Lt. Gov. Smith leads women pheasant hunters

A group of all-women hunters work a section of quality pheasant hunting land around Redwood River Sportsman's Club during the seventh annual Minnesota Governor’s Pheasant Hunting Opener on Saturday.

MARSHALL — Of the 28 pheasants bagged at the 2017 Minnesota Governor’s Pheasant Hunting Opener on Saturday in the Marshall area, the three with the longest tail feathers were shot by women — the fastest growing demographic in the state for pheasant hunting.

Already a Minnesota leader, Lt. Gov. Tina Smith added to her regular duties this weekend as she led all-women groups into the field in search of ring-necks.

“We’re doing something a little different this year,” Smith said. “I’m going to be hunting with an all-women group. We wanted to do this to remind ourselves and everyone else that a lot of women really enjoy hunting. It’s something you can see when you watch the high school clay shooting leagues, which a lot of young women are getting involved in. There’s just great camaraderie.”

As the tradition of pheasant hunting declines in Minnesota, it could be partly up to women to help flip the downturn around.

“Most people like to do what they know how to do,” Smith said. “Learning something new can be a little intimidating, especially when it’s something like hunting. That’s what is great about this is that it kind of demystifies the experience and reminds everybody that it’s really just about walking around in the fields in the beautiful countryside with a great dog and good friends.”

While it’s not all about the bragging rights — whether it’s the longest tail feather or whatever — there seems to be a level of competitiveness that shines through for a lot of women hunters, including Lt. Gov. Smith, who bagged a pheasant at last year’s GPHO while Gov. Mark Dayton did not.

“We’re a little competitive now,” Smith said. “We want to try and do justice to our gender, so we’ll do our best.”

Bemidji resident Kristi Coughlon helped coordinate the women’s hunt on Saturday.

“We wanted to have a women’s mentored hunt, so we put out notice, looking for mentees and recruiting mentors and dog handlers or both,” she said. “We had a crew of about a dozen out here and we hunted in four different groups. We had pointer dogs, griffons, a small Munsterlander and some labs, so we had flushing versus pointing, so that was really cool.”

Coughlon said her 2-year-old griffon named Beckett was meticulous on the morning hunt.

“It was thick and dry, and some of it was really tall, but she powered through it,” Coughlon said. “She pointed one, but they were moving on her. It was difficult, but she was thorough. I was proud of her. I’ve had her down to game farms and practice with pheasants, but this was her first real pheasant hunt.”

Coughlon said she’s been pheasant hunting since the early 1980s.

“I love being outside and I love watching my dogs work — that’s what it is for me,” she said. “It’s fun and it makes me happy.”

Though she enjoys the tradition herself, she also believes in the value of mentoring others, including Bagley resident Kelly Larson.

“It’s Kelly’s first pheasant hunt,” Coughlon said. “It’s good to help get more women involved with pheasant hunting. You want to provide them that experience and then let them decide if they want to go back. For a lot of women, it’s about the dogs, being with other people and being outside.”

In addition to Coughlon and Larson, Gretchen Mehmel (from Baudette), Bailey Petersen (Two Harbors), Abby Ennenga (Marshall) and Wendy Krueger (Marshall) hunted with Smith.

Along with Lindsey Olson from Marshall, Coughlon recorded one of the three longest tail feathers during the GPHO, which was a bonus.

Alison Fenske, a 19-year-old with family ties to the Marshall area, topped the contest with a tail feather measuring 23 ¼ inches long.

“I’ve been having a lot of fun,” she said. “It’s different than South Dakota, but I always lie hunting in different places. The habitat is a little different. In South Dakota, we have a lot more CRP and that kind of thing that we hunt in. It’s a little easier and there’s more birds, too.”

Fenske currently attends Iowa State University, where she’s also a member of the Pheasants Forever chapter there.

“The majority of members there are guys, and then there’s me,” Fenske said with the confidence of a true hunter. “I think the best part for me is just that it’s a family tradition — just going out with my dad and my brothers.”

Minneapolis resident Kristi Backer-Palmer has been hunting ring-necks for about 17 years.

“It started with my first lab,” she said. “Now I have Amos, who is 6, and Tori, who is 2 ½. I work with a trainer and we train them for hunting and to do some competitions with them as well.”

Backer-Palmer came to the GPHO with two fellow hunters.

“I came up here with two of the gals,” she said. “We do sporting clays together and we do a fundraiser together. The rest of the gals are just people we’ve met out here this weekend. It’s really awesome. It’s fun for camaraderie and it’s just a beautiful day.”

Denise Bornhausen said she came down for the event along with a few other female members of Bird Bustin’ Babes as well as the Metro Pheasants Forever chapter in the Twin Cities.

“We all shoot sporting clays together in a league,” she said. “That’s how we sort of came together. We didn’t get any birds (Saturday), but it was an awesome time. Marshall sure knows how to host a good party.”

Ginny Riege, who raises high-quality Irish setters, helps run camps with her husband, Bob, has a talent for outdoor photography and makes accessories out of pheasant feathers, said Austin High School started a trap team quite a few years ago.

“They have over 50 members now and it’s about half and half with boys and girls,” Riege said. “It’s a good way to get girls involved.”

Mandy Erickson traveled to Marshall from Lake Park, bringing along her 9-year-old daughter, Kaysa, and young hunting dog. “It’s her first hunt,” Erickson said.

about her daughter’s experience. “You have to be 12 for gun safety, so she didn’t carry a gun — she just walked. I figured it was a perfect opportunity.”

When asked about her experience, Kaysa Erickson said: “It was good.”

Mark down one more future pheasant hunter for the largest growing demographic in Minnesota.