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Kansas Whitetail Hunting

Kansas Whitetail Hunting

Locke Wheeler:
All right. Welcome to another episode or segment of SKRE Country Live. And as usual, when I'm on here, we're talking about white-tail deer hunting. And for this episode, we're going to talk with someone in a state that is absolute, I would say one of the top destination states for white-tail hunters in the country. Its reputation proceeds itself very much though. I've had a lot of success in this state, and that's Kansas. So if you've watched some of the SKRE Country films, I've got some films from Kansas and the outdoors. So we're going to have Matt Wonser is going to join us on this segment. Matt is the owner of 180 Outdoors. And he is coming on the screen. What's up, man?


Matt Wonser:
Not much. How are you, Locke?

Locke Wheeler:
Good. So Matt and I go way back now. I've been going up and hunting at 180 with Matt as well as doing a little work for him at his outfit service and on his website, different stuff like that. So we've been friends and business partners for quite some time. And Matt, I'm just going to start out with, just tell us a little bit about 180 outdoors, and what all you guys do, how long you've been in business and all that kind of stuff.

Matt Wonser:
Yeah. The first hunt we did was in 2006, and that was just a couple of friends that referred by friends that said, "Hey, can you help us find a place to hunt?" And we did that and liked it, and just did a little bit more, a little bit more, and it's progressed quite a bit over time. So here we are 14th year, having a really good season this fall. Have some really good guys that came on the team that does the majority of their work with deer and turkeys in Kansas, but also branched out and doing some turkey hunts and deer hunts in a few other states as well.

Locke Wheeler:
Yeah. I remember back, I guess it's been eight or nine years since I met you and started to come. Well, it may be longer than that now, maybe more like 10 years. But it was early on, and the operation has grown tremendously in every way, specifically in, you guys have spread out. So you guys are in Southeast Kansas primarily. So for people that are watching, go through just in general, whether it's do it yourself, whether you lease some property, whether you're going on an outfitted hunt, what does it take to hunt in Kansas? Because it's different than other States. And I have a lot of people ask me all the time, "Hey man, let's go to Kansas," and I'm like, "Well, I don't know that you can just go to Kansas." So explain to people what they got to do to hunt in Kansas.


Matt Wonser:
Well, the biggest trouble we run into is it's a lottery draw state. So you can't wake up on a cool day in October and say, "Hey, let's pack up and head to Kansas." Your trips really planned six months to a year in advance of when you're going to come because, in April, there's a window that you apply. And once that application period over, it's done for the year. There's normally about a month or six-week wait there they'll process all applications and then notify everybody that's been drawn for a tag. So there was a time where everyone that applied got a tag. There'd be leftover tags you could but in the summer. We were issuing more tags than people were trying to get, but it's not like that anymore.


Matt Wonser:
They issue the same number of tags. They will all be sold. You can count on it. So if you want to come to Kansas, we got to plan ahead a little bit. We got to get out in front of it, make sure get the application handled. We have a team that helps you with the application process, gathering the proper information, making sure your payment's lined up and everything's submitted on time. It's just one of the services we do for our clients. But if you're doing it yourself, public land, got a lease out there, a family friend, wherever it is that you can lock into the hunt, you just have to be sure to be conscious of the dates and make sure you're getting things done on time.


Locke Wheeler:
Yeah. I know a long time ago, when I first came to Kansas, there was that midnight leftover tag sale where if you didn't get one or you forgot to put in. But you're saying that's no more.


Matt Wonser:
It's not. And it used to be to the point, people didn't even worry about applying because that would be there for them, and they come accustomed to it. And then it got to the point where we'd have our mom, our sister, and our cousin, and all of our friends, everybody behind the computer at 11:59. We'd have all the information enter. We'd all click submit at the same time, and some of us would get it. Some of us wouldn't. Of course, we were doing that for people that wanted to come to Kansas and hunt with us. And it's got to the point now it's not an option.


Locke Wheeler:
So to dispel one myth that I've heard, actually heard it this year while I was in Kansas with you talking with someone while I was there. Not one of your people, obviously. And there's a myth or a rumor, so to speak out there that you guys have a quota within the lottery, and I know that's not true. So all you can really do is just help make sure your clients are on time and everything is right so that they get in, but you have nothing to do with whether or not they actually draw.


