Kansas Deer Hunting: All It’s Cracked Up to Be?

Some years ago, nonresident bowhunters started learning that Kansas produces world-class whitetail bucks – a secret Kansas residents had apparently kept for years, even into the mid-1990’s. Of course, non-resident hunters began spilling their guts about monster bucks they’d seen in the Sunflower State during intermittent discussions with family and friends back home. Inevitably, those family and friends went and saw for themselves, thereby creating a domino effect.

Meanwhile, outdoor-TV shows have been promoting the living snot out of Kansas ever since. Today, Kansas is busy with hunters, and it’s no longer a best-kept secret. It hasn’t been for longer than a decade. So, the question is this: Is Kansas all it’s cracked up to be?

kansas

Last season I hunted many hours on a state wildlife area in Kansas, only to see young bucks and does from early to mid-November. It’s not the easy hunt that outdoor TV portrays.

Let’s review some insights I’ve gleaned by hunting in Kansas, talking with Kansas game wardens and biologists and both resident and non-resident hunters.

My brother, Joe McDougal, hunted Kansas for many years before I made my inaugural visit in 2007. Joe hunted a state wildlife area and, during several seasons, he saw at least one buck that would score higher than 200 inches. During that time he arrowed bucks scoring 177, 151 and 130, plus multiple bucks with wacky antlers that scored lower. He also missed a huge typical he believes was in the 190 class.

Progressively the area became saturated with bowhunting pressure and my first visit there was when the hunting quality was making its downward spiral. I saw very few bucks, and I misjudged a buck chasing a doe for a larger buck. Consequently, he ground-shrunk majorly when I retrieved him.

Just a few short years later, the area was a bust. Most visiting bowhunters started pulling 2- and 3-year-old bucks from the once-hot spot left and right. Why? Because a young Kansas buck with good genetics is an outstanding deer for bowhunters traveling from states like Michigan, Pennsylvania and the like. But, by Kansas standards, such bucks are just beginning to show potential. Shooting them has caused age class and deer numbers to suffer.

Inevitably, EHD made a sweep through Kansas, greatly affecting the mature-buck population in many areas. That seems to be on the mend now, but with hunting pressure at all-time highs, it’s taking longer to recover some of the age structure that was lost not so long ago.

As I write this, I’ve been bowhunting another wildlife area in Kansas for 10 days. I hoped it wouldn’t be busy, but every place that looks promising on Google Earth is already occupied by a stand or two. The place is crowded and I have yet to see a shooter while hunting. Despite that, I did see the largest wild whitetail I’ve ever laid eyes on in the headlights one morning while driving to my hunting location.  So while Kansas deer hunting may be tough, it’s sightings that like that keep bowhunters like myself grinding it out year after year.

kansas tire tracks

This is just one of the many parking areas at the state wildlife area I hunted last season. As you can see, the area was busy with other hunters.

I’ve seen a few decent bucks while driving around, but none on public land. Sure, great bucks live here, but it’s not the easy hunt outdoor TV implies. In fact, this Kansas hunt is turning out to be one of the most difficult whitetail hunts I’ve done recently, and not only because of hunting pressure, but also the lack of rutting behavior. And I’ve been here since November 4. This is supposed to be the premier time to be here. Again, it doesn’t always go as outdoor TV portrays.

bowhunting from a Kansas treestand

This was the only stand location where I wasn’t covered up in pressure from other hunters. Still, I saw zero mature bucks while hunting it.

Interestingly, most locals who are hunting premium real estate are seeing little to no mature-buck movement as well. Others who’ve been hunting this wildlife area for years are saying this is the worst hunting they’ve seen here yet, and that it’s progressively worsened over time. That’s not to say killing a mature buck here is impossible. It isn’t. It’s just very difficult, like anywhere else big bucks live. Trail camera data tells me that the bucks are here, however finding them in daylight and getting them close enough for a shot is another story.  Kansas deer hunting, for all it’s made out to be, can still be as frustrating as anywhere else.

Kansas buck trail camera photo

Trail cameras confirm there are good bucks on Kansas public land. But what good does one nighttime image of such a buck do you?

Let’s discuss some of the factors which have negatively affected Kansas deer hunting as we once knew it.

First, deer permits aren’t difficult to obtain like they once were. I drew my 2016 Kansas deer hunting tag without preference points. Many hunters I visited with and I agree that everyone would have a better hunt if we weren’t tripping over one another. Furthermore, the somewhat liberal permit numbers mean that, statistically, more bucks will be killed. Of course, many of those will be 2- and 3-year-old bucks. That quickly reduces age class and antler quality.

Kansas deer hunting is better on private lands - if you can get permission.

Kansas’ best whitetail hunting is done on private lands. Gaining permission is difficult now because most landowners have learned to make money by outfitting or leasing land for premium prices.

