattended overnight on public lands.
  • Commercial guides must have a permit to guide on public lands. The permit is free and must be specific to the land where guiding takes place.
  • Big game hunters can now select any caliber centerfire rifle or handgun, any gauge shotgun with slugs, and any muzzleloader rifle and pistol .40 caliber or larger.
  • Crossbows are now legal equipment during archery seasons for anyone with a valid archery permit.
  • Turkey hunters are no longer restricted to 20 gauge shotguns or larger.  All gauges are allowed, using shot size No. 2 through No. 9. 

Fall Outdoor Youth Event a Success!

The Council Grove 11th Annual Outdoor Youth Event was conducted on Saturday, October 11th at Council Grove Lake.  Thirty-eight youngsters attended this year, and appeared to enjoy a beautiful fall afternoon afield.  This special event provided participants with a free opportunity to enhance shotgun, air rifle and archery shooting and safety skills, ultimately encouraging them to spend additional time in Kansas great outdoors!  The event is part of KDWPT’s “Pass It On” Program, designed to recruit and retain Kansas hunters, particularly youngsters

The afternoon began with a hearty lunch provided by the Flint Hills Chapter of Quail and Upland Wildlife Federation (QUWF), followed by a brief orientation of the event.  Participants were then divided into four groups and allowed to visit each of the four different stations for nearly one hour.  Designed to provide as much hands-on instruction as possible, visitors to each station received a brief orientation by a certified instructor, then jumped right in to actual shotgun, air rifle, and archery skills development training.  Two of the stations provided students with opportunities to learn fun wing-shooting techniques with youth model 20 gauge shotguns and flying clay targets.  A third station provided opportunities to develop or enhance their skills at shooting youth compound archery equipment at life-sized Kansas game animal targets.  The final station provided students with opportunities to shoot air rifles at stationary paper targets.

Event organizers were pleased with how all of the kids conducted themselves during the event.  All participants were responsible, improved their shooting and safety skills, and most importantly had fun!  All participants were awarded door prizes, provided by the Bill Young Foundation, to encourage them to take what they had learned one step further and do some hunting this fall.  One lucky attendee also won a youth model .243 rifle complete with a scope, donated by the Chisholm Trail Chapter of Safari Club International. 

Gear and supplies, including shotguns, shells, bows, arrows, targets, and eye and ear protection were provided by KDWPT’s Pass It On, Hunter Education, and Archery in the Schools Programs, as well as the National Wild Turkey Federations JAKES Take Aim Program.  These programs are designed to reverse the declining trend of hunting participation in Kansas.  These programs encourage youth to spend time afield by introducing them to shooting sports and hunting.  Their goal is to ensure that every youngster, or person that has an interest in hunting, is provided with an opportunity to experience this treasured pastime.

Area Kansas Department of Wildlife, Parks and Tourism (KDWPT) staff would like to thank the following individuals and organizations for their assistance with this successful event:

Organizations:  Flint Hills Chapter of Quail and Upland Wildlife Federation, Munkers Creek Limbhangers Chapter of the National Wild Turkey Federation, U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, Bill Young Foundation, Chisholm Trail Chapter of Safari Club International, Adams Lumber, and KDWPT’s “Pass It On”,  Hunter Education, and Archery in the Schools Programs.

Individuals:  Mike Miller, Wayne Doyle, Dave Adams, Jesse Gehrt, Nadia Marji, Stuart Schrag, Mike Lowry, Neal Whitaker, Steve Prockish, Chris Myers, Don True, Faron Adams, Kurtis Meierhoff, Rick Haug, Vance Ralstin, Tyson Powell, Dennis DeLay, Allan Cashman, Chris Hartman, Leland Viar, and numerous parents.       

Want Current Lake Condition Information?  It’s Just a Click Away!

It can be argued that technology is not always a good thing.  But for outdoor recreationists wanting to know current information about Council Grove Lake, technology can be good because the information is available and can be accessed 24 hours a day, 365 days a year, by visiting the internet on your computer or smart phone.

