More Kansas farmers leasing land to outfitters

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Outfitters target private farmland for game hunting.

The Associated Press

Sunday, December 30, 2001

Hutchinson — Some Kansas hunters are concerned they are being pushed out in favor of commercial outfitters and groups of hunters willing to pay for exclusive places to hunt.

"It's a big business — that's what hunting's turned into in Kansas," said deer hunter Rod Snyder of Pratt. "Any more if you don't own land or don't have a large sum of money to lease some land, you'll have a hard time finding a good place to hunt."

Farmers have leased their land to hunters for years. But increasingly, outfitters are coming to Kansas because of its outstanding white-tailed deer herd and a relatively untapped and lucrative market.

Mike Miller, information and education specialist with the Kansas Department of Wildlife and Parks, said 147 licensed outfitters and associate guides operated in Kansas in 1997, and rose to 373 in 2000.

Ernest Randel, Greensburg, said he has leased 1,240 acres to Rattlesnake Creek Ranch outfitters for the past three years.

Bringing revenue to state

"Most of the ones that hunt are from out of state — New York, Florida, all sorts of places," Randel said. "The outfitter puts 'em up and feeds 'em. He provides a guide and they're made aware of cleaning up their trash and not shooting up things."

According to a 1996 study for the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, hunting generated more than $250 million in revenue for Kansas in 1996. That study is being updated this year.

Deer-permit changes approved by the Legislature two years ago were intended to cut the size of the state's deer herd, following an increasing number of car-deer accidents and complaints about deer damage to farmers' fields.

Lloyd Fox, big-game coordinator for the parks department, estimated the state's deer population at between 350,000 and 400,000. He said car-deer accidents peaked at 10,000 two years ago, with 350 injuries and five fatalities.

Cutting car-deer accidents

Spurred by the Legislature, the parks department allowed more female deer and antlerless young males to be shot and also extended the hunting season. Car-deer accidents dropped to 9,500 last year, Fox said.

"Our target is to get back to a level of vehicle accidents we saw in the 1980s and early 1990s, in the 6,000-accident range," Fox said. "At some point our efforts will decrease hunting success rates and increase complaints from hunters. But fewer deer accidents will reduce complaints from the general public."

In 1999 the Legislature voted to give landowners with at least 80 acres access to half the state's nonresident deer permits. The landowners were allowed to sell them to anyone. In 2001, the state issued 1,700 such permits to landowners.

Tim Tedder, a former state representative from Hutchinson, was on the committee that worked out the permit changes.

"The intent was to try to give farmers a chance to profit from the deer herd in the state of Kansas," Tedder said. "We limited it so as not to adversely impact resident Kansas hunters. One of the major problems of allowing farmers to sell their permits was that it might lock out local hunters. That was a major concern of ours."

To prevent that, the parks department initiated the "Walk In Hunting Area" program. The state leases private land for about $1 an acre, giving the landowner a small amount of revenue and hunters a place to hunt for free.
 

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