KANSAS CITY, Mo. — Dennis Scharadin didn’t need a map to remind him that he was far from his home in Pennsylvania.
The minute he waded into a sea of rolling grass on a remote tract of land in north-central Kansas, he knew he was in a pheasant hunter’s paradise.
“We don’t have anything like this back home,” said Scharadin, 64, an outdoors writer from Auburn, Pa. “We have a lot of forests and some pretty rugged land.
“But I can’t think of many places back home where you’ll see big, wide-open country like this. This is beautiful.”
Scharadin had images like that in mind when he made the 19-hour drive from Pennsylvania. Like many of the nation’s upland gamebird hunters, he looked at Kansas as the promised land.
And The Sunflower State didn’t disappoint. Moments after Scharadin joined other outdoor writers for a media event at Milford Lake, bird dogs began coursing through the thick cover and shots started ringing out.
Scharadin was among those pulling the trigger. He shot pheasants that cackled loudly as they were flushed. And later, he thrilled to his first covey rise of quail.
When he shot one of the fleeing birds, he smiled and said, “That’s the first quail I’ve ever shot.”
Scharadin also experienced the excitement of a Kansas duck hunt, shooting several mallards at the Tuttle Creek Wildlife Area. And he followed bird dogs into cover on the Fort Riley army base, covering some of the same ground where troops go through maneuvers.
By the time he was done, he could see why Kansas is considered a mecca for out-of-state hunters.
“There are a lot of hunters who would be willing to travel a long ways for hunting like this,” Scharadin said. “We just don’t have anything like this.
“Pennsylvania doesn’t have quail. And most of our pheasants are stocked.
“Here, you can come out and hunt wild birds in beautiful, open country. And the people are great.
“I’ve been wanting to come to Kansas to hunt for some time, and it was everything I thought it would be. I’m glad I made the trip.”
Many others must feel the same way.
When it comes to attracting non-resident hunters, Kansas is one of the nation’s leaders. Last year, 77,034 out-of-state hunters flocked to the Sunflower State, according to license sales by the Kansas Department of Wildlife and Parks. The majority of them came for Kansas’ much-publicized pheasant and quail hunting, considered among the best in the nation. But more than 23,000 also came for the state’s deer hunting, which also is rapidly earning national fame.
“We’ve probably doubled the number of nonresident hunting permits we sell since the early 1990s,” said Mike Miller, chief of the information section for the Department of Wildlife and Parks. “A lot of that has to do with the variety we offer.
“In the past, most of our nonresident hunters came here for pheasants. But now we’ll get quite a few deer hunters. And we’ll also get hunters who are after turkeys, waterfowl and quail.
“I think our diversity really plays a part.”
So does increased access, Miller said. Through the Walk-In Hunting Areas (WIHA) program, the state leases land from farmers, then opens it to the public for hunting. That has added thousands of acres of land available to hunters and gives nonresidents a ready place to hunt.
Joe Herzog of Stafford, Va., is one of the nonresidents using that program. He and his wife have traveled to Kansas each fall since 1990 to hunt for quail and pheasants.
They make a swing through Bennington, Junction City, Russell, Larned and Emporia, hunting on private and WIHA land. Along the way, they always find birds — and incentive to return.
“Back in Virginia, we don’t have many wild pheasants or quail anymore,” said Herzog, 70, who is a retired Army colonel. “There aren’t many farmers left — and it’s hard getting permission to hunt from those who are left.
“Out here, the hunting is outstanding. And with this WIHA program, we never have to worry about finding a place to hunt.
“I know some people say that these spots get shot out, but we’ve had some good luck hunting them. I’ll just run small pieces of cover with my Vizsla and we’ll put up birds.”
Woo Daves, a nationally known professional fisherman, from Burrowsville, Va., also has an attachment to Kansas — but for a different reason.
He comes to the Sunflower State each fall to hunt for rabbits. He will bring as many as 16 beagles with him, and stay for a week, hunting both public and private land.
“I’ve been hunting rabbits in Kansas for 22 years,” he said. “The great thing is that I hardly ever bump into another rabbit hunter.
“People here don’t know what they’re missing. Kansas has a lot of rabbits, but hardly anyone hunts them.”
Kansas is one of the leaders in the region in the number of nonresident hunters it attracts. Here is a look at the nonresident hunting permits sold from 2009, provided by each state’s fish and game agency.
- South Dakota 121,773
- Colorado 104,307
- Kansas 77,034
- Missouri 30,171
- Nebraska 29,165
- Iowa 29,129
- Oklahoma 12,431
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Distributed by McClatchy-Tribune Information Services.