he first small-talk question thrown out at this past week's informational meeting for October's 2nd Annual Governor's Pheasant Hunting Opener - taking place in Marshall and perhaps in a field near you - was, "Will we have more pheasants this year?"
Appropriate for sure. But if you know hunters, that's how they start every conversation; variations include substituting pheasants for ducks, geese, or deer.
Thanks to a winter that played out like a pheasant's paradise, the answer would seem obvious that, yes, there will be more pheasants this fall. And that's good news for the people organizing this major event. The Governor's Pheasant Opener doesn't have the tradition or the hype of the Governor's Fishing Opener yet, but give it time, it might get close in the future.
That's where Marshall comes in.
While this is the second annual such opener, last year's was more of an extension of Montevideo's VIP Hunt. In Monte, they played off an already-existing event and kind of morphed it into the Governor's Pheasant Opener. I guess last year you could've called it the VVIP Hunt. Planning on the state level for that event was interrupted last summer because of the state government shutdown, and since it doesn't appear the Legislature is headed down that road again (quick, find some wood and knock on it four times), organizers in Marshall have a good five months to work out every last detail with cooperation from Explore Minnesota Tourism. Still, this is the first Governor's Pheasant Opener that is starting basically from scratch, and the behind-the-scenes folks got a two-hour crash course this week on all it takes to pull off a successful event.
But how does one judge success for an event like this? Is it how many birds Gov. Mark Dayton clips? Surely, planners would love to see him bag two or three to give him the ultimate hunting experience. But it goes deeper than that. As Explore Minnesota Tourism Assistant Director Colleen Tollefson said, success should be weighed by how well the city of Marshall sells itself on a pretty big stage.
"You put all this time into it and all the community working on it, and the number one thing you get out of it is your message," Tollefson said. "It's not just having a party for the governor. When you're trying to get your message across, it's not just about hunting - think of who you are as a community and what those things are you want to get across that make you unique to this area."
This event is more about exposure than flushing a pheasant; it's a chance for the city of Marshall to make an impression on anyone who lives outside the southwest Minnesota bubble. The city's convention and visitors bureau has worked hard to promote hunting in the region, and this fall's event should help, but it's also an opportunity for the city to open the eyes of non-hunters.
"Our benefit outside the fact that the governor sees our area and the development going on is the exposure we get for southwest Minnesota as a whole," Marshall Area Chamber of Commerce Executive Director Cal Brink said. "The better we can make this event, the better for all of us."
There are myriad issues to deal with and hoops to jump through in planning for the Opener - everything from security, to scheduling, to finding hunter hosts, to raising money through sponsorship opportunities, to nailing down the venue for the big social dinner where the governor can spin his favorite "How many Republicans does it take" jokes. Not only that, much of what is done on a local level has to be approved by the governor's office.
Then there's the land use issue. Since Dayton would just as soon step in a pile of fresh manure than set foot on private land to hunt, organizers have plenty of work to do to secure hunting the best locations within a 25-mile-or-so radius.
Last year, "he wanted to know where the boundaries were so he didn't even step off public land," said DNR Southern Information Officer Scott Roemhildt.
Opener committee member Brad Strootman said there are some public lands in the area the group wants to showcase.
"We certainly don't want all these out-of-the-area hunters to come down here and think, 'Well it's great if you have connections, but you can't come to hunt in southwest Minnesota,'" he said. "We really believe that you can have an exceptional hunting experience in our area on public land."
With up to 150 hunters potentially coming to the area, Dave Vogel, southern regional manager of Explore Minnesota Tourism, said organizers need to remember to be sensitive to other local hunters who are not associated with the event.
"We do not want you to displace other hunters," he said. "That is counterproductive of trying to promote the area. You have to be very careful with how you 'lock-out' these lands."
The budget for the Opener in Monte a year ago was about $25,000, so fundraising will be the key factor this summer. One possibility is a gun auction similar to the one in Monte last year that raised a substantial amount of dough. Vogel said Monte, with the help of that auction, was able to break even.
"We don't see this as an event that the community itself has to pick up all the expenses," Tollefson said. "There should be partners that are related groups that could benefit as well. This is a good way to raise some of the money."
Local stores are expected to be a major contributor in fundraising, but Vogel said it's also a good idea to reach out to major outdoor chains like Cabella's and Gander Mountain to explore the idea of sponsoring in some fashion, either with cash or in-kind donations. Other groups that could be included in fundraising are outdoors organizations like Pheasants Forever and Hunting Works for Minnesota, Vogel said. Pheasants Forever, it should be known, is already a major player in organization efforts.
Putting together this event is clearly a long process, and if it's done right, the Opener can be looked back on as a key time in the city's history as it pertains to selling the area to outsiders.
"This is a community event, this is about your community," said Vogel. "It's basically your show."