Kaden Buer is headed to the Kansas Governor’s Turkey Hunt in El Dorado this week. But rather than enjoying the springtime prairie, and following the siren song of gobbling birds, Buer will put in 20-hour days helping others have a great time. That may mean 3 a.m. wake-ups to make box lunches for 75 visiting hunters and a myriad of other chores. Should he have a few spare minutes, he’ll probably hit the books, to make up for classes he’s missing at Fort Hays State University.
Buer said he owes a lot to the event that’s in its 29th year.
He’s one of dozens of students who have benefited from the hunt’s scholarship program for state residents pursuing a natural-resources-related major at a Kansas college.
“The scholarship has been huge. Having it really helps me get through college and graduate school with hardly any debt,” Buer said of the average of $1,000 per semester he gets from the Governor’s Hunt. “I’ve been on the scholarship for four years and they’re still helping.”
The hunt has raised $1 million for local causes, including about $400,000 for scholarships, said Janet Post, turkey hunt director.
Post, who has been involved in the hunt for about 22 years, said the scholarships, hunt programs that get wounded military and public service veterans afield, and a youth program, are some of the hunt’s largest goals.
“It’s really impressive, what it’s done,” Post said. “There’s no reason why it shouldn’t keep getting better.”
She’s hoping special gifts to be auctioned after this year’s hunt will help those programs continue and grow.
Gov. Mike Hayden, in 1987, started the hunt as a way to showcase the Kansas outdoors and bring tourists and businesses to south-central Kansas. Since then, the hunt has hosted professional athletes, television personalities, chart-topping musicians, beauty pageant winners and some of America’s most successful business people.
Gov. Sam Brownback has been the sixth Kansas governor to attend the event. This year he’s bringing his youngest son, Mark, and a son-in-law, Eric Teetsel.
Mark “is only 17 so this will be his first hunt for anything, so he’s excited about that and I’m excited,” Brownback said. “We’re going to be having kind of a family competition.”
“I have a tremendous amount of respect for the people of El Dorado, and the job they’ve done with this through the years,” Brownback said. “It’s all top-flight and a great way to market the outdoors of Kansas.”
Post relies on hundreds of volunteers who dedicate thousands of hours to the hunt. This year she has a group of about 80 local hunting guides to take visiting hunters afield. Most of the guides have been with the event for years and have already invested many hours getting permission to take a visiting hunter on private land, then scouting to learn the pattern of birds on those lands. Planning for the hunt begins shortly after the previous one ends.
Neil Buckman has been volunteering for 27 years and estimates he donates 80 hours annually to the event.
“It fills up our motels and stimulates the local economy so it’s helping my customers,” said Buckman, who works for a local insurance company. “It’s a fun group of people. It’s a way for me to give back to our community.”
Buckman remembers when Jeanette Rudy, a repeat hunter from Tennessee, pledged $500,000 to assist special-needs kids in Butler County. “Ms. Rudy,” as she was called, repeatedly told the media she had come to think of the people of El Dorado as family.
Buckman also remembers the start of the college scholarship program after Gov. Bill Graves won a shotgun, then donated it back to the hunt to be auctioned. For 15 years those who bought “The Gun” donated it back to be auctioned the following year, raising $220,000 in the process. Every year the hunters get to meet current scholarship recipients, like Buer, who help with the event.
For several years a muzzle-loading shotgun that once belonged to Steve Harper, The Eagle’s outdoors writer who died in 2000, was repeatedly auctioned to raise about $17,000 for the college educations of his daughters.
Hunters at the event also help fund a program that brings six Kansas youth, selected based on an essay contest and accomplishments, to the hunt. Most years a sponsor pays to outfit the kids in hunting clothing. Many years they’ve received shotguns and lifetime hunting licenses.
The “Hunting Heroes” program brings in three military, police or fire department veterans injured in the line of duty.
Most of the donations come from the 150 sponsors and the annual auction held during the One Shot Banquet on the event’s final night.
Post is hoping two unique items raise some serious money this weekend.
Last year she was unexpectedly contacted by John Iacopi, a California collector of wildlife art. He told Post he’d read about the event and wanted to donate two M. Wayne Willis original paintings. Willis had a long career as arguably the best Kansas wildlife artist of his time. He died in 1991.
Most of his paintings captured wildlife in the Flint Hills or marshes of central Kansas. The paintings being auctioned depict coveys of bobwhite quail in flight. One scene is in the fall and the other a snowy winter day. Post thinks the paintings will do well, because of Willis’ local reputation and the cause the sales will support.
“It’s like a gift from heaven, getting those paintings for this year,” she said.
Kansas Governor’s Turkey Hunt
Hunting is by invitation only.
The public is invited to witness birds being weighed and to visit with the hunters, at the 4-H Building, 206 N. Griffith in El Dorado, between 7 a.m. and 5:30 p.m. Friday and 7 a.m. and 5 p.m. Saturday. Lunches may be purchased at the weigh-ins between 11 a.m. and 2 p.m.
The One Shot Banquet will be held Saturday at the Butler Community College Hubbard Welcome Center. Doors open at 6 p.m. The buffet dinner with beef tenderloin begins at 6:30 p.m. Awards and live and silent auctions will follow. Tickets are $10 and, if still available, can be purchased by calling 316-321-3835.
By the numbers
$400,000: Approximate scholarship funds raised at the Governor’s Turkey Hunt, for Kansas college students pursing outdoors-related degrees
$500,000: Amount that Jeanette Rudy, a past participant in the hunt from Tennessee, donated to special-needs students in El Dorado
$220,000: Amount raised from the auctioning of the same shotgun from 1996-2011, for scholarship money
1,011: Combined years of guiding experience at the Governor’s Hunt from the current pool of 80 guides
500: Average number of volunteers who help with the Governor’s Turkey Hunt
205: Number of Kansas landowners who volunteer their property to host guides and hunters this year
86: Number of youth who have been hosted at the hunt, all expenses paid, through the years.