Still, Kansas annually produces giant bucks, and though I have yet to nail one of my own, it arguably is a better place to hunt than most whitetail states of the Midwest or East coast. Still, I’m hoping permits will become more difficult to obtain so that age class and antler quality improve – particularly on the state’s public lands – and hunting pressure reduces. Personally, I prefer to hunt lands where going deep means evading the pressure.

Despite my best efforts in fall 2016, I simply couldn’t find good places to hunt where I wasn’t within 100 yards of another hunter. It made for a frustrating, and ultimately an unsuccessful, hunt.

Comments

  1. This has got to be the dumbest article about hunting I have ever read. I’m dumber now for reading it, holy crap dude nothing is ever as easy as it seems on TV

    Reply
    • Brodie Swisher says:

      Thanks for taking the time to read the article, Dirk. Hey man, you gotta learn to say what you really feel. Don’t hold back! Haha! Seriously though, the author never mentions having thought Kansas would be as easy as it looks on TV. He didn’t go to Kansas because of what he saw on TV, he went because of his family’s history of shooting big bucks out there in the past. He’s simply talking about how the success rates have dropped dramatically for his family over the years and that Kansas public land is a much different place than what it once was.

      Reply
      • (I’ve seen a few decent bucks while driving around, but none on public land. Sure, great bucks live here, but it’s not the easy hunt outdoor TV implies. In fact, this Kansas hunt is turning out to be one of the most difficult whitetail hunts I’ve done recently, and not only because of hunting pressure, but also the lack of rutting behavior. And I’ve been here since November 4. This is supposed to be the premier time to be here. Again, it doesn’t always go as outdoor TV portrays.)
        You’re spitting hairs Brodie, the author comes off as a whiny kid who didn’t get what he wanted from Santa. Who the hell takes pictures of tire tracks in the dirt besides cops.

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        • Darron McDougal says:

          It’s unfortunate that you have falsely assumed things about me without knowing me or ever meeting me or shaking my hand. First of all, I am not a kid. I am a man … as a matter of fact, one who works incredibly hard for everything I have. Brodie has accurately summarized my intentions with the article. If there is a complaint in the article, it’s that perhaps the state should listen to hunters and reconsider the number of permits allotted for each unit. Every hunter I spoke with on the public land shared my views; we are willing to wait two or three years for a tag if it means that we get a better-quality hunt in return for the expensive tag. Although we each respected one another’s space, it was a little disheartening to be constantly bumping into others.

          As for my TV references in the article, I believe you perceived my point incorrectly. I didn’t mean that “I” was expecting to shoot a 180-inch buck like so often happens on the big screen. I know way better than that. My intention with those references was to tell those looking to go to Kansas for the first time to set realistic expectations before they go.

          And, I mentioned that the unseasonably warm early November temps — several days were in the 80s — coupled with the pressure, likely had much to do with the nocturnal buck movement, which was also experienced by some of my Kansas friends who hunt private land. Those same KS residents also said that 2016 was the weirdest KS rut they’ve ever experienced, and they’ve been documenting for years.

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          • What does shaking your hand have to do with anything? I never for one second thought you were a kid, just acting like one that doesn’t get their way. I hunt public land all the time so I know the ups and downs of it but when you write about it in a public forum in the way you wrote it it comes off whiny and you are going to have to expect some backlash learn from it and move on. Much like hunting instead of blaming the DNR for the problems learn from what you saw in the woods and share that, stop blaming things you can’t control like how many people use the public land that’s what it’s there for.

            The whole Midwest had unseasonable warm temperatures for November but there was plenty of rutting behavior you just have to find it. Talking to hunters about the rut it’s either not happening or the best hunting they ever experienced so take how ever you want to the rut is going to happen somewhere, sometime and you have to be there when it happens. I don’t know about when the peak of Kansas’s rut normally is but Southern Wisconsin’s was around Nov 10th give or take, one could assume Kansas would be later than that.

            With that all said I spent way more time on this then it’s worth but please if you write another article learn from this and how the readers interpret it and write it for them.

  2. Matthew says:

    I would say it is extremely hard for out of state hunters to come in and be successful on their own. I would say you need to go to western KS and find a local that knows the area inside and out. I have an acquaintance that used to guide and hunt exclusively walk in. He wouldn’t let his clients take less than a 4.5 140 and he himself wouldn’t shoot anything under 4.5 and 160. He was what I would call extremely successful. Over 5 years from 2007-2012 he had 78% success between himself and his clients mostly with muzzleloader and bow. But he also was the guy that put the Walk in signs up for the KDWP so he knew those places like the back of his hand and was in there quite often. I wish I would have had the opportunity to go with him. Schedules just never worked out. He was old school. He made most of his hunting clothes and shoes out of deer hide and beaver and raccoon that he trapped, could make most deer vocalizations with his own mouth and was just insanely knowledgable. He is living up in Canada last I knew.

    Reply
  3. Typical spoiled hunter complaining he can’t shoot 140″ + deer anymore. You need a reality check bub. Come hunt New England for one season.

