Photo by BillKinney.com
Kansas deer hunting is a pastime cherished by many. The tradition started in 1965 with Kansas’ first modern-day deer hunting season. Fewer than 4,500 permits were issued for a short season in specific portions of the state. In total, 160 deer were killed by 1,220 archers, and 1,340 deer by 3,935 firearms hunters.
In virtually every year of the last four decades, the state has made changes to everything associated with the regulation of deer hunting, the object being to increase opportunity and/or to accommodate groups and individuals concerned with or affected by wild deer. As a result, such things as negotiating the permit-issuing process and the season structure and interpreting state statutes governing the sport have become increasingly difficult to manage.
In an effort to simplify this legal and administrative hodgepodge for Sunflower State deer hunters, the Kansas Department of Wildlife and Parks recently undertook the effort of creating a more user-friendly deer hunting season with easier-to-understand regulations and information.
“It really started when the 2005 House Wildlife and Tourism Committee of the Kansas Legislature asked the agency to look at our deer-related statutes and bring recommendations back the following session on ways to condense and simplify those statutes,” said Mike Miller of the Kansas Department of Wildlife and Parks. “We kept getting changes to our deer permitting and our deer management programs through the Legislature. Those statutory requirements had become a complicated collection of statutes.”
Miller was assigned the monumental task of chairing a 10-member task force made up of KDWP personnel from across the state to address the Legislature’s request. Most of the members had more than 20 years’ service with the KDWP and were deer hunters themselves, so they had a firm grasp on the mood of their fellow enthusiasts. In the course of their initial meetings, held regularly, the members quickly realized that the system had become increasingly complicated.
“As our deer hunting tradition grew and specialty groups wanted special seasons and special equipment restrictions, and as the resource grew and the opportunities became more available, we got into this entire permitting process,” Miller said. “One of the analogies was that we started out with a one-room house and we kept adding rooms on and kept adding rooms on. We eventually created a maze of regulations that was difficult to navigate through.”
More changes were implemented in the 1990s as deer populations in some parts of Kansas got a black eye. “Residents of Kansas thought we had too many deer as deer/vehicle accident numbers increased, and we had lots of deer depredation complaints from landowners with crop damage. Management shifted from protecting a limited resource to controlling a growing population,” Miller noted. “Not only were we trying to make adjustments through the regulatory process, but we were getting statutory changes as well, and it became something almost impossible to keep up with as it changed so much from one year to the next.”
Miller admitted that the tangle of cumulative changes sowed confusion among not only hunters but many department personnel as well. The deer task force came out with a set of draft recommendations in 2006 and presented those to the Legislature.
“But we asked them to give us another year to collect public input because there were so many stakeholders that could be affected by these changes, and they agreed,” Miller said. “During that extra year, we went to the public through our commission meetings, our KDWP blog, direct-mail surveys and e-mail comments, and then in August of 2006 we held 14 public meetings around the state to go over the draft recommendations and receive input from hunters, landowners and anyone else who desired to provide input.”
Through those public contacts, Miller received literally thousands of comments from various people with an interest in Kansas’ deer hunting.
“It wasn’t overwhelming,” Miller said of the response. “Most of the input we got was from the people most passionate about it, those who actually took the time to comment or come to a meeting, where we had anywhere from a couple dozen people to about 80 people.”
Some attendees commonly voiced particular concerns, said Miller, and he understood the reasons for them. “Nobody really liked the transferable permit system we had,” he noted. “Resident hunters didn’t like that transferable permit. And they also resented non-resident hunters, because they feared losing their hunting areas to leasing.”
Miller observed that surveys have shown that the income level of non-resident hunters was higher than that of the average resident hunter. And when non-residents come to Kansas, they have the disposable income and are willing to pay that kind of money to hunt Kansas. “So it’s not a perceived threat, but a real threat,” Miller said. “There was a lot of resentment toward outfitters, and there was quite a bit of division at all the meetings among distinctive groups.”
