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Celebrating Christmas with some hunting on the Cherokee Strip

Jim Vanek
Greeley, Colo.

The silhouettes stand out on the horizon overlooking the Oklahoma-Kansas border. If you listen carefully, you can hear the longhorns as they make their way along the Chisholm Trail to the “Border Queen” town of Caldwell, Kan. It’s 1885 again.

Home for the holidays and hunting along the Cherokee Strip; this is one of my favorite times of the hunting season.

The Cherokee Strip is that part of Western history that gave the Oklahoma Sooners their name. From Caldwell to Medicine Lodge, Kan., in 1893, the settlers lined up for the rush into the Oklahoma Territory to claim lands that the government was giving away. Some “jumped the gun.”

In October of 1867, Medicine Lodge Creek was the site where a set of three treaties were signed between the United States of America and several American Indian tribes.

Western history abounds in south-central Kansas, and it also serves as home to a healthy population of white-tailed deer, bobwhite quail and ring-necked pheasants.

Each year as our family gathers to celebrate Christmas in Caldwell, I look forward to hunting with family and friends.

Caldwell High School’s class of 1965 produced a few prolific hunters – they also serve as my guides while my family and I are visiting.

Don Herbert, Gary McDonald and Lee Johnson grew up in Caldwell and were standout high school athletes for the Bluejays – so they say. Seems like the older we get, the better we were.

McDonald lives in Caldwell and is an exec with the John Deere Corporation. Herbert lives in Garland, Texas, and owns an insurance business. Johnson is a judge with the Kansas State Court of Appeals in Topeka.

I have information from a “relatively” reliable source, a classmate of theirs and a “relative” of mine, my wife Virginia, that my three guides were also honor students – my, how perceptions change over 45 years.

Having grown up in the area, we have access to some wonderful wildlife habitat. The Cherokee Strip and Chisholm Trail are totally different habitat from that in eastern Colorado and western Kansas.

Rainfall is plentiful, so crops are planted and harvested back-to-back – there is never, or rarely, fallow ground. That is ground that is left idle for several months just to absorb moisture.

Upland game birds like the bobwhite quail and pheasants depend on the waterways in tilled fields and hedge rows that were planted during the Dust Bowl era.

You need to hunt in pairs in this type of habitat. You rarely see a dozen to 15 hunters lined up and pushing birds to blockers like you see in eastern Colorado and western Kansas.

One of my initial experiences with my guides occurred several years ago when Verl Misak, a retired Caldwell teacher and farmer – and my wife’s high school driver education teacher – took me and Herbert to a quarter section (160 acres) of prime pheasant habitat. Misak wanted to watch my German shorthaired pointers work.

That was the beginning of a wonderful friendship. Herbert and I make it a point to get together for a holiday hunt each year.

This year we carried on the tradition. Herbert made a terrific shot with his Beretta 12 gauge shotgun on a rooster in a grassy waterway east of Caldwell.

In the back of my mind I was thinking that that waterway had to be part of the Cherokee Strip.

The next day, after church in Corbin, Kan., I took a limit of four roosters very near the Chisholm Trail marker on old highway 44.

Knowing a little of the history of the area that I’m hunting makes that hunt more special for me.

Local folks tell me that they can hear the bellow of all those steers coming to the railhead in Caldwell when they’re out in the evening near those silhouettes just south of the Border Queen.

I’m sure that Jesse Chisholm is pleased.

Jim Vanek is a longtime hunter who lives in Greeley with his family.


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