Until a couple weeks ago, I had never been to Kansas. But when I was invited to an event hosted by Labette County Tourism and the Association of Great Lakes Outdoor Writers (AGLOW) to hunt and fish in the heartland of America, I couldn’t pass up the chance. Rolling grasslands, friendly people, lakes teeming with fish, and thousands of acres of public access land loaded with turkey and deer had me stoked. As I took my first breath of clean Kansas air, I knew it was going to be a great trip.
On the first morning, I had the opportunity to fish Big Hill Lake with local bass fishing guru Becky Minor and outdoor writer, Dave Barus. Minor, a retired school and music teacher, participates in bass tournaments there and knows the waters well. The lake was like glass with a little morning mist rising from it, and it wasn’t long before I hooked into my first Kansas bass. We fished the shoreline structure, comprised of a mix of rocky points, fallen timber and weed beds. I was throwing a blue Chug Bug topwater lure and Dave and Becky were pitching Senko plastic worms — both tactics that produced nice fish. As we approached a rocky point on the lake I threw my lure about a foot from shore and after a few twitches of the Chug Bug, the water exploded as I hooked a nice smallmouth bass. We continued to catch a mixed bag of both smallmouth and largemouth bass for the next few hours. Big Hill Lake is known regionally as the “Deep Clear Lake” of Kansas, as it’s one of the clearest lakes of the region. It’s a public reservoir constructed by the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers and has well-maintained concrete boat ramps to accommodate easy in-and-out access. Quality fish management has helped the lake become a trophy smallmouth and largemouth bass fishery. As old mine country, Labette County also has strip mine lakes that are home a wide variety of fish including bass, crappie, bluegill and are deep enough to sustain a great trout population, and many of these waters are open to the public.
After some time on the water for spectacular bass fishing, it was time to focus on the pursuit of some cagey wild turkeys. I was lucky enough to draw a permit to hunt
on the Grand Osage Wildlife Area (GOWA), a 3,000-acre deer and turkey hunting mecca located just a few miles North of Parsons. Formerly part of the Kansas Army Ammunition Plant, the property has undergone remediation and management, and after many years became open to the public to hunt in 2010. The other hunters and I met with Rob Riggin, Manager of GOWA who gave us a safety orientation, the history of the plant, and then let us tour the property before the hunt. It was like going back in time— long brick and metal buildings lined a network of railroad tracks where millions of tons of ammunition, mortars and bombs were manufactured during World War II. The Plant also produced munitons for the Gulf War in 1991. We passed by the “bunker fields” where huge mounds of earth-covered concrete ammunition bunkers dotted the landscape in rows. In addition to the surreal atmosphere is the spectacular terrain. A mix of rolling open fields, creeks, and patches of timber provides the perfect home for wildlife. Although we were there to hunt turkey, there were deer everywhere darting in front of the truck, keeping us on our toes while driving. The Grand Osage Wildlife Area is open for archery deer hunting as well as turkey hunting. Permits to deer hunt are provided through a draw lottery. For deer hunting, if you draw a permit it truly is like winning the lottery as the area is home to Boone & Crockett trophy whitetails.
The turkey hunts work the same way. Half of our group drew tags to hunt the Osage Area, and others were fortunate enough to enjoy the generosity of Richard and Sandy Babcock. The Babcocks own some amazing prime turkey ground and graciously allowed some of our group to hunt there. Brandon Butler killed a nice tom on opening day. Back at the GOWA, Jay Vanhouten and Andrew Howard both doubled up on a couple of jakes. We hunted in pairs and I was partnered with Pat Kalmerton from Plano/Frabil/Tenzing. Pat owns Wolf Pack Adventures and loves turkey hunting more than I do. On opening morning, we called in four birds and watched them cross over a set of railroad tracks. They came in fast and instead of coming into the decoy spread, they cut down along a creek bank and right to Pat, who blasted the first one. And on the last day of the hunt, Carrie Zylka crawled
under train cars and through mud to get within range to drop a gorgeous Kansas tom.
The 3-day event known as the “Cast and Blast” is coordinated by AGLOW with the purpose of partnering tourism destinations, outdoor writers, and outdoor product representatives. Our “home” for the event was Parsons, located in southeast Kansas. In the heart of Labette County, Parsons is a vibrant community with a beautiful historic downtown district and some of the friendliest people on the planet. They cater to hunters and fishermen, as does the Kansas Department of Wildlife, Parks and Tourism. Since their tourism is managed as part of their state’s natural resources agency, it’s obvious they are serious about providing quality opportunities for out-of-state hunters and fishermen. And it’s fairly easy for non-residents to acquire hunting licenses and permits. Compared to other states, deer and turkey tag costs are extremely reasonable. They’re easy to obtain over-the-counter or can be purchased online at kdwpt.state.ks.us.
Kansas is truly the heartland of our country and an absolute sportsman’s paradise, and it’s only about 9 hours south of Chicago. To book your trip to the Land of Aahhh’s — trophy whitetail, wild turkey, and giant bass— start here:
State of Kansas Tourism- www.TravelKS.com
Labette County Tourism- www.VisitLabette.com
Kansas Department of Wildlife, Parks & Tourism- kdwpt.state.ks.us.
And here are the companies that put the “blast” in the event, check out some of the most innovative gear on the planet…