Matt Wonser:
No, no. We don't get any precedence. We're not getting any favoritism. We're not getting allotments, anything of that nature. What we do is there are certain combinations of unit choices you can use. We've figured those out over time. And there are a few tricks. I don't really want to share with the world, but that we use to help give our-


Locke Wheeler:
Better the odds.


Matt Wonser:
Better the odds. It's dotting every I and crossing every T. And it does matter. You start to look at it as a percentage, and maybe you were 84% and we were 92. That's a win.


Locke Wheeler:
Yeah. Well, one thing you mentioned there, the last thing on that is there are units in Kansas. Which if you're going on with an outfitter like Matt, they'll tell you what to do with it. If you've got a family, friend or you are looking at a piece of public land that you want to go try out, make sure you know what unit it's in, and you have to enter preferences on what units. And you can hunt two units, one that touches another, one that you draw. And you need to read up on it because you can't just draw a tag. You have to draw a tag in the unit that you want to hunt in. And each unit has a different amount of tag, based on biology all that.

Matt Wonser:
Yep, yeah. And the units are geographically different sizes. Some are bigger; some are small. And then also deer densities within those and harvest ratios, all things that wildlife parks monitor. And then they'll set forth a number of tags that should be used in that area. So there are some units that issue a lot more than others. One thing I've seen with that is, some of the myths or misconceptions, once the game warden pulls up, doesn't matter what you thought. You need to know. And one of them is the adjacent unit. So if you're hunting unit 11, there are several units that are adjacent to unit 11, number 12, 14, 19, 10. But just because you have unit 11 doesn't mean you can have every unit that touches it. You have to designate or pick one of them.

Matt Wonser:
So if 11's your primary, then you can pick 12 as your adjacent or an additional unit, but that doesn't allow you to have 14 or 10. So you got to be careful in there and make sure you know, "Hey, I'm picking this. This is primary. This is where I got to be at. And I want to get this other one," because maybe there's some public land. Maybe there's someone you know and already got an angle that might work out there just for a bonus.

Locke Wheeler:
Yeah. So the ignorance of the law thing, I've heard it in multiple places from multiple people, and I've never been on the wrong side of it. But generally speaking, as it comes to a game warden, it's your responsibility to know. It's not his responsibility to inform you. If he's nice enough to let you off easy, maybe so, but it doesn't matter. Ignorance doesn't help. And-

Matt Wonser:
No. It's a law. Law's law on there. So if you're with us, for example, just one route you can go, we're taking care of that. We're checking tags, and when we handle the application, we're applying for particular tags to put you into particular areas. And we're dividing so many hunters out, spread across everything that we do, and almost in our own quotas and our own statistics. So when you come here, that's not a concern of you. We have several different styles of hunts. Locke, you always do a semi-guided hunt with us where you take care of a lot of things yourself. You have a lot of freedom and choice. But there are some other things you don't have to worry about, the pre-planning of the forms, fighting with the lease, figuring out your tags, things like that. And you can just show up and hunt. And then other options, we'll handle all that pregame and tag system, but we'll also do meals, lodging, transportation, clean your deer, to the hilt all the way. So there's a lot of different styles of hunts or services that we offer.

Locke Wheeler:
So I think it's pretty easy to say that one of the reasons that Kansas is such good deer hunting is because of, I guess, the restrictive nature of tags. Even a local-only gets one buck tag. So the fact that you have great habitat; you got a lot of rural areas, countryside, so to speak, and then as opposed to many even neighboring states, they're just the management. Are you in agreement with that? Where do you think that ranks on the reasons why Kansas is such a destination and such good hunting?

Matt Wonser:
Well, let's compare it to some other big whitetail states, say Iowa, Illinois, portions of Missouri. There's a lot of really good places to go deer hunting at. And one thing you'll see in common with those in the nutrition and the genetics are there. They've always been there. The regulations help control the age structure. So we got one buck limit, an unlimited number of tags, things like that are reducing the harvest. So now we've got a good gene pool that we've always had. We've always had a lot of crops and great native grass, things to help make deer get big. And now we need to let them get old. That age is that limiting factor. And we as hunters are really the ones that are deciding that.

