Archive for Friday, December 27, 2002

With market off, buffalo ranchers turn to hunting

December 27, 2002

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— A modern concern of low prices for buffalo meat has led to an old tradition: hunting the animals with black-powder rifles and bows and arrows.

The hunts are becoming popular across Kansas as buffalo herd owners seek to respond to a steep drop in prices and increasing costs to feed the buffalo in a time of drought.

Stan Von Strohe of Dallas brought two friends and his brother earlier this month to a ranch near the central Kansas town of Marquette to hunt for buffalo.

Von Strohe had hunted deer and elk, but he said this hunt was not what he and his friends expected.

"Our expectations were of shooting a cow in the pasture," Von Strohe said. "We thought it would take an hour and we'd be done. But it was nothing like that at all. It is really hard work to get close enough to get a good shot. And in the back of your mind, you know that it could charge at any minute."

After an entire day tracking and hunting, Van Strohe's group got three buffalo -- two by black powder, one by longbow.

Vance Hopp, a Marquette-area farmer and rancher, is offering buffalo hunts as a way to get rid of the herd he manages for his father, Leland, and his sister, Sheryl Loder, both of Marquette. Raising buffalo has not been profitable in recent years, so when the landowner the Hopps rent from wanted the land back, getting rid of the 115 head of buffalo was a relief.

"This is too many for a hobby," Hopp, 52, said of the herd his father started in the mid-1970s. "Prices haven't been that great in the last three years, and there is just too much expense."

The Hopps hope to find people to hunt at least 10 of their older bulls at $1,000 per animal, which have been grazing in the pasture without much human contact.

The rising popularity of the hunts has caused state officials to reinterpret state law on how people could hunt the animals and still meet the requirements of the state Meat and Poultry Inspection Act, said Lisa Taylor, spokeswoman for the Kansas Department of Agriculture.

"We're allowing the hunter to be the owner of the animal," she said. The state "doesn't want to impede on anyone's ability to earn money on buffalo, but we want to try to make it fit the law."

To follow Kansas guidelines, the buffalo must be taken to a state-inspected processing plant fully cleaned, its head and legs off, and ready to be processed, Taylor said. The meat then would be labeled as not for resale.

The reinterpretation of the law will allow Dodge City rancher Robert Steele to continue operating his trophy bull hunts.

"Times right now have been so terrible dry," Steele said. "The pastures are bare and there is no feed. This is a way to generate some income and reduce the feed bill."

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