By Brent Frazee
Maybe turkey hunting isn’t the sport of kings in Kansas, but it certainly is the sport of governors.
The Kansas Governor’s One Shot Turkey Hunt was founded in 1987 by then-Gov. Mike Hayden as a way to put Kansas on the map and highlight its hidden gem – turkey hunting.
Since then, every Kansas governor – Joan Finney, Bill Graves, Kathleen Sebelius, Mark Parkinson, Sam Brownback and Jeff Colyer –has participated. And current Governor Laura Kelly plans to hunt in this year’s event, set for April 17-19.
But the tradition doesn’t stop there. Over the years, each of the governors has exercised “executive privilege” over the turkeys and shot a bird.
Some of the governors, such as Hayden, entered the event as seasoned hunters. Others, such as Finney, were beginners who knew little about turkey hunting.
But all came away with a greater appreciation for what Kansas has to offer in the way of outdoor activities.
“What I’m proudest of is that every Kansas governor since me has participated,” said Hayden, who served from 1987 to 1991. “It’s a tradition that is carried on.
“Other states have mimicked what we have done, but none of them have the tradition we do.”
Part of that tradition involves where the hunt is headquartered. It has been based in El Dorado, a town of 13,000 in south-central Kansas, for all 32 years.
When Hayden was brainstorming about establishing the hunt, he knew that El Dorado had everything he was looking for.
“Butler County, where El Dorado is located, was the top county in the state for turkey harvest at the time,” said Hayden, 75, who now lives in Lawrence, Kan. “It had great hunting.”
Hayden started working on plans for the Kansas Governor’s One Shot Turkey Hunt even before he was elected in 1987. He met with Marv McCown, who had just joined the El Dorado Chamber of Commerce, and they sought feedback from the community on the idea.
Once they learned that they had plenty of support, committees were formed to recruit landowners, guides, sponsors and facilities.
That first year was a success, though a limited one. Nonresidents weren’t allowed to hunt turkeys in Kansas at the time, so the number of participants was limited. Only 20 hunters participated and “seven or eight birds were taken,” Hayden said.
But eventually, Kansas turkey hunting was opened to non-residents and people from across the nation, including governors from other states, were invited to participate.
Today, the hunt has grown beyond Hayden’s wildest imagination. The invitation-only event will have 80 hunters this year. They will be guided by volunteers on private land that landowners have opened for the hunt.
Included will be six “Hunting Heroes” – chosen from soldiers, police, firemen and paramedics who were wounded in the line of duty. Six Kansas youngsters and one youth from across the nation who is part of the National Wild Turkey Federation’s youth program also are chosen to participate.
The Kansas Governor’s One Shot Turkey Hunt has gotten so big that it is now run by its own non-profit organization.
Executive director Janet Post and her husband Pat have been involved with the hunt for most of its run.
“Years ago, my husband went to an organizational meeting where they were talked about the need for guides,” she said. “My husband was talking about it when he came home and he said, ‘By the way, I signed you up to be a guide.’
“I told him I didn’t know how to do that. And he said, ‘Why not? You know where the turkeys are.’ “
Janet started guiding and became proficient at calling in turkeys. Eventually, she became involved in the management of the hunt, and today she spends much of the year coordinating the event.
Hunters compete for the coveted “Top Gun” award that goes to the participant who takes the biggest turkey – based on a formula that takes into account the weight of the bird and the length of its beard and spurs.
The one-shot part of the hunt’s name? Hunters are rewarded for killing a turkey with only one shot. If it takes two shots, there are deductions in the score.
The hunters’ success rate is impressive. Over the two-day hunt, 70 percent of the field generally take one turkey.
Hayden is often one of the successful hunters. He has participated in each of the hunts, and he has shot turkeys in many of them. He will be back this year, and plans to guide hunters from Alabama.
“This hunt has grown every year,” Hayden said. “We will have 150 landowners participating this year, which is amazing.
“That shows how the entire region supports this event. It’s gotten national attention, and I think the people of El Dorado are proud of that.”
Photo by Chad Wittenberg
Former Kansas governor Mike Hayden blew into a wing-bone call in an attempt to attract the attention of a tom turkey during the Kansas Governor’s One Shot Turkey Hunt that he co-founded.