A week from now — next Sunday — Julia Schrenkler will pilot her VW bus southwest of the Twin Cities with Wren, her German shorthaired pointer, riding shotgun.
Schrenkler’s 2016 Minnesota pheasant opener will be delayed 24 hours because her work as a Minnesota Public Radio senior digital producer will keep her in the Twin Cities on the season’s first day.
“We’ll be streaming ‘Prairie Home Companion’ live Saturday night, and I’ll be helping with that,” she said.
That hunters have reached out in recent years to non-hunters in hopes of stemming the thinning of hunting’s ranks caused by urbanization and other societal changes is widely known.
Kids from non-hunting families have been particularly sought-after, as have youngsters from single-parent families. Both groups, it’s believed, harbor potential hunters, male and female, if they can be exposed firsthand to the experience of sitting in a blind on a cool morning awaiting a flight of ducks, or climbing into a deer stand hoping to see a whitetail.
Some of these efforts have indeed helped develop new hunters. Others have not, in part because conversions from non-hunter to hunter frequently require more than a single exposure to an activity that can at times seem complex.
Schrenkler, 47, of St. Paul, knows the feeling. She grew up in Maplewood, and while she fished recreationally throughout her life, and hiked and otherwise spent considerable time outdoors, she never hunted.
Until a few years ago.
“It all started with my dog, Wren,” Schrenkler said. “In 2013, when she was just 5 months old, I boarded her at a kennel in Oregon while I was in Alaska on vacation.”
Weeks later, Schrenkler returned to the kennel to pick up her buddy. That’s when resident trainer Steve Waller demonstrated a few tricks Wren had learned while her master was away.
“Steve planted a pigeon, then worked Wren into the field, and she pointed it!” Schrenkler recalled. “My first thought was, ‘Now what do I do?’ I was obligated, I felt, to take her hunting, so she could utilize her instincts.
“But I had never hunted. I thought, ‘I’m a meat eater, so that part’s OK.’ But what if I hunted and didn’t like it? What if . . . what if I ended up a vegan!”
• • •
Turns out, people pay attention to tweets.
“That’s how I first interacted with Julia, on Twitter,’’ said Bob St. Pierre, Pheasants Forever marketing vice president.
St. Pierre recalls that he and other PF staff were on their annual Rooster Road Trip — a pilgrimmage from Texas to Minnesota to highlight conservation, as well as pheasant and quail hunting opportunities in those and other states — when he first heard from Schrenkler, a member by then of PF.
“There’s a lot of downside to social media, of course, but there’s a lot of upside as well,” St. Pierre said. “For Pheasants Forever it can be a tool to provide information and to interact with folks. And on a personal level, it provides opportunities to create friendships.”
“I started following Bob [St. Pierre] on Twitter, and have really gained a lot from the information he and PF put online,’’ she said.
Last fall, St. Pierre and Billy Hildebrand, St. Pierre’s co-host on their KFAN outdoors radio show, invited Schrenkler to hunt pheasants with them near Sauk Centre.
By then, Wren was about 3 years old, and her master, Schrenkler, was the proud graduate of a Department of Natural Resources (DNR) hunter education program.
“My [hunter education] classes were held at a VFW post in Uptown,” she said. “It was a great experience.”
A benefit of the class for Schrenkler was exposure to a DNR-sponsored program, Becoming an Outdoors Woman (BOW). Designed to introduce women to various outdoor activities, BOW provided Schrenkler an ideal venue to further her hunting education: a field day at Wings North, a hunting club an hour or so north of the Twin Cities.
“Perhaps 20 women attended, and there were four in my hunting group,” she said. “The event had guides with their trained dogs. I remember shooting quite a few times. I learned a lot. But I didn’t hit anything.”
That would change, as Schrenkler became more comfortable with bird hunting, and more comfortable, too, walking behind Wren, hoping she might point a pheasant just ahead.
So it was last fall when St. Pierre and Hildebrand invited Schrenkler to chase pheasants near Sauk Centre and she accepted.
Not as a veteran hunter, perhaps.
But neither as a novice.
• • •
Hunters preach to non-hunters about the rewards of hunting in part because they are evangelistic. Believers themselves, and advocates, hunters want to spread word.
But converting a non-hunter to a hunter without producing a conservationist in the mix is an opportunity lost.
Schrenkler gets it.
“Becoming a hunter was for me a wake-up call,” she said. “I’ve always been aware and concerned about conservation. But I really do think it took me to become a hunter to become a true conservationist.
“Now when I’m out with my dog and I see degraded water, I’m not just reading about it, I’m seeing it firsthand. Of course, I could just take a walk with Wren and see the same thing. But without the clarity of purpose that comes with hunting, I don’t think I would observe as much.
“What do my friends think about hunting?
“Well, I took a vegetarian friend on a grouse hunt once, and he was OK with it. And I have a couple of other friends who are interested in going along and watching. But they’re not interested in hunting.
“What I can say for sure is that everyone is pro-dog.”
Dennis Anderson email@example.com