Within a few weeks, Randy Smith will be deep into the silent solitude of hunting deer with a bow and arrow near his home east of Elbing.
This weekend, though, Smith shared some of his favorite deer woods, hunting blinds, out buildings and yard with 60 to 70 people who, too, will shortly be spending their own lonely days afield doing the same.
“A lot of this is just about the camaraderie, people showing up that we may not see a lot of, but we’re still all good friends,” Smith said about the Kansas Bowhunters Association’s annual summer rendezvous held on his 18 acres Friday through Sunday. “We’re really kind of one big family with a lot in common. Plus we always have a lot of great food. Food always brings people.”
Dave Easton drove down from his home near Tuttle Creek Reservoir to help get things ready on Friday. He joined the KBA in 1974, the year after the organization was started.
“It was started at a carp shoot by Great Bend,” Easton said. “Some guys got together and decided that the bowhunters of Kansas needed a unified voice.”
At the time, archery deer hunting was new across the nation, and Kansas had only had eight deer seasons in modern times.
Easton said one of the club’s first, and most important, goals was to get politically active about hunting and wildlife-related issues. They worked diligently to help the state game department adapt reasonable equipment requirements for archery deer hunting, create archery turkey and antelope seasons and expand bowhunting opportunities. They have also been an organized front when a regulation or bill involved hunting, especially big game hunting, in Kansas.
“I know we used to make a difference, to get people to listen, but I don’t know anymore,” said Easton, referring to an increased frequency of the state legislature taking wildlife management away from the Kansas Department of Wildlife, Parks and Tourism. “It’s pretty frustrating.”
The group has certainly made a difference in terms of conservation. For years they’ve sponsored rewards up to $500 for information that led to the conviction of poachers. After the horrendous reservoir floods of 1993 destroyed thousands of acres of habitat on public hunting areas, the group began an annual project of planting trees and other plants for wildlife on public lands.
“We figured up one time we’d planted well over 100,000 trees, and that was six or eight years ago,” said member Barry Raugust.
Marvin Whitehead, KBA president, said the group has more than 600 members, and named some that traveled to the rendezvous from near the Colorado and Missouri borders. The group’s other events draw well, too. That includes a February convention with an awards banquet and club archery hunts for rabbits, cottontails and such legal bow-fishing targets as carp, gar and catfish.
Easton said he’s missed some of those events, but he’s never missed a summer rendezvous, which he said probably started in the 1980s. He was one of the first to arrive Friday afternoon. By dusk, campers, tents and a teepee were packed around Smith’s farmyard. Most had fed on venison fajitas cooked by Smith and member Chris Roberts.
The next morning, after a big round of biscuits and gravy, members grabbed their bows and headed town a path that led to more than a dozen foam archery targets placed by Smith.
“You didn’t bring nearly enough arrows,” member Skip Lloyd said looking at Raugust’s quiver, “and you never want to bring your best arrows to one of Randy’s shoots. He kind of has a sadistic side when it comes to targets. He always makes it tough.”
Most archers who shot Smith’s course came back missing some arrows. Some of the shots were longer than most shooters were accustomed. Several stations had unique challenges, such as one where the shooter dropped a marble in a slightly angled pipe, then had to nock, draw and release an arrow before the marble rolled into a buck 6 feet away. At another station, shooters spun a wheel to learn on what colors they had to place their feet amid three raised circles.
Wandering back from shooting, members gathered under shade trees and awnings. Some told new hunting stories while others told old favorites. Raugust said it was the 17th time he’d heard one of Easton’s tales from a hunt in south Texas. Everybody around the table laughed first at the story, then at the comment.
“That’s the way it goes around here all weekend,” Smith said. “Some people say they just have to come to get their KBA fix. We always have a lot of fun.”