I usually really struggle to get out of bed in the morning. Don’t get me wrong, once I am awake, I am wide awake and would class myself as a morning person (after snoozing my alarm about 100 times), but it’s that initial thought of having to get out of bed that I hate. The only time this doesn’t seem to matter is when I’m getting up to go shooting. So when our alarms went off nice and early for Victoria (Owner of The Shotgun & Chelsea Bun Club) and I to catch our flights from Dallas to Denver for the Governor of Kansas’ Ringneck Classic (“the Classic”) – we were up and out of bed brimming with half-asleep excitement. We were due to meet Michelle Cerino managing editor for Women’s Outdoor News and also runs her own website Princess Gunslinger downstairs in the hotel reception for onward transmission to the airport.
Our flights were at 7:30am so the last thing any of us needed was for any kind of hiccups or issues. Certainly not to realise, at the check-in desk, that a certain Ms Knowles-Lacks had managed to book the wrong flights (in the complete reverse of what we needed)! I can laugh at it now but it is fair to say, at that time of the morning, I had serious sense of humour failure…although it was nice to drag it out for a bit and get lots of guilt coffee and cake while we waited on stand-by. The airport staff, and Cerino, thankfully, took pity on the Brits! [When I told Vic I was going to publicly name and shame her for this, she said I have to add that the airline let us on the flight we thought we were booked on to anyway – and they upgraded us – so it worked out for the best in the end!].
Luckily, that was our only drama for the day. We landed on time. Collected our car. I had a cracking snooze on the way to our hotel as Cerino drove us across states and we did a bit of sightseeing en route to The Classic.
In 2011, the then Governor of Kansas established the ‘Ringneck Classic’ with the aim of drawing regional and national attention to hunting tourism in Kansas. It has been a huge success with the event growing in visibility and stature and securing Kansas as a great hunting destination. The event itself also helps promote conservation and, throughout the event, Pheasants Forever were on hand to discuss all the brilliant work they have been doing to keep the uplands in full vegetation and the promotion of upland birds. I know I speak for both Vic and I when I say that we both felt incredibly grateful and privileged to be a part of this event, with special thanks to the wonderful Jim Millensifer who, along with his lovely wife Laurie, invited us on this once in a lifetime adventure and made us feel so incredibly welcome! The Classic really wouldn’t be the same without all the people who help make it such a success in the background and we were only able to meet a handful of them, but our thanks goes out to everyone who made this possible. Thank you!
We arrived in Oakley, Kansas, mid-afternoon. We registered with the hunt officials, were handed our participant goodie bags and given one box of cartridges for the entire hunt. Vic and I had both brought cartridge bags and pouches with us expecting to be laden with cartridges UK styley! We were greeted by the lovely Raelene, who has been organising the Governor’s Hunt for some years now. Raelene has to be one of the nicest, most genuine people I have ever met! And as it turned out, she also gives great advice; recommending that we compete in the clay competition that day as the forecast for the next day was very strong wind. Now, coming from the UK (and me from the North) where wind and rain are old weather friends, we didn’t feel that concerned about such a forecast and persuaded Cerino that we would just relax that afternoon and take it as it comes – ‘wind’ and all – the next day. We were looking forward to the game dinner later that evening and finally meeting the rest of the hunters who were travelling in from across the U.S.
The Hunters reception that evening was superb! I tried a bit of everything – as you do – and taught the local barman the art in making a great (if not a bit too strong) G&T with the old faves: Gordon’s gin and tonic that seemed to have been shipped in especially for us – or so we were told. After one too many strong gins, most of us ended up in a local sports bar where I cheated at every game going, showed how rubbish I am at pool and learnt some country & western style dance moves. I am not sure it was appreciated when Vic wanted to ramp up the atmosphere by locating the juke box and rapping along to Beyonce & Jay-Z’s ‘Bonnie & Clyde’…
The next day, having ignored Raelene’s guidance about the weather, off we went to shoot the competition, which was situated behind the Classic’s epicentre – the Buffalo Bill Cultural Center. The thing about Kansas is that it is actually relatively flat, so there is nothing to break the wind. Believe me when I say I have NEVER felt wind that strong in my life, it was a struggle walking from the hotel entrance to our car and I wasn’t that optimistic of our scores. But every cloud, on our way to the shoot Vic and I got very over-excited by the amount of tumbleweed we saw just blowing across the road and into the field. Ha I’d like to say everyone else found it quite endearing but I think we just looked a bit easily pleased!