By MIKE CORN
OAKLEY -- Bagging a limit of pheasants won't be a "slam-dunk" for hunters at the premiere Kansas Governor's Ringneck Classic, but it will bring plenty of exposure for the host community.
Scheduled for the second weekend of pheasant season, Nov. 18 to 20, nearly 65 registered hunters and another 30 non-hunting guests will descend on Oakley for what is expected to be an annual event.
"We're well on our way to a much bigger and higher profile event than I would have thought possible six months ago," said organizer Jim Millensifer.
The downside of it all, if there is one, is Millensifer hasn't been as focused on the opening of the state's pheasant season as he normally would be.
The list of hunters continues to grow, but most of them are from Kansas.
Celebrities include golfer Tom Watson and former Kansas City Royals player George Brett.
Millensifer is especially excited about one four-person team to be made up of soldiers who will be returning from Iraq just days before the hunt. The soldiers are being sponsored by one of the major sponsors of the hunt.
One of the hunters, Heath Wright from the country music group Ricochet, will perform Friday night at Oakley High School.
The concert will be open to those who purchase tickets to the Friday night community dinner, or can be purchased separately.
Dinner tickets are $50, with the concert, while tickets to the concert only cost $15. Tickets are available at a number of northwest Kansas locations, stretching from Russell to Goodland and south into Scott City.
Millensifer said he's slightly superstitious, and doesn't plan to check on ticket sales until sometime next week.
The community dinner, at the Logan County 4-H Building, will include guests of the hunt as well as a limited number of community residents.
"We can only sell 200 tickets for the dinner," he said, noting the other 200 people attending will be hunters, guests and sponsored. "Between the concert and dinner, we have the ability to get 600 to 700 people involved."
Overall, Millensifer said he's happy with how the event has been shaping up.
In addition to the sheer number of people in town, he's also happy with exposure that promises to come.
A film crew from Great American Country will be in town to film the Wright concert and BassPro's Next Generation is planning a segment from Oakley.
The actual hunting will require some work, but Millensifer is confident the birds are out in the field.
Just last week, he took a young hunter out for the opening of youth upland game bird season.
"On walk-in land on Saturday, we flushed over 60 pheasants before he got his two," Millensifer said. On Sunday, they ventured north and east and got into two "nice coveys of quail."
He said there's been a lot of talk about "how bad it is, between the hail and poor wheat crop. I think you're going to have to hunt this year.
"The last four to five years, we got spoiled. I don't think it's doom and gloom."
But Millensifer is something of a purist -- at least when it comes to taking his dogs out for a day.
"I would rather hunt six to seven hours, following my dogs to get three or four good points," he said.
Still, he thinks there will be birds to shoot, although some spots might have more than other locations.
"We struggled to get more than 5 or 6 miles from town," Millensifer said of previous year's hunts. "We didn't need to go that far."
Guides for the governor's hunt have arranged to hunt on land in Gove, Logan, Thomas, Sheridan and Scott counties.
While he's not predicting the hunters will be skunked, he said, "It's not going to be a slam dunk."