Miller also related that landowners have looked at deer hunting differently as well over the last few years. Throw them into the mix of vested-interest groups, and it becomes increasingly difficult to please everyone with an interest or stake in a natural resource actually owned by the people of Kansas.
“I think that’s one of the problems we have in managing our resource now,” Miller explained. “There are so many distinctive groups like bowhunters, rifle hunters, landowners and outfitters, and there wasn’t ever a meeting where we had just ‘deer’ hunters. They were all divided into specialized groups — and they each want something different out of the program.”
Despite the daunting task of trying to please most of the people most of the time, the KDWP deer task force tried to incorporate some of the concerns most frequently expressed, knowing they couldn’t make everyone happy. With those comments in mind, the deer task force went back to the drawing board to adapt the recommendations to reflecting as many special-interest requests as possible while still maintaining control of the deer population.
“Our initial recommendations really changed quite a bit,” Miller said. “Initially, we were looking at two big units for resident and nonresident whitetail hunters in an east unit and a west unit. And we looked at where we had leftover non-resident permits the last couple of years and considered making those permits available over the counter.
“Demand for non-resident permits has remained stable, and we wanted to get away from the rare, highly sought-after permit that justified the transferable permit system. However, residents feared an onslaught of nonresident hunters if permits were available over the counter.”
Non-resident hunters surveyed by the KDWP didn’t care whether or not they had one big unit, as most went to one area of a specific landowner at a specific time. As a result, the 19 management units were retained rather than opening up the entire state; in addition, permit quotas were kept for non-residents. Resident options were liberalized, and many residents voiced positive comments with regard to some of the changes.
“We then took those changes to the Legislature in 2007,” Miller said of the process, now nearly completed. “We were successful in getting those statutes changed that now gave us the ability to go through the regulatory process and make the changes we wanted to make.”
One of the biggest changes that will take place for 2008 deer hunting seasons will be that resident hunters may purchase a whitetail either-sex permit valid statewide during any legal season with the appropriate equipment. Thus, a resident can use that permit to hunt with a legal muzzleloader during the early muzzleloader season, with archery equipment during the archery season, and with a rifle during the firearms season to take one (and only one) antlered deer.
“That’s a pretty dramatic change,” Miller said of the any-season permit, which will cost the same as any other similar-type permit in 2007: $32.15. “We didn’t recommend any price difference, because we’re not offering any alternative. You can’t buy just a rifle permit or just a muzzleloader permit now.”
According to Miller, another change involves the terminology of game tags and antlerless-only whitetail permits. The vague distinction between the two was revealed both in terminology and in a major price discrepancy between them, as game tags were $12.15 and antlerless-only whitetail permits were $32.15. Both allowed the taking of antlerless white-tailed deer, but they couldn’t be used in the same areas. Game tags were valid only on private land and in specific units, while antlerless-only permits were valid statewide on both private and public land.
“It was confusing,” Miller said. “We had the game tags to control deer populations, and in some units you could get one game tag, and in others you could get up to four.”
For 2008 the KDWP will issue whitetail antlerless permits. The first one purchased will be valid statewide on public or private land. The additional whitetail antlerless permits that may be purchased will then be limited to specific units valid on private land and certain designated public areas.
“And all those permits will be $15 (plus a small issuance fee) for residents,” Miller explained. “They will still be valid during any legal season with the appropriate equipment, and both any-season whitetail permits and antlerless whitetail permits will be available over the counter to residents.”
Archery hunters who don’t want to buy the either-sex any-season whitetail permit can now buy a statewide either-sex, either-species permit. This permit is virtually the same as the one available prior to archery hunters having to pick only two small units to hunt within the state, an option not popular among the majority of bowhunters. The only advantage to an archery hunter buying this permit is that it allows the harvest of a mule deer buck or doe during the archery season. But it remains an archery-only permit valid only during the archery season.
