Editor's Note: This is the first of a series of stories leading up to this weekend's Governor's Pheasant Opener.
The hunter hosts have been lined up, security canvass complete, and the myriad issues that need to addressed have been analyzed. Now, it's just a matter of hoping the weather, and the pheasants, cooperate.
Plans for the second annual Governor's Pheasant Opener have been in motion since the first planning meeting took place in early April, and organizers will be able to determine this weekend if they covered all their bases.
Photo by Per Peterson
Lyon County Pheasants Forever members Ron Prorok, left, and Nick Simonson stand next to the Clifton/Rolling Hills State Wildlife Management Area sign Saturday. The Wildlife Management Area east of Marshall will be the focal point of the kick-off to the 2012 Governor’s Pheasant Opener, as a land dedication ceremony will take place there at 5 p.m. Friday.
Planning committee co-chairman and Marshall Area Chamber of Commerce Executive Director Cal Brink said the group partially worked off last year's event in Montevideo. But there's a difference between that event and this weekend's. In Montevideo, organizers combined the first-of-its-kind hunt with the city's traditional VIP Hunt. In Marshall, they basically started from scratch.
"We got fed a little information a couple of weeks before last year's opener, which enabled us to go to the opener in Monte last year," Brink said. "We probably took two or three months after that where we didn't do a whole lot because it was a year away before we put together the original committee. When we got into February, March, we started thinking about the committees we need, focusing on getting land, lining up guides, landowners and working on some of the stuff that could fall through the cracks - the gifts we give out to people, all the hotel reservations, the invitations "
Sponsorship, hospitality, marketing and land committees were formed earlier this year to make sure the group covered as much ground as possible; the members of the various groups met twice a month throughout the spring, summer and fall, and worked off feedback from Explore Minnesota Tourism representatives.
2 p.m. Shoot-around and welcome, Shooters Sporting Clays
5 p.m. Land dedication, Clifton/Rolling Hills WMA
6 p.m. Social hour, SMSU
7 p.m. Banquet, SMSU
6 a.m. Media event/breakfast, SMSU Conference Center
8 a.m. Leave for hunt
9 a.m. Start hunt
Noon-2 p.m. Lunch, SMSU Conference Center
2 p.m. Afternoon hunt
5 p.m. Social, Ramada
The months of planning also included plenty of discussion about the guest of honor - the fact that the governor will be taking part in the event adds another dynamic to the planning, Brink said.
"Two weeks ago, they sent his security team here," Brink said. "We took the team out to every place the governor might be, took him to where the land dedication is, to Shooter's, SMSU, his hotel - anywhere he's going to be so they can scope everything out and make sure it looks OK."
While the hunt is a big part of the weekend, Brink said it's the community banquet at 6 p.m. Friday that will let the public really get in on the fun.
"That's a community event that's even bigger than the hunt itself," Brink said. "The hunt is basically a small group of people, but the banquet is for 300, 350 people. That will be a major event."
An auction at the banquet will include guns, Terrance Fogarty, James Meger and Terry Redlin prints and a large, leather chair.
The weekend also serves as a way for Marshall to sell itself to out-of-towners. Brink and the other organizers know many people from outside of Marshall, including politicians, will be coming to Marshall, and they want to seize the opportunity to promote the city.
"We want to sell Marshall, but you can't put that out in the message to the governor; he's not coming here to be sold," Brink said. "But we want him to leave with a positive impression about what we have going on out here. We want to make sure he knows Marshall."
And it wouldn't hurt if the governor bagged a bird or two, either. With that in mind, Brink said this is an ideal year to be hosting the event since the pheasant outlook for this year is one of the best in recent history.
"That's a bonus," Brink said. "The timing is perfect. Lyon County has the highest concentration of pheasants in the state, and that really bodes well for us."
Nick Simonson, Lyon County Pheasants Forever president, said more than 5,000 acres of public and private land in a 24-mile radius of Marshall will be included in the hunt. Twenty-eight landowners have stepped up to be a part of the weekend as hunter hosts.
"They are really positive and full of energy," he said. "Everybody's on board; they understand they've got a role in promoting the community and showing off some of the great conservation work they've done on their land."
"They're taking it really, really seriously," said Brink. "They know they have a job to do, and that's to sell Marshall while hunting. They need to know there's a message we want to get out there."
The land that will be used for the governor's opener includes historically strong pheasant habitat and incorporates Conservation Reserve and Conservation Reserve Enhancement Program lands.
The opener is being organized in part by Lyon County Pheasants Forever, along with the Marshall Area Chamber of Commerce, the Marshall Convention and Visitors Bureau, Explore Minnesota, the Minnesota Department of Natural Resources and other groups.
A big part of the weekend activities actually comes Friday before the pheasant season even opens with the dedication of 334 acres recently added to the Clifton and Rolling Hills WMA east of Marshall for a total of more than 500 acres. The expanded hunting area includes two tracts named after landowners Steve Snyder and Maynard Nelson.
"This will kind of cap off the development, the purchase and the incorporation of the land," said Lyon County Pheasants Forever President Nick Simonson. "Steve Snyder stepped up and purchased it with the idea of reaching out to Pheasants Forever and promoting the idea of connecting two Wildlife Management Areas."
Simonson said the land is habitat-friendly and is essentially a hunter's paradise. It consists of native prairie grasses, cattails and sloughs, along with groves and trees for deer stands. All types of wildlife can be found there.
"We've kicked pheasants and all sorts of ducks out of there," he said. "From here on out the legacy has been written there and people can see what individuals and group efforts can do."
Groups that have stepped up to provide this expanded public hunting area, Simonson said, include Lyon County Pheasants Forever, the Canby Chapter of PF, Southwest Sportsmans Club, Minnesota Department of Natural Resources and the Lessard-Sams Outdoor Heritage Council.
"There were lots of moving parts," in merging the two sections of land," Simonson said. "Local groups stepped up nicely. It will be great to have the governor here to see how the public stepped forward to provide hunting opportunities for people."
"It's a good combination of established grassland with some of those existing parcels; you get some good winter cover and there are some good tree spots that really enhance the holding power for deer," said Ron Prorok of Lyon County Pheasants Forever. "The DNR has been developing it with food plots, and some of it was tillable land, so that made for very good grassland and food plots."
The land acquisition was just completed just last year, Prorok said.
"What's nice about it is its proximity to town," he said. "It's a place people can get out to quickly and not have to drive too much."
The land dedication begins at 5 p.m. Friday on the northeast corner of the WMA on the Maynard Nelson tract. The land is located off Minnesota Highway 19, east of Marshall on Lyon County Road 9.
A social hour at the SMSU Conference Center will take place after the land dedication and will be followed by a public banquet at 7 p.m. The actual hunt will begin at 9 a.m. Saturday after a media event and breakfast at the SMSU Conference Center at 6 a.m. Hunters will leave SMSU and head for the fields at 8 a.m. A lunch is slated for noon at SMSU, followed by a second hunt at 2 p.m. The event wraps up with a 5 p.m. social at the Ramada Inn.