Young guns get invited to Governor's Pheasant Opener

  • Article by: DOUG SMITH , Star Tribune
  • Updated: October 16, 2013 - 12:23 AM

Eight enthusiastic teenage hunters were invited to the Governor’s Pheasant Opener.

view larger photos

  

MADELIA, Minn. --

Fourteen-year-olds Stephanie Lohse and Blair Jilek, cradling 12-gauge shotguns, hiked through tall amber prairie grass Saturday, seeking rooster pheasants on Minnesota’s ringneck opener.

They didn’t bag a bird, but they did bag a photo with Gov. Mark Dayton.

The pair were among eight high school students — and top shooters in the Minnesota State High School Clay Target League — invited to the Governor’s Pheasant Opener. Only about 100 people got the coveted invitations, and this was the first time since the event was launched three years ago that high school clay target shooters were invited.

“The goal is to get more youths hunting, and this seemed like a natural fit,” said Dan Madsen, Madelia city administrator and an event organizer. “Everyone was excited about it. It’s something that hadn’t been done.”

Getting more kids out hunting, at a time when the number of hunters nationally is on the decline, long has been the goal of conservation groups and agencies such as Pheasants Forever and the Department of Natural Resources, both of whom sponsor youth hunts. In Minnesota, while the number of hunters has remained stable, their average age is getting older, meaning fewer young people are replacing older hunters who drop out of the sport.

The phenomenal growth of the league — 30 students at three high schools participated in 2001, and 3,400 students from more than 200 schools in the league this year — shows kids are interested in shooting sports. How many of those shooters will become hunters is unknown.

Lohse, a ninth-grader at Lester Prairie High School, was the top female shooter on her team this year. Blair was one of the top male shooters on the same team. Both break 85 percent or better of the clay targets they shoot at in competition.

Shooting at clay targets and game was a natural for both: They’ve been hunting since they were 12, encouraged and taught by family hunters.

“Not a lot of girls hunt in my grade,” Lohse said. “But I love hunting, and it doesn’t matter to me that no one else did it.”

Jilek knows a few boys who hunt, and said he started clay target shooting to hone his skills for hunting.

“It’s made me better,” he said.

Mike Bjork of Mayer, their shooting coach, also was invited to the event. He said kids approached him three years ago about forming a clay target team. Bjork, an avid hunter, agreed to pitch the proposal to the school board.

“I was a little nervous, mixing guns and school, but the board approved it,” Bjork said. “The first year, we had 18 on the team. Last year there were 34. I expect about 45 next year.”

When Bjork learned he and two of his students had been invited to the Governor’s Opener, he was thrilled. “What better way to get them involved,” he said.

“Minnesota has such a hunting heritage. This [hunting and clay target shooting] is something anyone can do. You don’t need to be a jock. And it’s something they can do their entire lives, and it gets them outside and enjoying nature.”

These kids aren’t one-dimensional, either. Lohse participates in track and basketball; Jilek plays football and basketball. Jilek played in the football team’s homecoming game Friday, and both went to the homecoming dance, then got up at 5 a.m. to make the trip to Madelia.

“They’re tired,” Bjork said.

The pair hunted in separate groups Saturday morning, tramping through prairie grass in a recently acquired state wildlife management area.

Jilek hunted with Stacey and Leslie Malmgren, 28-year-old twins who grew up near St. James and now live in Sioux Falls, S.D., and Nicole Davros, the DNR’s pheasant biologist. The Malmgrens have been hunting since they were kids, encouraged by dad, Dennis, a local Pheasants Forever leader.

Stacy Malmgren took the only shots the group fired at one fast-flushing rooster and missed.

“I’m happy we’re seeing birds,” she said under a bright sun and blue sky. “And it can’t be a more beautiful day.”

Considering the pheasant population is down 29 percent this year, Jilek and Lohse each saw encouraging numbers of birds, including some immature ones that were difficult to identify as roosters or hens. That neither got to demonstrate their considerable shooting abilities didn’t bother them.

“It was still fun, and at least we saw birds,” Lohse said.

“I had fun,” Jilek said.

“They’re such pretty birds,” Bjork said, cradling a rooster downed by a member of his hunting group.

“And they’re good eating,” Jilek said.

