Greg Kamrowski hunts deer, turkey and pheasants. A past president and current banquet chairman of the Kandiyohi County Pheasants Forever chapter, he primarily chases ringnecks in west-central Minnesota, not far from his home in Willmar.
Kamrowski found reasonably good numbers of birds last fall to flush. But with the pheasant season now closed, he is resigned to passing Minnesota’s coldest months sustained not by the sight of a dog quartering ahead of him or the heft of a scattergun in his hand, but by memories alone of florid roosters rising against autumn’s bluest skies.
Which makes him an ideal candidate to attend Pheasants Forever and Quail Forever’s National Pheasant Fest and Quail Classic on Feb. 14-16 at the Minneapolis Convention Center.
Begun in 2002, the event is held annually at different sites throughout the nation’s primary pheasant range. Equal parts sport show and enthusiasm-builder for hunters and landowners, with an emphasis on habitat, the multi-attraction festival is returning to the Twin Cities for a fifth time.
More than 30,000 conservation-minded upland aficionados are expected to attend.
Many will be like Kamrowski, hungry for another pheasant season, but content for now to meet and gab with others of his sporting persuasion. He also looks forward to learning more about wild game cooking, dog training, habitat development, and public land threats and opportunities.
“Pheasant Fest gets me excited about the fall seasons,” Kamrowski, 52, said. “I like walking around and seeing the new gear, the guns and dogs. There also are a lot of exhibitors from Kansas and South Dakota and elsewhere offering bird-hunting trips to those states. It fires a person up.”
If everyone who gathers at the convention center in a few weeks is “fired up” to celebrate upland wildlife — including butterflies and other pollinators — and the habitat they need to survive, the Pheasant Fest and Quail Classic will have accomplished its goal, said Bob St. Pierre, Pheasants Forever (PF) vice president of marketing.
St. Pierre acknowledged that sustaining interest among pheasant enthusiasts is challenging in times of staggering habitat losses. In Minnesota alone, 800,000 acres of Conservation Reserve Program lands have been converted to crop fields since 2007.
In South Dakota, by acclimation the nation’s pheasant capital, the losses are even more pronounced and will total about 1 million acres this year since 2007.
“When habitat acres are up, and bird numbers with them, not only are our members excited and willing to do more to sustain the good times, but it’s also more likely that hunters who aren’t PF members will become members,” St. Pierre said. “When times are tough, like they have been recently with habitat losses and bird-number declines, there’s more apathy.”
PF’s national office is in St. Paul’s northern suburbs. Founded in Minnesota in 1982, the “Habitat Organization,” as the group brands itself, has 140,000 members nationwide (22,000 in Minnesota), with annual revenue of about $100 million. This year it and its companion organization, Quail Forever, will surpass $1 billion expended to buy, develop and/or enhance upland habitat.
“Selling” the Pheasant Fest and Quail Classic varies in message and tone, year to year, St. Pierre said, depending where it’s held.
Last year, in suburban Chicago, its emphasis was to explain what PF and the Pheasant Fest and Quail Classic are, and how they fit into the hunting-license-revenue-dependent North American wildlife management model.
“Then, two years ago, when we held a wildly successful Pheasant Fest in Sioux Falls, which is essentially ground zero for pheasants and pheasant hunting, everyone knew about us and our habitat work, so we didn’t have to emphasize that angle as much.”
The challenge in bringing the extravaganza to the Twin Cities for a fifth time, he said, is to keep its features “new and different.”
“You don’t want to do the same thing, with the same attractions, every year,” he said.
As part of that freshening effort, an upland bird hunting film festival is slated Feb. 13 at The Pourhouse in Minneapolis (tickets: thepourhousempls.com).
Celebrating the artistry of entered flicks and the birds they applaud, the films and the site of their showing — a popular downtown bar-restaurant — are designed to attract hunters and conservationists of all ages, with an emphasis on millennials, more or less.
The next morning, the show opens at the convention center with the always-popular and occasionally weird Bird Dog Parade, with Kleine Munsterlanders, Spinone Italianos and Bohemian wirehaired pointing griffons joining Labradors, golden retrievers and other, more mundane pheasant-seeking canines in a showy cavalcade of fur, hubris and primping.
After which, special “stages,” or areas, will swing open inside the auditorium. Some will be devoted to nontraditional hunters, such as women and minorities, others to kids, public lands, habitat development and game-cooking.
Biologists and conservation-program specialists also will be on hand to advise landowners, no matter where in the U.S. their property is, about state and federal habitat-safeguarding programs that can boost their bottom lines while reducing topsoil erosion and farmland chemical runoff.
Kamrowski, the Willmar PF member, finds the latter goals particularly compelling.
“I grew up in Fergus Falls, hunting and fishing with my dad, who is a longtime leader of the Otter Tail County PF chapter,” he said. “One reason I joined PF about 20 years ago, in fact, was because I saw how many friends he made through the organization.
“Another reason I joined is that I’m also a fisherman, and I like clean water. How else am I personally going to help clean up water in my area, except by providing more habitat on the land? It all starts by taking care of the land.”
Editor’s note: Single-day National Pheasant Fest and Quail Forever tickets are $15. Ticket packages for all three days, as well as banquets, concerts and other events, also are available at tinyurl.com/vcwqam9.