By Andrew Johnson
Pheasant season closed Jan. 7 in South Dakota, but thousands of pheasant hunters are once again expected to flock to the pheasant capital in February for Pheasants Forever’s National Pheasant Fest and Quail Classic.
The event will be held Feb. 16-18 at the Denny Sanford Premier Center in Sioux Falls, S.D.
Pheasants Forever first announced Sioux Falls would be this year’s host city in September 2016. Traditionally, the event has been held in much larger cities, said Jared Wiklund, Pheasants Forever public relations manager.
“Pheasant Fest moves around the Midwest,” Wiklund said. “It was in Minneapolis last year, but it’s also been in cities like Omaha, Milwaukee and Kansas City. So far, Sioux Falls is the smallest city to host the event, but when you add in all the influential Pheasants Forever chapters in South Dakota, southwest Minnesota, northwest Iowa and northeast Nebraska, it makes for a pretty welcoming place to hold a convention. To be safe, we’re expecting over 20,000 people to attend this year.”
Wiklund said the event will also be a celebration of sorts, as it coincides with Pheasants Forever’s 35th anniversary and South Dakota’s 100th pheasant hunting season, which both take place in 2018.
Something for Everyone
Pheasant Fest is a three-day trade show that focuses on wildlife conservation, upland game bird hunting, dog training, and wildlife habitat management and restoration. The first one was held in 2004, Wiklund said.
“When it first started we basically held it every other year until it grew so much that we said it’s our main national convention and trade show,” he said. “We decided to hold it every year, and it’s evolved quite a bit from just being a trade show. It has something for everyone.”
In connection with the trade show, where a wide variety of pheasant- and upland-game-related vendors will line the show floor, Pheasants Forever will also hold numerous seminars on topics such as habitat improvement, pheasant hunting, shooting sports, wild-game cooking, dog training and conservation.
Wiklund said instead of looking at Pheasant Fest as a whole, it’s easier to break it down into categories.
“You can bring dad, who might be interested in pheasant hunting and can take a walk through all of the vendors, who have everything from puppies to guns to guide services,” he said. “But mom is going to have a good time there, too, because if she isn’t as interested in the hunting side of things, there are a number of craft and cooking vendors and wild-game cooking seminars that are oriented toward women.”
In addition, Pheasants Forever sets up a youth village designed specifically to entertain and educate kids, Wiklund said.
“The youth village has always been a hit,” he said. “You can drop the kids off at the youth village, where everything is supervised, and they can shoot bows and BB guns or make some crafts that help them learn about pheasants. Each kid also gets a free youth membership to Pheasants Forever.”
In addition to the full slate of seminars designed for adults in attendance, the youth village has a seminar schedule specifically designed for kids of all ages.
“The youth village has its own stage this year with kid-friendly seminars that cover things like dog training, intro to hunting, cooking and more,” Wiklund said. “There’s really something there to keep the kids entertained for a couple hours.”
According to the Pheasants Forever website, other seminar topics covered at the youth village will include upland-game bird biology, conservation principles, hunting ethics and firearms safety.
Habitat Takes Center Stage
Pheasants Forever calls itself “the habitat organization,” and nowhere is that label more apparent than Pheasant Fest. More specifically, Wiklund said, certain aspects of the event aim to help boost not only pheasant hunting success through land improvement, but also a producer’s bottom line.
“For landowners there’s the habitat help desk, where our farm bill biologists help develop a personalized conservation plan to help people manage habitat for pheasants or even deer and other wildlife,” he said. “It’s all free, and it’s also unique in that (Pheasants Forever programs) impacted over 1 million in acres in South Dakota last year. We hope to build on that number.”
The habitat help desk is open during the entire event, but Wiklund said dedicated programs to help landowners maximize their land’s potential are also available.
For starters, Wiklund said the Precision Ag Workshop, which is Feb. 16 from 10 a.m. to 3 p.m., is a new element at Pheasant Fest that’s designed for producers, agronomists and ag lenders. Wiklund said the program will help producers discover new approaches that can potentially maximize the return on investment for every acre on their property through habitat management that’s beneficial for wildlife.
“People have to register ahead of time for the workshop, but it’s basically learning how to use conservation programs while upping the bottom line of an operation,” he said. “It’s a way to find more money for a producer, while also helping wildlife.”
Cost for the workshop is $35 and includes a one-year membership to Pheasants Forever, lunch, a ticket to the show floor and an entry in a gun raffle. For more information or to register for the Precision Ag Workshop, go to pheasantsforever.org/precision.
Another new event at this year’s Pheasant Fest that Wiklund highlighted will be a community-based habitat-access summit that will take place Feb. 16 at 8 a.m.
The Aberdeen Pheasant Coalition was the first community-based conservation model of this kind, where local businesses and organizations raised money along with the Aberdeen-based Northern South Dakota Chapter of Pheasants Forever to provide additional sign-up incentives for farmers and landowners. Currently, the APC has opened up 1,855 acres of public walk-in hunting access in Brown County.
“Basically, we’re helping fund public access through Pheasants Forever with local support from businesses and organizations,” Wiklund said.
The impact of the APC has been widely recognized throughout the Midwest, and as a result, Mitchell, S.D., is in the process of forming a similar community-based coalition, as are chapters in other states across the Midwest, Wiklund said.
Wiklund said the summit’s purpose is to educate city and state leaders on the importance of conservation and learn how the community-based model can work within their local communities.
“We’ve seen success in other towns,” he said. “Sioux Falls and other towns across the state could be one of those areas, too.”
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Pheasant Fest Details
Pheasants Forever’s National Pheasant Fest and Quail Classic will be Feb. 16-18 at the Denny Sanford Premier Center in Sioux Falls, S.D. This is the first time the event has been held in South Dakota.
A 2017 or 2018 South Dakota resident or nonresident small-game license doubles as a ticket to the event. Attendees can bring their valid 2017 or 2018 South Dakota hunting license with them and show it at the registration desk for admission. Otherwise, daily admission tickets can be purchased at the door.
• Feb. 16: Noon to 8 p.m.
• Feb. 17: 9 a.m. to 6 p.m.
• Feb. 18: 9 a.m. to 4 p.m.
On-the-hour seminars will be held throughout the weekend on four separate stages — Bird Dog Bonanza, Wild Game Cooking, Habitat and Youth Village stages. To see the full seminar schedule, go to pheasantsforever.org/Pheasant-Fest/Seminar-Schedule.aspx.
For more general information on Pheasant Fest, go to pheasantsforever.org/Pheasant-Fest.aspx.