For those interested in learning more about current or historic lake levels, precipitation amounts, lake inflow, or lake releases, the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers operates a convenient web site providing this information.  Whether you are an angler interested in lake conditions to determine if it might be right for pursuing your favorite species of fish, or are a boater or camper wondering how lake conditions have been impacted by recent drought or rains, the website can be a valuable trip planning tool.  To access this information simply visit:

http://www.swt-wc.usace.army.mil/COUN.lakepage.html

Anglers and Boaters Reminded to Take Precautions to Control Aquatic Nuisance Species!

Unfortunately more Kansas waters were recently added to the growing list of those threatened by aquatic nuisance species (ANS).  ANS waters are defined as those containing Asian carp, white perch, or zebra mussels.  In 2013, zebra mussels were found in Clinton and Glen Elder Reservoirs, and in Wabaunsee Lake and Lake Shawnee.

Why are these species a problem?  ANS often become dominant within an area.  They can out-compete native species for food or space and can reduce biological diversity or the assemblage of plants and animals within our native habitats.  Ultimately, ANS species such as zebra mussels, asian carp, and white perch, threaten to alter aquatic habitats, of which our wildlife species depend, including those species sought by anglers in Kansas!

Regulations have recently been enacted to prevent the spread of ANS.  Boaters and anglers are reminded to follow these regulations while visiting Kansas waters.

  1.  Livewells and bilges must be drained and drain plugs removed from all vessels being removed from waters of the state before transport on a public highway. 
  2. No person may possess ANY live fish upon departure from any designated ANS body of water. 
  3. Live baitfish may be caught and used as live bait only within the common drainage where caught.  However, bluegill and green sunfish collected from non-designated ANS waters may be possessed or used as live bait anywhere in the state.  Live baitfish shall not be transported and used above any upstream dam or barrier that prohibits the normal passage of fish. 

For a list of ANS designated waters please refer to the 2014 Kansas Fishing Regulations Summary (page 30) or visit the Kansas Department of Wildlife, Parks & Tourism website at www.ksoutdoors.com and click on “Fishing”, then “Aquatic Nuisance Species”.  Other ANS designated waters near Council Grove Reservoir include Marion, Milford, Melvern, El Dorado, and John Redmond Reservoirs, Coffey County Lake, Chase State Fishing Lake, Council Grove City Lake, and Lake Wabaunsee.  Streams and rivers below these Kansas lakes are also designated ANS waters. 

To protect our aquatic habitats, follow these simple steps at every lake, wetland, and river, every time: 

CLEAN: Inspect all equipment for anything attached (plants, animals, and mud) andremoveanything that is found. 

DRAIN: Empty all water from equipment (livewell, bilge, bait bucket, etc.) before using at a different location. 

DRY:Dry all equipment for a minimum of 5 days before using it again. If you need to use it sooner, wash with hot (140 degree) water. 

Woodland Habitat Enhancement Work Continues:

Recent visitors to woodlands within the Council Grove Wildlife Area (CGWA) may have noticed some changes, and more are to come. Whether exploring area woodland habitats in pursuit of a November rutting buck, a spring gobbler, or perhaps morels for the frying pan, guests may have noticed some peculiar markings on area trees. More specifically, trees marked with a ring of blue paint are becoming increasingly more common. No, the paint is not the work of vandals, does not mark the location of a favorite tree stand, or even indicate a diseased tree within the stand. Rather, it is an initial step in management work designed to enhance wildlife habitat in woodland dominated areas of CGWA.

