Kansas profiles: Hunting for ways to diversify the rural economy.
Some people are hunting for ways to diversify the rural economy. Today we’ll meet a Kansas entrepreneur who uses hunting itself to create additional opportunities on his farm.
Leon and Nancy Winfrey are founders and owners of Flying W Outfitters at Plains, Kansas. Leon grew up at Plains, attended Dodge City Community College, married Nancy, and came back to farm with his dad. “The section where we live was homesteaded by my great-grandparents in ’01,” he said. That’s 1901.
During the tough farm economy of the 1980s, Leon looked for ways to supplement the family’s farm income such as offering pheasant hunting.
“People would come and hunt, stay with us and become friends,” Leon said. In those days, paying to hunt was less typical. “Now, it’s customary to pay for an outfitter for hunting and a guide to fish,” he said.
In 1989, Leon obtained the necessary licenses to set up a controlled shooting area where guests could come and hunt birds. He called his business Flying W Pheasant Ranch. As the business grew, it was renamed Flying W Outfitters.
Leon continues to raise crops and cattle and has found ways to make hunting a complementary business. “We farm for our pheasants,” Leon said. “When we harvest a field, we’ll leave a strip of corn. We let weeds grow around our ponds.” This creates habitat where pheasants can grow and flourish.
“When I was a kid, we used chemicals which were a lot stronger than the ones we have now, but there were more pheasants than ever,” Leon said. “What has changed is that there is less habitat for pheasants to live.” No-till farming, for example, conserves moisture but leaves no weeds for habitat, according to Leon.
Leon strives to maintain natural habitat for the birds and then continually restocks his fields with pheasants during the season. “We replace 10% more than are taken out,” he said.
Flying W Outfitters offers a hunting package with everything included. “We provide lodging, guides and dogs,” Leon said. “The birds are cleaned and packaged. My wife provides great meals (for the hunters).” As the website states, “Once you’ve set your hunting dates, all you need to do is show up with your gun, ammo, and shooting eye. We take care of the rest!”
Such full-service convenience is a major plus. “We will have three or four hundred pheasant hunters during the year,” Leon said. “We’ve had hunters here from almost every state, from Hawaii to Connecticut.” Deer hunting is also an option. In addition, Flying W offers a fully equipped hunting lodge for visitors to stay in Plains.
“The big companies know that their people can come hunt with us, and they will be well-fed and everything will be taken care of,” Leon said.
“We’re a very faith-based family,” Leon said. “This is not ours; this is what the Good Lord gave us to care for.”
“We started this when our kids were little,” he said. Now their oldest son Dustin is heavily involved with the operation. “His boys being teenagers and pre-teens are a huge asset to the operation,” Leon said. “Son Weston and daughter Teddi are in agribusiness, and always available when we need help.”
Repeat customers are evidence of the business’ success. “We’ve had hunters who have hunted with us for 28 years,” Leon said. “I remember going through the fields with little kids walking behind us, and now those kids are grown, and their kids are out walking behind us. We’ve raised another generation.”
This is good to see in a rural community like Plains, population 1,146 people. Now, that’s rural.
For more information, go to huntflyingw.com.
We commend Leon and Nancy Winfrey for making a difference with an entrepreneurial idea, good stewardship of natural resources, and great customer service. Some people hunt for ways to diversify the economy, and some people diversify the economy through hunting.
And there’s more. Leon launched another entrepreneurial project from his farm. We’ll learn about that next week.
— Ron Wilson, is director of the Huck Boyd National Institute for Rural Development at Kansas State University. The mission of the Huck Boyd National Institute for Rural Development is to enhance rural development by helping rural people help themselves. The Kansas Profile radio series and columns are produced with assistance from the K-State Research and Extension Department of Communications News Media Services unit.