Later, the three joined about 100 hunters for lunch under a tent, while Dayton and others spoke of the new wildlife area that was being dedicated. Then, before heading for home, a beaming Bjork, Jilek and Lohse got their photo taken with Dayton.

“That will go in the yearbook and on their Facebook pages,” Bjork said.

 

Doug Smith • dsmith@startribune.com

  • related content

  • Photo gallery: High school shooters at Governor’s Pheasant Opener

    Tuesday October 15, 2013

    Young people are the future of hunting, so organizers of the third Governor’s Pheasant Opener said it makes sense...

  • Pheasant hunters still optimistic despite dreary opener

    Wednesday October 16, 2013

    MADELIA, Minn. --High winds, rain, a sea of unharvested corn and a smaller ringneck pheasant population — that’s not exactly...

  • Stephanie Lohse, 14, of Lester Prairie, Minn., hunted pheasants Saturday at the Governor’s Pheasant Opener. She was one of eight Minnesota State High School Clay Target League competitors invited to this year’s event. “Not a lot of girls hunt in my grade,” Lohse said. “But I love hunting and it doesn’t matter to me that no one else did it.”

  • Blair Jilek, 14, of Lester Prairie started clay target shooting to hone his skills for hunting. He and Stephanie Lohse later had their photo taken with Gov. Mark Dayton.

  • get related content delivered to your inbox

  • manage my email subscriptions

Click here to send us your hunting or fishing photos – and to see what others are showing off from around the region.

ADVERTISEMENT

NY Mets 4 FINAL
St. Louis 5
Pittsburgh 4 FINAL
Minnesota 2
St. Louis 1 FINAL
Washington 1
Boston - LP: C. Buchholz 2 FINAL
Atlanta - WP: J. Teheran 4
NY Yankees 10 FINAL
Philadelphia 0
Tampa Bay 0 Cancelled
Baltimore 0
Detroit 1 FINAL
Toronto 4
Chicago WSox 3 FINAL
Chicago Cubs 6
Texas 6 FINAL
Oakland 7
Cleveland 2 FINAL
Arizona 3
Arizona 7 FINAL
LA Angels 2
Miami 0 Cancelled
Houston 0
Seattle 0 Top 2nd Inning
Kansas City 2
San Francisco 9:05 PM
Los Angeles
Colorado 9:05 PM
San Diego
Milwaukee 9:05 PM
Cincinnati
Detroit 111 FINAL
Orlando 97
LA Clippers 115 4th Qtr 3:45
Philadelphia 90
Charlotte 93 4th Qtr 0:58
Washington 90
Boston 70 4th Qtr
New York 63
Cleveland 83 4th Qtr 7:57
Brooklyn 86
LA Lakers 66 4th Qtr
Toronto 71
Miami 67 4th Qtr 11:23
Atlanta 91
Golden State 54 3rd Qtr
Memphis 49
Sacramento 55 3rd Qtr 5:31
New Orleans 52
Minnesota 50 3rd Qtr
Houston 60
Dallas 27 2nd Qtr 6:19
San Antonio 44
Utah 8 1st Qtr 5:59
Denver 12
Portland 9:00 PM
Phoenix
Calgary 1 2nd Prd 7:27
Minnesota 1
Columbus 4 2nd Prd
Chicago 2
Dallas 8:30 PM
Edmonton
UCLA 62 FINAL
Gonzaga 74
NC State 54 2nd Half 4:53
Louisville 58
Utah 8:45 PM
Duke
Kent State 9:00 PM
Northern Ariz
Michigan State 9:07 PM
Oklahoma
(15) North Carolina 65 2nd Half 0:22
(3) South Carolina 65
(18) Iowa 63 2nd Half 1:34
(5) Baylor 78
(9) Arizona State 8:30 PM
(7) Florida State
(14) Stanford 9:00 PM
(2) Notre Dame
Connect with twitterConnect with facebookConnect with Google+Connect with PinterestConnect with PinterestConnect with RssfeedConnect with email newsletters

ADVERTISEMENT

ADVERTISEMENT

ADVERTISEMENT

ADVERTISEMENT

question of the day

Poll: Should the lake where the albino muskie was caught remain a mystery?

Weekly Question

ADVERTISEMENT

 
Close