Hunting opportunities are difficult to come by in Kansas given the fact that so much of the land is privately owned, but it's about to get a little easier in Harvey County thanks to the county commission voting to approve limited hunting at East Park.
Thanks to the efforts of the Wichita chapter of Delta Waterfowl, those wheels were set in motion — in particular, former president Chad Dawson was spurred to action due to a bit of an advertising misnomer.
Knowing how limited hunting opportunities are, Dawson said he was looking for spots about five years ago when he stumbled upon the Harvey County Parks Department's website. The website advertised a duck blind for use at East Park, but after some quick calls Dawson found out that was no longer the case.
A few years passed and Dawson checked back on the website. Seeing the non-existent duck blind still listed as an amenity at the park, Dawson reached out to Parks Director Kass Miller to see how that feature could be made a reality — with the realization that it was a project that fit perfectly with the mission of Delta Waterfowl to encourage new hunters and promote more hunting opportunities.
One of the biggest current efforts of the Wichita chapter of Delta Waterfowl in fostering more hunting opportunities is the members and volunteers helping lead guided hunts, along with the youth field days put on to help educate the next generation of hunters.
"We run eight or 10 stations for kids to go to and learn the basics of water fowl hunting," Dawson said. "We teach gun safety, we do a little trap shooting, blind setup, decoy strategies, duck calling. We'll have a new one this year; it'll be refurbishing your decoys."
Dawson and fellow members/volunteers lead the field day on his family's land between Andover and Augusta, and that then transitions into an opportunity to go on a guided hunt — a tremendous experience for youth.
Eventually, Dawson said the local chapter would like to offer something similar for adults — a little more in-depth introduction — though members like current president David Kirchner are happy to promote the organization's mission and encourage new hunters on their own time as well.
"I get new hunters out whether they're 50 years old or 7 years old," Kirchner said.
Getting the blinds installed at Harvey County East Park was viewed as a measure that could help further that engagement for both novice and seasoned hunters, but Dawson noted in initial talks insurance liability was a big concern. Shortly after that first meeting with Harvey County Parks, though, national representation reached out with an idea to get the Kansas Department of Parks, Wildlife and Tourism involved. Through that partnership, the proposal was rolled into the KDWPT's Walk-In Hunting Access program — providing a lot of incentives to the county for use of its land.
Additionally, the Wichita chapter of Delta Waterfowl offered to fund the construction of the blinds (a total of four with the potential for an ADA accessible blind). Given the green light by the Harvey County Commission, the organization and its volunteers are getting ready to start in on that work.
"Now it's kind of on our shoulders to finish it out," Dawson said. "We've had several people from the community around Newton volunteer to come in and help. We'll have a build day and then we'll have to set up a brush in day. We usually do that shortly before the season starts."
"Once those (blinds) are done, we'll seal 'em, we'll paint 'em, whatever it is, to make sure they don't rot." Dawson said. "Then, it's a matter of gathering brush, leaves, grass, just natural vegetation that we can pile onto the blind ... just so that it doesn't look so much like a box next to the water."
The duck season opens Oct. 27, with a build day planned for September and the finishing touches to be completed the following month.
Volunteers can be as heavily or as minimally involved as they want in Delta Waterfowl, Dawson noted, but he has personally bought in because he has seen the impact the organization's work has had among youth on those field days — as those young hunters dropping their first bird can be quite the experience to witness. Working towards extending and conserving the opportunities available, he knows just how important it is to continue those efforts — and that Delta Waterfowl is not alone in that fight.
"We're all working for the same mission and that's to advance hunting and provide opportunities. I think that's something we should all be trying to do. If we call ourselves sportsmen, that's kind of what we're supposed to do," Dawson said. "If we don't actively try to make a change and make more opportunities, then it's just all gonna go away so my kids or maybe my kids' kids won't have that opportunity. I think that's a tragedy."
"I think people should consider volunteering with not just our organization, but all the organizations, because we all kind of have the same mission, we just deal with it different," Dawson said. "Find that niche that fits what you're looking to get out of it."
Delta Waterfowl of Wichita is preparing for its next youth field day on Sept. 29. For more information, visit Second Split Delta Waterfowl's page on Facebook.