When Lance Ness hears the gobble of a wild turkey, his heart pounds. And watch out if that big tom comes strutting in front of his hunting blind this spring.
“Your heart almost leaps out of your chest, it’s that exciting,” he said.
The 58-year-old Ness, of Golden Valley, will continue a tradition this month when he and his buddies set up camp near La Crescent in southeast Minnesota, where they have hunted for more than 30 years. They will pitch tents in a farmyard, spin yarns and traipse the rugged coulees in search of wild turkeys.
“It’s a very addicting sport,” he said.
Ness has been at it since shortly after Minnesota launched modern turkey hunting in 1978, following successful reintroduction of wild turkeys in the state. Already an avid hunter, angler and conservationist, he was intrigued when the state opened a very limited turkey season.
“I thought this is cool, it’s new, let’s give it a try,” he said.
He did and was hooked — as are about 40,000 Minnesotans who will pursue turkeys during the spring season, which begins Wednesday.
“In the spring, you literally watch the woods come alive,” Ness said. “There’s the whippoorwills singing; the flowers blooming; all the critters in the woods. And you’re actually talking to the turkeys. It’s just a wonderful time to be out there. The whole experience was life-changing.”
As with most of his pursuits, he went all-in. He bagged his first bird in 1984 — an 18-pound jake, or young male. He soon became a turkey-hunting instructor. In the early years of turkey hunting, when few Minnesotans knew how to hunt turkeys, the clinics sponsored by the Department of Natural Resources were mandatory. Later they became optional, and Ness continues to teach them.
“It still helps folks get an understanding of how to hunt turkeys,” he said.
Turkey’s aren’t Ness’ only passion.
For more than 30 years, he has been a major player in Minnesota conservation circles. He is well-known at the State Capitol, where he lobbies on behalf of outdoor interests.
His conservation résumé is long: He is the president of the Fish and Wildlife Legislative Alliance and Anglers for Habitat.
Ness was an organizer of the Ducks, Wetlands and Clean Water rallies at the Capitol in 2005 and 2006, pushed hard for passage of the 2008 Legacy Amendment, is former president and vice president of the Minnesota Waterfowl Association, has been active with the National Wild Turkey Federation and has served on a host of conservation-related committees and groups.
Outdoor News named him its Person of the Year in 2006.
“There’s probably no conservation issue that he hasn’t been involved with in the last 30 years,” said Gary Botzek of the Minnesota Conservation Federation, who has worked with Ness on outdoor issues. “Hunters and anglers owe him a large debt for all that he has done. He’s a great advocate for the outdoors. We need more like him.”