By Michael Pearce
Dependable income is rare in Kansas agriculture. That’s why farmer-rancher Sam Briggs is frustrated his family had to refund hunting lease money when a group of Mississippi hunters didn’t get Kansas deer permits this year.
He estimates money from hunting leases makes up 25% to 30% of ag-related money that his aging parents, Carl, 82, and Janice, 76, rely on for retirement.
“That’s quite a bit of money and you learn to depend on it,” said Briggs, adding his family has utilized lease money for the last 10 years from their Lyon and Osage county properties. “We got to where we were also comfortable with who was hunting on our land. This year, it’s just not there.”
Briggs sent a well-written email to the governor, other politicians, the Kansas Department of Wildlife, Parks and Tourism, and Kansas Farmer. He is hoping for a solution to the problem that the email said cost his parents $20,000 this year. He also noted that “Landowners, especially farmers and ranchers … should have the right to pursue all revenue streams available.”
His message asked for more deer permits so landowners wouldn’t have to turn away the often-needed income.
Mike Miller, assistant secretary of wildlife, fisheries and boating at the Department of Wildlife, Parks and Tourism, said simply increasing the numbers of permits could lead to more problems.
He said the agency faces a “balancing act,” of ensuring the quality of the state’s deer herd, and what’s best for landowners and Kansas resident hunters.
This is the first year there weren’t enough non-resident deer permits in all areas to meet demand after the annual springtime drawing. For several years, though, there were scattered deer management units where non-resident demand was higher than the permits allowed.
Briggs said another group of Michigan hunters was able to draw permits and will pay welcome lease fees to his parents. The Mississippi group, who didn’t draw, will be shown a preference and easily draw next year.
Miller said about 91% of those who applied drew requested permits this year. About 24,000 out-of-state hunters applied for Kansas’ 22,000 non-resident permits.
Kansas is more non-resident hunter friendly than most states. Currently about 24% of those who hunt deer in Kansas don’t live here. That’s the fourth-highest percentage in the nation. In Iowa, Kansas’ top rival for trophy whitetails, it often takes non-residents three to five years to draw in some areas because permit numbers are so low.
While deer populations and non-resident permit numbers have been staying stable for several years, demand continues to grow.
“We’ve become one of those destination places hunters really want to go to for a chance at a trophy deer,” said Miller, citing many television shows about Kansas’ big bucks
Maintaining an abundance of trophies means not over-harvesting young bucks. That’s something many non-residents support, even if it means they don’t draw permits annually.
Miller said the department also looks at the needs of resident hunters, too. The more opportunities that are created for non-residents, the fewer there are for residents. Often that means finding places to hunt on private land. Few residents can, or will, compete with out-of-state hunters when it comes to paying lease fees.
In his email, Briggs said he’s sympathetic with resident hunters, but “hunting lease money helps to make land payments and pay state property taxes, and landowners pay a lot more in property taxes than the average [resident] hunter.”
To get more permits available, Briggs suggests only increasing non-resident archery permits to meet demand. He feels the impact on herd numbers would be less since archery success rates are about half those of gun hunters.
Each of the last two years, Rep. Ken Corbet, R-Topeka, has authored a bill to allow landowners to transfer their personal deer hunting permits to non-residents.
“The landowner would have to have at least 80 acres. The permit would only be good on land that landowner owns. They don’t get another for their own hunting,” said Corbet, who outfits deer hunters as part of his Ravenwood Hunting Lodge. “It sure seems like a no-brainer way to do something for landowners who … are having to deal with crop damage and things like antlers in tractor tires.”
The Department of Wildlife, Parks and Tourism opposed, and helped defeat, Corbet’s bill both years. Miller said a past transferable permit system was eventually stopped because of a myriad of problems, such as permits going to landowners with no deer or habitat, fraudulent applications, and other abuses.
Under Corbet’s proposal, the agency fears the permits would skyrocket as landowners who don’t currently hunt would get the transferable permits and offer them for sale.
Miller said the agency is not sure if non-resident permit numbers will increase for the 2020 deer seasons. Many things need to be considered.
Briggs has a “wait and see” attitude.
“I never wanted to cause a lot of waves. I just wanted to get the word out the problem the current system has caused my parents,” he said. “I don’t think [the Department of Wildlife, Parks and Tourism] hear a lot from landowners about these things. Maybe this will get other landowners to get more involved.”
Pearce writes from Lawrence.