Locke Wheeler:
Yeah. I feel like, from just my observation as a hunter that hunts in multiple different states every year and see it from a lot of different angles, my observation about it is, it flows down to a more organic and natural management practice. Because if you only have one tag, you're far less likely to just shoot a younger deer. It all starts to come together like a puzzle. You're hunting in a place where you know there's a lot of older deer in the age structure. You know the genetics mean those older deer are going to be big deer, and you're far less likely to go out on a weekend hunt and shoot a two-year-old, small buck, and fill your tag, and be done for the year.

Locke Wheeler:
Because I hunt in Missouri a lot, and when you go to Missouri, that's one of the issues you have, is they get two deer. And in that early season, someone will decide to just go ahead and fill one of their tags and hunt for the big buck later and just kill a deer that you really don't want to kill in age structure. As you said, there are still great areas and all. And to your point, when you start comparing number one or number two, a flip flop for two in Iowa. And what do you have in Iowa? The same issue.

Matt Wonser:
Very [crosstalk 00:13:27].

Locke Wheeler:
Even more restrictive lottery.

Matt Wonser:
Yeah. Even more so, which allows that.

Locke Wheeler:
So-

Matt Wonser:
When you get on that topic about which deer are harvested. And I do. I want to support all hunting. I want to support everybody to get out there and shoot what makes you happy and enjoy it. This is a different conversation about, "How do you grow big deer and how do you manage age?" that those of us that are really entrenched into this enjoy. So one thing I've seen, and-

Locke Wheeler:
Yeah.

Matt Wonser:
Go ahead. Go ahead.

Locke Wheeler:
No, I'm just agreeing with you. No.

Matt Wonser:
Nah. One thing I've seen with these deer, like when we get running camera surveys, and checking these farms, and we just spend a lot of time with, and over years. Some farms we've had for 14 years. And it's such a great example of what the deer will do compared to what you do to them. But I've seen, with a little bit increased pressure the last four or five years, we still don't have a lack of mature bucks here. With our laws and the unlimited number of tags, there's plenty of deer that are getting old, really old. I see sometimes some deer that are maybe not that desirable. Maybe we'd call them a cull buck or whatever, however, you want to designate. And when they're two and they're three, they're ugly. They don't have that many points. Their rack's not shaped that good.

Matt Wonser:
And when they come stumbling by you on November 10th, they're really not that attempting to shoot. So fast forward two, three years, finally he's six and he is kind of resembling something maybe you'd want to shoot, but he still might not be 110 or 15 inches. So I get a lot of deer like that that are reaching full maturity. But then you turn around and you take a two-year-old. And we'll have two-year-old deer that'll be 130, 40 inches, 10 points, beautiful five out of five. He comes stumbling by on November 10th. He makes you grab a bow and shoot. If I could preach, or push, or encourage, those are the deer that we have to have the most discipline on. Those are the deer that we've got to take to that five or six-year-old mark to really see some true giants.

Locke Wheeler:
Yep, absolutely. And it rings true everywhere. Even down here in the South where the genetics are not the same, our body size is not the same, so therefore our horn size generally is not. Even in places where people think that they just don't have the genetics to have big deer. When they get five or six years old, you'd be surprised how big they can get. And to the point about Kansas, the reason people want to hunt in Kansas is, in my opinion, and my experiences, when you go hunt in Kansas, your odds of encountering a mature buck go way up.

Matt Wonser:
Way up. [crosstalk 00:16:36].

Locke Wheeler:
And that's not to say there are not lots of other places that have really good hunting, that if putting your time and you're a good hunter, that you can't have a high success rate on mature bucks. But you go hunt in Kansas, and to all the things we've been talking about, there's likely to be more mature bucks per square acre anywhere you're hunting than most other places you go. And I think Iowa's probably the same way.

Matt Wonser:
Yep, yep. Yep, yep. Yep.

Locke Wheeler:
So let's transition from that. Let's talk briefly about, obviously what you guys offer. But generally, the Kansas seasons are, as opposed to the South, anywhere in the Midwest as opposed to the South, is more limited, shorter seasons. What are some of the best times to hunt, and what style of hunting should you be expecting to do during those periods?

