ST. PAUL, Kan. – Kevin VanDam has always been able to find common ground with his longest sponsor, Johnny Morris, owner of Bass Pro Shops.
They each share a passion for fishing and together, in their own way, have shaped the face of angling all over the world. VanDam also shares common ground with Morris’ son, John Paul, just in a different way.
The younger Morris shares VanDam’s passion for hunting.
“My father is passionate about fishing,” John Paul Morris said, while peering out of a duck blind. “It can be the worst, most miserable conditions and he’s happy as long as he’s fishing.
“For me, it can be the worst, most miserable conditions and I’m happy if I’m hunting.”
The younger Morris and VanDam shared a duck blind prior to the Dec. 2 opening of gun deer season in Kansas.
See photos of the duck hunt here.
On one side of the blind was VanDam, arguably the most accomplished bass angler in the world. And on the other was Morris, who has his own set of accomplishments in the hunting world.
Morris’ are less known, but VanDam is quick to point out just how hardcore Morris is.
“He’s an incredible natural talent,” VanDam said. “He’s like Roland Martin, one of the best, pure all-species anglers out there. John Paul is like that with hunting.”
The younger Morris has taken 29 elk with his bow, and according to VanDam “every dangerous animal in Africa with a bow.” And the list goes on.
Last season, Morris was successful deer hunting with a spear. He has recently begun practicing the art of hunting with an atlatl (pronounced adle-adle), which is essentially a stick with a handle on one end and a hook or socket that engages a light spear or “dart” on the other. The flipping motion of the atlatl propels a light spear much faster and farther than it could be thrown by hand alone.
The practice dates back to the Paleolithic era and was a common hunting tool for Native Americans.
Morris is working on becoming adept enough to hunt with the atlatl in his home state of Missouri, where it is legal. But on this hunt, he stuck to the more modern shotgun.
VanDam’s yearly deer hunt to Kansas always comes with a pit stop to duck hunt at Huckleberry Farms owned by Doug Henzlik.
“Doug invited me over a few years ago, and I look forward to coming back every chance I get,” VanDam said.
That’s normally a few days before VanDam’s twin sons Jackson and Nicholas join him and a day or two before the family returns to Michigan. John Paul Morris is often there, and the two spend more time visiting about hunting than they do fishing.
Regardless of their passions, the conditions were fantastic. Nestled in the bottoms of the Neosho River, Huckleberry Farms is an easy stopping off point for waterfowl migrating south along the Central Flyway. Similar to the flooded green-tree reservoirs of Arkansas duck hunting fame, ducks wing their way through treetops, guided by the calls of hunters.
While the action wasn’t fierce, it was steady enough to keep a crew of hunters in the woods most of the day. It didn’t hurt that the blind was outfitted with a camp stove, where VanDam spent part of the morning frying up bluegill filets for the hunting party.
“Doing it like this is more relaxing than anything else,’’ VanDam said. “It’s more social, spending time with great friends, sharing stories and getting to enjoy watching ducks work their way through the trees. It makes the whole trip a little more special.”