The first thing you notice when you travel the backroads of central Kansas is that it’s a long way between farm houses.
The landscape in these parts is dominated by flat CRP fields that stretch into the horizon, sandy backroads and the shallow marshes of famous wetlands, the Cheyenne Bottoms Wildlife Area and the Quivira National Wildlife Refuge.
Some say the population of wildlife in these parts is much greater than that of humans. And they’re probably right. In the latest census, Barton County had 27,577 residents.
You’ll find more wildlife — trophy bucks, pheasants, quail, wild turkeys, ducks, geese and sandhill cranes – living here.
It’s no wonder you’ll see license plates from Alaska, South Carolina, New York, California and Missouri on vehicles parked outside motels in Great Bend once fall arrives. Central Kansas, with much of its wild look still intact, becomes a national destination for hunters in October, November and December.
“Just look at this habitat,” said Toby Hogan, who runs Innovative Outfitters, which guides hunters to everything from big bucks to pheasants. “This is heaven for wildlife.”
Much of that habitat comes in the form of large CRP fields. Those grasslands, especially the ones on private land, harbor good numbers of pheasants and quail. And despite the fact that the region doesn’t have a lot of timber, the deer thrive here, too.
“During the gun season (for deer), I’ll get hunters from as far away as Alaska and the East Coast to come here and hunt with me,” Hogan said. “A lot of the hunters from the east, they’ll see a buck (with a rack that would score 130 and they’ll get excited. They’ve never seen a buck that big where they’re from.
“But I’ll have to convince them to be patient. There are bigger ones out there.”
Hogan takes pride in telling people that a buck that had a rack scoring 187 was taken off one of his leases. And he thinks even bigger ones are still out there.
The pheasant hunting also can be impressive. On opening day this year, his group of about 15 men shot 55 birds.
The region also produces some of the nation’s best duck and goose hunting with Cheyenne Bottoms and Quivira, only 40 miles apart, drawing hundreds of thousands of waterfowl. The hunting has been below average so far this fall because of the mild weather that has delayed migrations.
But hunters and business owners anticipate better times ahead once the weather finally turns cold.
“I love to hunt, so this is a great place to live,” said Hogan, who lives in Great Bend.