Harvesting hunters’ money
Rebel freezes at the weedy edge of a Kansas corn field. Larry Vencil, the pointer’s owner, signals his hunting partner in beside the steady dog.
A ringneck pheasant explodes from under Rebel’s nose. Bright feathers flash in the afternoon sun. The rooster’s short flight ends in a puff of feathers.
Vencil and his partner, Harry Irwin, both of Richmond, Ky., are among the many out-of-state hunters lured to the rugged country along the Kansas/Nebraska border. It is one of the best places in the U.S. to enjoy mixed-bag hunting. If you like rabbits, cottontails are plentiful. White-tailed deer are coming on like gangbusters. Hardly a day goes by that strings of Canada geese and flocks of wild ducks don’t pass overhead.
But it’s ringneck pheasant and bobwhite quail that draw most of the sportsmen. Here’s how farmers and ranchers collect extra income from hunters-and have some fun too.
Rin neck Ranch
Keith and Debra Houghton have turned bird hunting into a rural enterprise for Tipton, Kan., a farm town with a population of 300.
The Houghtons attract 800 visitors annually for bird hunting at Ringneck Ranch, a prairie valley the Houghton family homesteaded in 1872.
For hunters who want an early treat, Ringneck Ranch hunting begins in September with released pheasants on 4,800 acres of controlled hunting areas. When the regular pheasant season opens, Ringneck Ranch uses another 10,000 acres leased from local farmers.
During the three-month season, hunting creates 40 part-time jobs at the ranch. The hunting enterprise furnishes jobs for guides, bird cleaners, housekeepers and cooks.
Employees are mostly from farm families. The cooks are farm wives who enjoy showing off their skills for hungry hunters. A nearby farm raises 20,000 pheasants annually to supplement the ranch’s wild birds.
“Tipton is a small farming community that’s fighting to stay alive. The hunting related businesses help several farm families,” says Debra.
For $300 per day, Ringneck Ranch provides lodging, meals, bird cleaning, guides and dogs. Just bring a shotgun and shells. (Continued)
As land access becomes scarce, some out-of-state hunters hook up with landowners like Loren Bott, a cattleman and farmer from Linn, Kan.
Bott provides habitat for wild birds by leaving border strips of standing grain and strips of tall silage sorghum for cover in fields.
He charges $50 per day for hunting privileges and puts hunters in spare bedrooms of his home for another $25 per night. Motels in the area are often sold out during bird season.
Bott’s clients usually limit on ringnecks-if they can shoot.
Briar Patch Payoff
Dorothy and Robert Duensing of Washington County, Kan., renovated a home on one of their farms for hunter housing.
“The house was in bad shape and the area around it was overgrown, so we called it the Briar Patch,” says Dorothy.
She now rents the three-bedroom, two-bath house for three to six hunters at $25 per person nightly. It comes with a fully equipped kitchen and dining room.
Over the past five years, Dorothy has rented the house during the hunting season, which lasts from November into January.
“I wish we had more hunters during the late part of the season,” she says. “Hunters don’t damage the pheasant population during the first two weeks. They just kind of rearrange the birds.”
Do-it-yourself hunters can find opportunities at Kansas Walk-In Hunting areas. Likewise, landowners can collect dividends from their habitat without dealing directly with hunters.
In four years, the WIHA program has climbed from a 10,000-acre pilot project to 494,000 acres. Kansas Wildlife and Parks biologists identify habitat from landowner applications. Accepted landowners are paid a peracre fee.
The sliding payment scale ranges from $150 to $200 for 80 to 150 acres and up to $1,200 for 1,000 acres. Payments average $1.21 per acre, according to Kansas Wildlife and Parks Supervisor Steve Sorensen.
Landowners also receive $12 per acre for disking their Conservation Reserve Program land. Disking opens up the ground area for young quail and pheasants to travel.
A Kansas law covering private individuals who lease their land to the state for recreational purposes protects WIHA landowners from liability.
“We’re expanding the WIHA program,” says Sorensen. “Our landowner surveys give the program a high rating.”
Copyright Southern Progress Corporation Oct 2000
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