Gov. Sam Brownback will be hoping the third time is indeed the proverbial charm when he takes to the south-central Kansas turkey woods Friday morning.
Brownback will be participating in this year’s Governor’s Turkey Hunt in El Dorado. This will be his third trip to the hunt, and he’s yet to shoot a turkey.
“This is the year, I just know it’s the year,” said Brownback. “I’m going to get a turkey, if I have to get in a race car and run one down.”
While they can’t control the weather or make old gobblers come to turkey calls, hunt organizers think all should go smoothly for the 27th annual event.
“The volunteers and committees have just been exceptional, as usual,” said Janet Post, hunt director. “Everybody has a job, knows how to do their job, and they’re not afraid to do their job well. A lot of our volunteers have been helping in the 10- to 15-year range. We have (some) that have helped about every year since it began. We have some special people.”
Mike Hayden, who started the event when he was governor in 1987, is pleased with what the hunt has developed into.
“One reason I started it was to celebrate (the conservation story of) the wild turkey. Another reason was to celebrate our hunting heritage,” Hayden recently said. “Another big reason was to promote the state of Kansas. I think it’s exceeded everybody’s expectations except mine. I knew it could be big, but I know it can be even bigger.”
The first hunt featured about 20 invited hunters from Kansas and other states. Some of the first social gatherings were held in a garage, some of the guides had never hunted wild turkeys, and most of the hunting was within a few miles of El Dorado.
Post said 80 hunters are expected at this year’s event, and they’ll be taken afield by some of Kansas’ top turkey hunters as guides. They’ve been granted permission by about 200 landowners to hunt some of the best turkey habitat in the eastern half of Kansas.
Most hunters arrive Thursday afternoon, enjoy a few social events and meet their guides that evening. Hunting begins with some very early mornings on Friday and Saturday. Friday evening, hunters and guides share a dinner for landowners and other sponsors.
At 6 p.m. Saturday the hunt ends with the One Shot Banquet at the Butler County Community College Hubbard Welcome Center. (Tickets for the $10 beef tenderloin dinner must be reserved at 316-321-3835.)
The public also is welcome to visit with hunters and watch the weighing of taken turkeys from 7 a.m. to 5 p.m. Thursday and Friday at El Dorado’s Community Center, 206 N. Griffith.
Post said about 500 volunteers are donating time or items for this hunt.
The invitation-only hunt draws people from across the country. Through the years hunters have included professional athletes, politicians, actors, country recording artists, successful business people and leaders of national wildlife groups.
Invited children and veterans always play an important role as hosted hunters.
Since 1992, assorted fundraisers at the hunt have raised about $450,000 in scholarships, Post said. Named after famed Kansas wildlife artist Wayne Willis, the money has been given to about 90 Kansas students pursuing a natural resources major.
One hunter donated $500,000 to assist handicapped people in the El Dorado area. Sizable donations also have been made to a variety of local causes.
About $18,000 was raised to help with college costs for the children of Steve Harper, a Wichita Eagle outdoors writer, after his death in 2000.
Many years youth in attendance have received lifetime hunting licenses and a variety of hunting equipment.
Last year some invited hunters agreed to pay the return costs for two wounded veterans they met at the event.
This week much of the talk and attention will be focused on Brownback hoping to get his first turkey.
He’s been paired with guide Danny Armstrong, of Rose Hill, who has a 100 percent success rate with visiting hunters for more than 12 years. Armstrong’s been scouting his hunting spots daily for several weeks.
Kansas’ five previous governors, including Hayden, Joan Finney, Bill Graves, Kathleen Sebelius and Mark Parkinson, shot birds at the event during their terms. Finney and Sebelius needed repeated trips to shoot their first birds, and usually hunted both days of the event.
Each of his first two years, Brownback has hunted only one day.
His first hunt, in 2011, was a literal washout when heavy winds and downpours soaked Brownback and he got just a distant look at one waterlogged tom late in the day.
Last year he had several yearling tom turkeys, known as jakes, strut within easy range. Other hunters and guides had told him that shooting one of the gullible young birds would be like “taking your sister to prom.”
Looking back, he wishes he’d shot one of the small toms.
“I ended up not even getting to go to prom,” Brownback said of not seeing another tom on last year’s hunt. “I’m going to get one this year. I know it. I will get a turkey.”