    Reply
    • Darron McDougal says:

      Spoiled? I’m sorry, but I disagree. Every single nice buck I’ve ever taken was because I worked my tail off and went the extra distance. I don’t own land, and I rarely hunt with outfitters.

      There’s a difference between being frustrated and “complaining,” as you called it. Other hunters, if they’re hunting by the books and doing things legally, are as qualified as I am to be hunting any public land they like. I did say in the article that I personally prefer to hunt lands where hiking deep means evading the pressure. The fact that I couldn’t means there were too many hunters on the Kansas wildlife area I referenced in the article. So, if there’s a legitimate “complaint” in the article, it’s that the state should listen to hunters and reconsider the number of licenses they issue in each given unit. I’m willing to wait two or three years to draw a licence if it means that I get a quality hunt in return for the expensive tag. Other hunters I spoke with while in KS last fall agree; they, too, are willing to wait to draw a tag if it means a higher-quality hunt.

      And, as far as a reality check is concerned, I grew up hunting in northern Wisconsin where the woods gets mobbed and where managing bucks is virtually impossible because of the real-estate patchwork — 10 acres here, 5 acres there, 200-acre DNR parcel here, 3 acres there … etc. Furthermore, I wasn’t suggesting in the article that I was expecting my KS hunt to be like what TV shows portray. I know way better than that. My intention was to clarify to new bowhunters to set realistic expectations. I’d encourage you to know a person first so you don’t make false assumptions about them. That would be the wise thing to do since you’ve never even met me.

      Reply
  4. Greg Bull says:

    When you put in for the Kansas draw is it for specific zones or is it for the entire state? I understood what you were trying to get at with this article and did not feel like you were coming off as whiney or thought it was going to be easy. Everybody hopes they will see a big buck every time they go hunting and if you travel out of state you must at least half expect to see one or else why would you go ?

    Reply
    • Darron McDougal says:

      Greg, thanks for reading and perceiving my article correctly. That is exactly why I hunt other states besides my home state of Wisconsin. I can see and shoot 1 1/2-year-old bucks all I want in Wisconsin, but I’ve been hunting long enough that those bucks no longer appeal to me and haven’t for quite some time. It’s my personal goal to shoot mature bucks. So I travel to states with public lands that are known to produce big deer. In Kansas, there are 18 deer-management units. I imagine some aren’t as busy as others. I thought I was safe by choosing a wildlife area to hunt that was far from the state’s population centers (Wichita, KS City, etc.). But, dozens of other guys had the same idea. Here is a link to the unit map: link to ksoutdoors.com

      Best of luck to you!

      Reply
  5. As a native Kansan I can tell you that I would generally agree with the author. I have primarily hunted public lands for the past 20 years. There has been a severe decline in numbers as well as quality for quite some time (At least 10 years). In my humble opinion this is due to couple factors. 1. EHD – Several years ago we had the worst case of EHD in the state to date. Overall numbers hit a low a couple y ears ago and have been slowly rebounding however there have been additional isolated pockets of EHD so it is still hit and miss depending on what part of the state you are hunting. 2. Over hunting – Both the cost and the number of permits issued to Out-of State hunters along with access to over 1,000,000 public land acres at no additional charge makes Kansas a top destination state. This has led to over hunting and a great imbalance of doe to buck ratios. Most out of state hunters only acquire one tag which is a doe/buck permit. I am not aware of a single out-of state hunter that comes to Kansas to shoot does They will bag a immature buclk long before they think about taking a doe for the same reasons the author stated above. It is not uncommon for me to record 10+ doe sightings for every one buck. I know many other resident hunters share this same statistics regardless if it is private or public land. I do not claim to be a biologist but I can say with some certainty that this will not correct itself. Although the DNR has made some changes in recent years I do not believe those changes are enough to right things. In my humble opinion the Kansas DNR needs to: Raise the cost of permits. Lower the number of permits issued. Charge a nominal fee for public land access for out-of state hunters to supplement the WIHA (Walk In Hunting) program in hopes they can acquire more/better quality land.

    Reply
  6. Darron, I understand that hunting public land cans be difficult but you never mentioned in the article if you knocked on any doors to try and get on private ground. Most people and farmers in Ks. If they aren’t in it for the mighty dollar will let you hunt! Can’t be bashful just go knock on a few doors and I bet you can find private ground to hunt! Do the work and knock on a few doors and you won’t have to worry about the traffic on public ground! And I promise you if you do enough research you can find public ground with 200 class bucks on it that you can have all to yourself!

    Reply
  7. P.J. Reilly says:

    I’d have to agree with Matthew about going to western Kansas. My buddy and I hunted the early muzzleloader season in a “western area,” is all I will say. We had more public and walk-in ground than we knew what to do with, and yet we never saw a single hunter -resident or nonresident – in a solid week of hunting. Just sitting in the local restaurant in a town with fewer than 200 residents, we were offered several places to hunt on private property by the locals…And we didn’t even ask for that. Eastern Kansas gets all the hype, but you can find slammers all over.

    Reply

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