“The either-species firearms permits will still be really similar to what we’ve done in the past,” Miller noted of the coveted permits, which allow the rifle hunter to shoot either a mule deer or a whitetail in certain western units. “We’re still going to have a limited number, there will still be a draw (during the first two weeks in July), and preference points will be given to unsuccessful applicants.”
One change for successful any-deer firearms permit holders will be expansion of the hunting units. “Right now there are nine units in the western part of the state where we have any-deer permits available, and we’re looking at combining those and letting a resident hunter hunt in more than one of those areas, giving them more flexibility,” explained Miller. “And there will still be muzzleloader any-deer permits.”
Non-residents, who’ve been coming to Kansas since it opened its boundaries in 1994, will also see some changes. “We’re going to keep our deer management units in place for nonresidents (and they’ll still be in place for antlerless permits for everyone),” Miller said. “They’ll have to apply for an archery, muzzleloader or firearms permit for a whitetail.”
Non-residents will select a unit to apply in and will then be able to select one adjacent unit in which they’ll also be able to hunt, which frees up some of those places that are right on the boundaries of units.
In the past, non-residents could hunt a Kansas mule deer by applying for a limited number of muzzleloader any-deer permits. “In 2008,” stated Miller, “a non-resident applying for an archery or a firearms whitetail either-sex permit in designated units can also check a box that puts them into a drawing for one of a limited number of mule deer stamps, which is an additional $100 if they are drawn. If they’re drawn, their permit will be converted to an either-species, either-sex permit.”
Each management unit’s non-resident permit quotas will be set according to past demand. In recent years, some units have had leftover permits in the eastern part of Kansas, so the obvious demand has been met in those areas. However, others are still not meeting demand.
“In each one of our 18 management units, we’re going to look at an average from the last six years of actual non-resident demand for permits, and we’ll set those quotas to try to meet that demand,” Miller explained. “That was one of the compromises we made to get rid of that transferable permit. That shouldn’t be an issue, as demand has stayed fairly steady over the last four years.”
The previous allotment of non-resident permits was based on a percentage of the number of resident permits sold the previous year. Because of that formula, some units were assigned very few non-resident archery permits, and certain landowners were frustrated because they could get twice as many firearms permits as they could archery permits.
“They really preferred some of those archery hunters, as they felt the archery hunters had less of an impact on the resource,” Miller said. “And there was a demand for archery permits. So now there will just be a pool of whitetail either-sex permits in a given unit, and non-residents will select how they choose to hunt when they apply.”
In the past, non-residents who had a firearms permit could hunt with a muzzleloader during the early muzzleloader season or with a muzzleloader or centerfire during the regular firearms season. “If they select a muzzleloade
r, that’s the only piece of equipment they can hunt with,” Miller said. “They can come in September and hunt with a muzzleloader and then come back in December for the firearms season, but they have to use a muzzleloader.”
Future allotments of non-resident permit numbers will be based on “adjustment factors.” “The adjustment factors include deer population trends, deer/vehicle accidents, age structure within the harvest, landowner desire for more or fewer permits, and the overall health of the habitat,” Miller stated. “This will give us the ability to make adjustments in the event we have some major problem in a unit where we need to drop numbers back, or increase them in areas where deer numbers continue to climb.”
The laws and seasons relating to deer hunting in Kansas will continue to be difficult for some to comprehend, but the structures have been simplified, and at the same time more opportunities are available for both resident and non-residents. It’s an issue that the KDWP has spent a considerable amount of time on, likely more than any other project in the last couple of decades.
“It’s one of those situations that encompass an emotional, volatile issue, and you have a lot of pretty divergent stakeholders,” Miller concluded. “Pleasing everyone was going to be really difficult, and there weren’t any easy answers. But at least now we have some biological factors involved, we have some control to make adjustments, and people have had some input regarding those changes. That didn’t always happen in the past.”