As landowners began restricting access to their land for hunters, the Kansas Department of Wildlife and Parks started accessing federal funds to lease private properties for public hunting areas. Over the years the program has grown to more than one million acres statewide. In Harvey County, there are four areas available, and a request has been made to open one of the county parks up for limited hunting.

There is an image that stands out in Gordon Schmidt's mind from a day several years ago when he spotted a small hunting party on one of his fields in western Harvey County. The image of a father and son, enjoying a day in the outdoors as they hunted for pheasants to put on the dinner table.

"I saw a father and two sons walking across my fields, looking for birds. I went and looked at the tag, and it was from Sedgwick County," Schmidt said. "I thought 'gee whiz, isn't this nice that this father can go out with his two sons and hunt?' I got to thinking about Sedgwick County, and you have to go quite a ways out of the city limits to find a place to hunt. That is what prompted me to do this, seeing that father and his two sons.

That is what led to the creation of the program — In Kansas, 97 percent of all land is privately owned. During hunters safety classes, it is drilled into students repeatedly that to hunt on private property, permission is needed from the landowner. It is also drilled that permission needs to be given in written form. 

That can be a challenge, according to Schmidt.

"It can be a hassle to find out the landowner, call them up and ask for permission,"  Schmidt said. "... If you are cold calling, they will likely say no."

That is why the program started, according to Charles Cope, of the Kansas Department of Wildlife and Parks. The WIHA program started in 1992.

"At that time they saw the writing on the wall," Cope said. "People were starting to restrict access."

In Harvey County there are four Walk-In Hunting Areas, all with signs posted that tell hunters exactly where they can, and cannot, hunt. All four of those areas are on the western half of the county. In Sedgwick County, there were none listed in the 2017 atlas. There are 31 listed in Reno County, four in McPherson County, five in Marion County and two in Butler County. Portions of the Marion County Reservoir were opened up, with required electronic permit check-in, this year.

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The Kansas Department of Wildlife and Parks recently approached the Harvey County Commission seeking an opportunity to expand access to hunting lands in the county — asking the commission to consider opening up portions of Harvey County East Park for waterfowl and archery deer hunting for a set period of time during the course of the year. The commission has not made a decision about opening parts of the park up for hunting. 

Since its inception, WIHA has grown from providing access in six counties to 200,000 acres of private land in its second year, to now offering access to more than one million acres of land through the program.

The program is funded by sportsmen dollars (through taxes on guns and ammunition, license fees, etc.) and Cope noted Harvey County’s participation in WIHA would be incentivized — with the KDWPT offering monetary compensation for use of park property. The plan Cope brought forward would utilize 47 acres of land (north of 24th Street and west of East Lake Road) for archery deer hunting and 13 acres (north of 12th Street and west of East Lake Road) for waterfowl hunting.

Financially, inclusion of the parkland in the WIHA program would bring with it a payment of $1,140.71 for the proposed archery deer hunting area and $825.36 for the waterfowl site. The former would be open to hunting from Oct. 12 through Nov. 25, while the latter would be made available from Oct. 27 to Feb. 17.

Farmers in Kansas who lease WIHA lands are paid — an average of around $2.50 per acre. The amount paid varies from  property owner to property owner.

"It depends a lot on habitat, and therefore, also the species," Cope said. "If you have habitat for deer, you have habitat for turkey too. If you have pond on it, you will have waterfowl. If you have CRP grass, you will have upland game. If you have crop field with some woody areas and CRP areas, you have habitat for a lot of different species."

Funding for the program comes from both state and federal souces — taxes levied on hunting equipment and license fees. About 75 percent of the funding comes from federal funds, while 25 percent comes from state.

"It is being paid for by people who hunt," Cope said. "... It has been a really great program. Everybody loves it. The landowners love it. The communities love it, because they pick up money because people are coming. You call, and their motels are full. Hunters buy gas and use shops and things like that."

In 2001 about 150,000 hunters spent an average of five days hunting in Kansas — and on average each hunter spent more than $113 per day for food, gas, lodging and equipment.

Schmidt estimates he has around 700 acres enrolled in the program.  Not much of a bird hunter himself, he said his properties are home to pheasant and quail.

"I have been involved in it for a several years now, and have gotten spread out in that," Schmidt said. "I have some in Harvey and in Reno (counties). ... And I have had no problems at all."

Cope said in Harvey County, some spots could also be places for hunters to try and find deer.

Every year the state publishes a hunting atlas with detailed maps of the walk-in areas, access dates, and also the state and federal land accessible to the public. The new printed atlas will be shipping in the next few weeks, and is available free of charge wherever hunting licenses are sold.