Casts and Blasts from the prairie chicken opener at the Sundgren Ranch

More information from Saturday’s about 60th annual opening day of prairie chicken season hunt at the Sundgren Ranch in Butler County.

YOU CAN CLICK HERE TO READ THE FEATURE STORY ON SUNDAY’S OUTDOORS PAGE.

Kent Peterson, of El Dorado, rests while he waits for prairie chickens on the Sundgren Ranch Saturday morning. Some hunters have been gathering at the ranch to hunt on opening day for more than 50 years.

Now managed by Steve Sundgren, the family ranch south of Cassoday has been in the family for five generations. Sundgren’s grandfather, a graduate of the first class of veterinarians from K-State, purchased the land about 100 years ago.

Sundgren is careful to make the ranchlands amiable for greater prairie chickens while still profitable for his cattle and farming business.

He literally grew up with prairie chickens as a major part of his lifestyle. He recalls severe snows in the late 1970s that totally covered the prairie for miles. “You’d be out there and all of a sudden the snow would just erupt in front of you and the prairie chickens would flush,” he said. “They were doing fine. They’re made to survive out on the prairie…but they have to have that prairie habitat to survive.”

Sundgren only burns his pastures about every three years so there’s plenty of nesting cover, and is careful not  to overgraze the rangelands. Since he runs a cow/calf operation he also make sure his pastures have plenty of forage all year for his beef and beloved birds.

The hunt was at its largest in the 1960s-1980s. Invited guests have included Gov. Mike Hayden, then U.S. Rep. Sam Brownback, Kansas City Royal’s all-star Frank White, famous baseball coach Whitey Herzog  and Harold Ensley, “The Sportsman’s Friend” of television fame.

Some people waited many years for an invitation to the hunt. Now, Sundgren doesn’t even bother to send invitations. “Most of the guys know when we’re having it and just show up,” Sundgren said.

For about 30 years the opening of prairie chicken season was the first weekend of November, kind of as a kick-off for the pheasant and quail season that usually opened the following weekend. It was moved to the third weekend of November a few years ago by the Kansas Wildlife and Parks Commission. Some commissioners have expressed an interest in closing the Flint Hills to prairie chicken hunting because of declining bird populations.

National Geographic magazine  has featured great photos of male greater prairie chickens on a breeding lek on the Sundgren Ranch.