The predicted heavy rains didn't materialize Saturday morning in southwest Minnesota. But the pheasants did.
The 2012 pheasant season got off to an auspicious start in the area at the second annual Governor's Pheasant Opener, and while initially the birds were slow to come in after the hunt, pheasant hunters eventually began trickling in with birds in hand and big smiles on their faces.
Gov. Mark Dayton might have gotten skunked, but he left impressed with what he saw in Marshall and the wildlife areas he walked.
Photo by Per Peterson
Tom?Sanders was part of the bird-cleaning crew at the pheasant opener.
"It was really an incredible weekend," Dayton said. "A lot of work went into putting this together and making it such a success. Perfect in every way, and lots of birds, which was exciting. Last year it was a little thin, but this year they're off to a very good start. Weather held up; I know there are a lot of people who wanted rain, but it didn't happen." Dayton had to cut his hunt short because of hip problems.
"We feel really, really good about what we did," said Brad Strootman, who along with Marshall Area Chamber of Commerce Executive Director Cal Brink co-chaired the Opener planning committee and was in charge of bird cleaning Saturday afternoon. "It was really nerve-wracking; we put so much into it, we had asked so much from the community as far as sponsorships, donations of land for hunting, hunter hosts - we asked a lot. If we didn't have people show up, it would've just been heartbreaking. But we had a tremendous turnout."
Some hunters had hoped for at least a little precipitation to help the hunting dogs pick up scents but considering the mid-week forecast that had called for more than an inch of rain to fall in southern Minnesota, they'll take Saturday morning's weather offering anytime.
"This is absolutely beautiful for the hunter; for the dog, a little rain last night would've been nice because it holds the bird scent," Brink said. "When it's dry there's no scent, so it makes it really tough on the dog. But as far as the hunters go 65 and no wind is pretty unbelievable in Marshall for October 13."
The event began with a Friday shooting practice at Shooters Sporting Clays that was attended by upward of 80 hunters. From there it was on to a well-attended land dedication at the Rolling Hills/Clifton Wildlife Management Area, followed by a community banquet and auction at Southwest Minnesota State University that drew a larger-than-expected crowd. Hunters gathered back at SMSU on Saturday morning for a hot breakfast before heading out into the fields.
"The banquet was phenomenal," Brink said. "They served more than 300. Everybody had a good time, the auction (went) pretty well. The hunting is one piece of this, obviously, but the underlying thing is anytime you can get the governor herewe got to tell him about some of the things we want to get accomplished, talked about the November 6th vote a little with him. I think all in all it was a very successful weekend."
Brian Knochenmus was the first to bring in some birds shortly after noon Saturday. He and his group were hunting on the south side of Lake Marshall.
"It was really dry, but we definitely saw a lot of birds," he said. "Lost a few to the dryness, but there were a lot of birds. I think we missed one or two. We shot pretty well."
Other hunting groups knocked down as many as 13 birds by early afternoon, but as the organizers of the event said, this weekend wasn't just about walking away with pheasants as much as it was about promoting Marshall and southwest Minnesota as a hunting haven.
"We think we've told the Marshall story, left a lot of people with good feelings about Marshall," Strootman said. "This is something we were confident in Marshall going in; Marshall hosts big parties often. I knew we were good at hosting the big events. One of our focuses was, we can't guarantee the pheasant hunt, that there are going to be birds, but we knew we could put together an event with immaculate attention to detail - that was our goal. That's what we heard all weekend long - 'Man, you guys thought of everything.'"
The event left a strong impression on Dayton as well.
"This proves that southwest Minnesota is good for pheasant hunting," he said. "You don't have to go anywhere else, people can take advantage of what Minnesota has to offer. I want to thank the landowners who offered their land so people could go and hunt; everybody pitched in. It was a superb job by everyone in the area who helped out."