Matt Wonser:
Well, we run three different segments of the season. It's going to start in mid-September, and the youth season actually is in early September, and run all the way to December 31st. So we set our schedule up. We've been doing for years in the early muzzleloader that's mid-September to the end of September. It's 14 days. It's hot, brutal hot most of the time. Then you'll catch little cold fronts will come through. Maybe it's been 90 bumps up to 70, and have some great deer movement. That hunt's all structured on summer feed patterns, bachelor groups we've been watching, and they're pretty predictable. They're very nocturnal, but when we catch the good weather, sometimes we kill some really big deer.

Matt Wonser:
We've killed three 200 inch deer, and they've all been in their early season. And that's not to say we wouldn't have caught up with them later in the year, but that's when they were harvested. So you fast forward, we skip early October, do prep work, get ready for the bow. We start back in on bow hunts mid-October, and we go through about Thanksgiving. We just finished up our last bow hunt right now. What's today? The 24th, 25th November.

Locke Wheeler:
4th, yeah.

Matt Wonser:
4th, yeah. And in there, there's a range, because you go from pre-rut, rut, almost post-rut here as we're finishing up. I think you did the mid-October bow hunt this year, right?

Locke Wheeler:
Well, more late October. I killed my deer on the 28th of October I think. So it was that last weekend of October, right before Halloween.

Matt Wonser:
So you're typically not seeing a lot of rutting behavior, but they're interesting. They're responsive to the calls, and they're making scrapes and rubs, and they're wanting things to be more than isn't. In a cold snap in that period, is as good as any time to hunt. But some years, we don't get the cold snap. It'll be warm and slow, and you got to work for it.

Matt Wonser:
But moving through November, everyone always wants to know, "If I can pick three days, five days, when is it?" Well, it's not the same every year for one, but the best thing about the 7th to the 14th of November, pretty safe bet that you're going to get into some pretty intense rutting action somewhere in there. And then the last style of the hunt that we do is the rifle hunt. It's always the Wednesday following Thanksgiving. It's a 12 day season. We do two five day hunts, box blinds, ladder stand, ground blinds. That one's all about food. We'll hunt, crop fields, food plots. We feed a lot of corn. That's one thing that's drawn a lot of people to Kansas is the ability to feed, which allows you to inventory your deer with cameras and then also hunt over spots which you've been able to identify a shooter or a target buck coming to you in the daylight. So it's been very beneficial there.

Locke Wheeler:
Yep. So I've haunted pretty much everything from the first week in November until now, until right before Thanksgiving. And I can agree that 7th through the 12th ish kind of range, it always seems to hit right in there somewhere, depending on-

Matt Wonser:
Weather.

Locke Wheeler:
... the weather and how the year's been. And I'll say, this year, I was only able to make a three-day hunt. And in those three days, I saw deer fighting; I saw deer nudging does. Now the one's nudging does were little deer. The two deer I saw fighting were big deer actually. They were both shooters. They were just too far away, but I hunted one spot where I was in the edge of a thicket, and it was a cow pasture between the thicket and some cut ag on the other side of the road. And basically, I was catching deer, going out there for the evening, coming back in the mornings. And there were still humongous groups of does that just signify that they're just not there yet.

Locke Wheeler:
We caught a cool front. Like you said, it was cold. It wasn't a cool front. It was a cold front. It was colder in my October hunt in Kansas than it was my November hunt in Northwest Missouri. But the deer that's on the picture back here is the one I was able to kill. And I had a marginal land on the last hunt, and I put some doe estrous out, and he came down the hill looking at his lips. So to your point, that Halloween time, you get the weather that gets them on their feet before dark, and they'll respond to a call, they'll respond to a scent. They're trying to find that first doe. They're hoping any day. Now that first doe's going to come in.

Locke Wheeler:
And so I've kind of experienced everything in Kansas, all the way from that was my first year to come that early. And then I've been there early when it was really, really pre-rut. I've been there when it was wide, wide open. You couldn't kill a deer with the bow because they wouldn't stop running.

Matt Wonser:
Running, yep.

