Minnesota Gov. Mark Dayton didn't bag a bird Saturday at the 2012 Governor's Pheasant Opener in the Marshall area, but that didn't stop him or anyone else from enjoying the long-standing tradition of pheasant hunting in the great outdoors with fellow Minnesotans.
The experience wouldn't have been possible, organizers of the second annual event said, without the support of the 28 landowners and 27 hunter hosts in addition to countless other volunteers and sponsors.
"We have a lot of folks for a lot of land," said Nick Simonson, president of Lyon County Pheasants Forever. "That speaks to the generosity of the landowners around Lyon, Lincoln and Yellow Medicine Counties, stepping up and saying 'hey, we have some great habitat. We've got a lot of conservation. Come on out and let's show them what we've got.'"
Photo by Jenny Kirk
Minnesota Gov. Mark Dayton heads out in the field as the 2012 Governor’s Pheasant Opener got under way Saturday morning. The governor and his group were hunting the Rolling Hills/Clifton Wildlife Management Area, east of Marshall.
Dayton was quick to point out that he had received "fantastic" treatment from people in southwest Minnesota.
"It's a great day," he said Saturday before heading out to hunt. "The community here in Marshall has done a phenomenal job putting this whole weekend together. It's sensational. Montevideo was great last year. This is great this year, so we've got this annual tradition off to a good start."
Shortly after 6 a.m. Saturday, people began gathering in the large tented area near Southwest Minnesota State University for breakfast, fellowship and pre-hunting arrangements.
"We have 16 hunters and four hunter hosts, plus my two kids," Marshall's Tom Landmark said. "It's a big group, but I'm fine with it. I've done a lot of guiding before."
Landmark agreed to be a hunter host this year, he said, in part because he wanted his daughter Rachel, 16, and son Ryan, 13, to be part of the pheasant opener.
"They were excited about being part of the event, and I told them I wouldn't do it unless my kids could come with me," Landmark said. "They very much like hunting."
Most years, Landmark said he splits opening day between hunting for pheasants and for ducks. But this year, it is all about the pheasants.
"We have kind of a split area," he said. "In the morning, we're going to be hunting east of Marshall. In the afternoon, we're hunting down by Balaton. I think that with the ground we have and the year that we've had, we should get some birds."
Landmark's dog Max, a yellow Labrador, was also assigned to the hunting party.
"He'll get a workout (Saturday)," Landmark said.
As an unusual twist, all three dogs in one hunting group - that of hunter hosts Harvey Noyes, of Green Valley, and Loren Petersen, of Minneota - were springer spaniels.
"The dogs in our group, oddly enough, are all springers," Noyes said. "It's weird, but springers are great pheasant dogs."
Along with Noyes' 9-year-old springer and Peterson's 8-month-old pup, the seven-person group was also accompanied by Patti Carr's 2-and-a-half-year-old springer.
"I don't care what kind of dog it is, as long as they listen," Noyes said. "I don't even care if they know what they're doing, as long as they listen. Then they're not hurting you out there. If a dog gets out there 400 yards and you can't call it back, that not good."
In his experience, Noyes said that the pheasant opener for the dogs is a lot like Christmas morning for children. Once you get used to hunting, he said, half of the fun is watching the dog.
"It's their Christmas," he said. "The birds, yeah, it's great to get one, but I get more enjoyment out of watching the dog than I do out of pulling the trigger."
Noyes said he agreed to be a hunter host because his involvement in Pheasants Forever has taught him to reach out and help others who demonstrate a passion for pheasant hunting.
"We do the mentor hunts for the youth, typically, and this is really just an extension of that, in my mind," he said. "It's a little bigger event, though. I don't think the sport of hunting is dying. In numbers, yes, but in the enthusiasm of the kids that get into it, absolutely not."
On Saturday, Noyes said he was enthusiastic about the opportunity to hunt with a couple of women who enjoyed hunting, including Carr, who is from Detroit Lakes.
"They have their own dogs and it sounds like they do quite a bit of hunting, so we're excited to hunt with them," Noyes said. "We're going to go out there, be safe and have some fun."
Depending on the time, the group with Noyes and Peterson had the opportunity to hunt at three different locations.
"I checked out some of the land we're at and it looks pretty good," Noyes said. "A couple of landowners stepped up and gave us some really nice CRP opportunities, so we're really excited about that. We really appreciate their support."
Before heading out to their respective hunting areas, Matt Loftness, Lyon County DNR conservation officer, addressed some safety issues, asking everyone to keep their muzzles pointed in a safe direction, know where their targets were and be aware of the current fire risks in the area. Afterward, the Rev. Doug Wing of Grace Life Chuch led a prayer, asking for everyone's protection.
Clad in his blaze orange vest and cap, Gov. Dayton began his search for pheasants at the Clifton-Rolling Hills State Wildlife Management Area east of Marshall, along with Simonson, Adam Prock, a member of his staff, and Gunnar, Simonson's 8-year-old yellow lab.
"We want to thank all the landowners who made their land available to people here this weekend," Dayton said. "Even if we don't get any pheasants, we'll get a good walk."
Unfortunately for Dayton, the cattails and surrounding habitat got the best of him, and after about a half hour, pain in his hip caused him to call it a day.
As hunters trickled in after their morning adventures, stories filtered around. Dave Guzzi's Action TrackChair "crapped out," Lowell Peterson said, so his group had to stop, drive out and pick it up. But that was after the seven-person crew shot 11 pheasants.
"We got lucky because we pulled in and we weren't going to hunt this little patch because it was kind of crappy," Peterson said. "It was mostly thistles and stuff, but we heard them cackling in there. It turned out pretty good."
The group was extremely appreciative of Jerry Bue, who allowed them to hunt on his private land south of Marshall.
"In my day, we used to be able to hunt wherever," Bue said. "Now you have to get permission from landowners. As long as people ask me, I usually let them hunt on my land."
Despite the fact that he didn't even get a shot off this year, Dayton did jokingly offer some advice to hunters.
"Don't get old," he said.