Beginning in 2010, nearing the completion of a successful plan to increase and enhance grassland habitats on the wildlife area, Kansas Department of Wildlife, Parks & Tourism (KDWPT) staff developed a new plan to begin work within the most prevalent habitat type on the 2,000 acre property; woodlands. Utilizing the expertise of District Forester, Thad Rhodes with the Kansas Forest Service (KFS), KDWPT has initiated annual projects to utilize timber stand improvement (TSI) principles to enhance woodland characteristics for the benefit of wildlife. TSI work on CGWA has been designed to promote burr oak (primarily), walnut, and hickory stature and nut production by removing nearby competing and less desirable trees. Trees of these species are often less common than other species such as locust, elm, ash, hackberry, maple, and boxelder, and can provide valuable food and cover sources for area wildlife including game species such as deer, turkey, squirrel, raccoon, and wood ducks.

TSI is a simple, but labor intensive process. Each fall, KFS and KDWPT staff, walk area woods to locate species such as oak. When a management tree has been located, the surrounding tree community is evaluated. To be a healthy and productive tree, the management tree must not be too crowded and it must be able to successfully compete for moisture, nutrients, and sunlight. Site evaluations review woodland characteristics such as tree species, density, height, health, canopy coverage, and underlying soils. Specific focus at CGWA is directed to analyze the tree canopy or upper level of leaves. If the management tree currently receives little sunlight, or may be at risk of shading in the future from faster growing neighboring trees, then neighboring trees are marked for removal. Marking simply involves painting a blue ring around each tree to be removed from the stand. By removing less desirable trees, the management tree (burr oak in our case) does not have to compete as much for sunlight, moisture, and nutrients and should improve in overall health and in its ability to produce wildlife food and cover.

After the stand is marked, crews initiate removal work by simply using chainsaws to girdle the marked trees. Girdling involves cutting through the outer layer of the tree to interrupt its ability to transport nutrients and moisture from the roots to the canopy. Workers encircle each tree with a cut of 2-3 inches and then inject herbicide into the cut to kill the tree. In most cases the tree remains standing after treatment. The tree does not have to be cut to the ground to remove it from the stand and to meet the goal of reducing competition for the benefit of our management tree. In some cases herbicide may not be used to allow species such as elm and mulberry to resprout from the base. Young succulent growth from the base of these trees can be attractive food for wildlife such as deer.

By leaving the tree standing we accomplish several objectives. First and foremost we are better able to insure the safety of the work crew. By not falling trees we can work in a safer environment and can save time so more acres can be treated each year. In addition, standing dead trees can provide habitat for cavity nesting species such as woodpeckers, squirrels, and wood ducks. Later, as those trees decay they shed branches and begin to dry, reducing weight, so when they do fall, they are less likely to damage adjacent desirable trees. Fallen decaying trees then often enhance habitats on the woodland floor by providing soil nutrients, by providing attractive habitats for an array of insects which can be important food sources for other wildlife, and by providing concealment for wildlife. Woodlands with a "messy" understory appearance are often preferred habitats for species such as turkey, deer, and raccoon, while "messy" woodland edges can be attractive habitat for quail. Decaying vegetation on the woodland floor can also be a popular location to search for edible mushrooms including morels.

By "opening up" the woodland stand to encourage more sunlight, additional habitat benefits may also be realized by encouraging another generation of desirable trees to sprout from remaining seed, and by promoting sun-loving vegetation that is different than surrounding vegetation found on the shady woodland floor. Woodlands that not only have diverse tree species, but diverse understory vegetation often provide better wildlife habitat, particularly for many game species.

TSI work completed in 2011 included 3 woodland tracts totaling 42 acres near the wildlife area office and north of the Neosho River. In early 2012, similar work was completed within 2 tracts totaling nearly 70 acres north of the Neosho River and near the north end of Short Creek, and along 2.7 miles of woodlands adjacent to most area creeks and rivers. In late 2012 nearly 150 acres were completed along Munkers Creek. More TSI work is planned in 2013 and will likely include additional woodlands along Short and Slough Creeks to include evaluating nearly 205 acres. Woodlands along western tributaries of Council Grove Lake will then be targeted in 2014 and beyond.

So, you may now see that peculiar blue paint within area woodlands indicates management work completed, and this work is designed to enhance woodland characteristics, ultimately enhancing habitat for wildlife, and the recreation experience for our visitors.