Locke Wheeler:
And then I've hunted late where they were locked down and you were just hoping one of those big ones would free up from a doe while you had time, while you're in the stand. So there's a lot of great opportunities. And before we wrap up, I just want to give you an opportunity. I'm going to show a couple of pictures of some of the deer that y'all have had clients taken so far this season.

Locke Wheeler:
And while I'm doing that, I'm just going to give you the opportunity to just, you've said some of the things, but just tell us what you guys offer and how people can get in touch with you if they're interested in, not only hunting but also to kind of tease that for you, that you guys do sublease. So if you want to get your own lease, Matt and the guys have a lot of different farms all over their part of Kansas and Oklahoma, and they do sublease too. So just tell us a little bit more about 180 in terms of what the process is and how people can decide to hunt with you.

Matt Wonser:
Absolutely. That deer there was harvested with Brian Hellman, and he runs a lodge. It's kind of north in our leases. Brian focuses on semi-guided hunts. He's going to have all the stands set up for you, trails marked, cameras checked. That guy went there to hunt that deer. This deer here came from the Blackjack Hunt Club. They have 3,500 acres leased. We placed all their stands, all their feeders. We check the cameras, keep the feeders rolling. They come in and hunt three weeks a year, and we just keep everything ready for them.

Matt Wonser:
So when they're here, they're hunting, not playing with working. And there, that's a dude that was harvested with Matt Layman. Matt runs our southern portion of our leases. Matt does both semi-guided and guided hunts. Sienna, his wife is an excellent cook. They'll do meals. Matt's the hardest working guy you'll ever find. He'll be out there all day, baiting deer, checking cameras, hanging stands, come back and cook you a steak and clean your deer. I don't know the guy sleeps.

Matt Wonser:
Now, same there, another dear. Mr. Witt, he actually came out for a hunt and wasn't successful, and we got a program where he can buy back and come back and hunt again at a discounted rate. And Witt was able to take some time off work and come back for a second round and get his tag filled. That's an early-season buck there. They're pretty thin. They don't have any broken tines. Their hide's still a little bit longer. They haven't shed the fall coat. Archery buck. It's a good deer there. Had a really successful archery season this year.

Locke Wheeler:
That's some of the successful hunts y'all have had. So if somebody's interested in looking into your leases or booking a hunt with you guys, what's the best way for them to get in touch with you, find out more about 180?

Matt Wonser:
The website is the best, hunt180.com. You can thank Locke for how great that is. He's done a lot of awesome work on there. But there are lease pages. There's the ability to email or grab a phone number off there and call. When new leases come up, we'll put them on the website. Also when they are leased, they'll be taken off and marked leased. And most of the time, you'll see current and active leases on there, so anything from 80 acres to 3000 acres. So it just depends on what you wanted. You want to find a place to come out with your son or a good buddy, or if you've got a big group of guys, or sometimes the whole business will come out and bring clients from time to time. So we are experienced throughout that. We've done a lot of things with a lot of different people. And if you can work with this and give us your goals, we can help you set up what would be best for you and your friends.

Locke Wheeler:
Well, we're talking deer hunting, but on one last note, I saw your post with all those turkeys the other day, that trail cam picture of all those gobblers. And you said COVID was good to the Kansas target population. I can tell you guys that are turkey hunters watching this, their turkey hunting is phenomenal. And I have tagged out every single year. Well, I say tagged out. Used to be, I could kill two turkeys. This year I only killed one, because they lowered the tag. But I have filled all of my tags, whether it was two or one, every year I've ever hunted. And I know you guys have a tremendous success rate there.

Locke Wheeler:
So I would be remiss not to mention that. I know last year there was a ton of gobblers and very few hunters with all the restrictions and all. So if you're into spring turkey in Kansas, another great opportunity at 180. And just, generally speaking, Kansas is a game-rich environment. And just wanted to have Matt on to share some information about Kansas and people that were interested in. They're an option. There are lots of other options for hunting Kansas, DIY, and all that kind of stuff. But it is definitely one of the places if you're a big deer owner, especially an archery hunter. And it's a place that you need to try out. You need to check it out. So thanks for your time, man. I appreciate you coming on, and I will be talking to you soon.

Matt Wonser:
All right. Thanks a lot.

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