Rick Peterson marveled at the positive energy surrounding 2014’s Minnesota Governor’s Pheasant Opener in Worthington.
“I remember thinking, ‘This has been spectacular,’ ’’ said Peterson, who hosted a group of hunters at the request of local civic leaders.
Peterson is the publishing general manager of the Rock County Star Herald newspaper in Luverne, a community one-third the size of Worthington with less pheasant habitat. Privately, he doubted Luverne could ever host the event. Today he’s a believer.
“I challenged the people of Luverne,’’ said Peterson, chairman of the local organizing committee. “We think we hit the nail on the head.’’
The eighth and final rooster celebration of Mark Dayton’s governorship unfolds Friday and Saturday in the extreme southwestern corner of the state. Some 360 attendees will dine Friday night at Luverne’s Grand Prairie Events before more than 150 of those visitors don blaze orange Saturday morning to tote shotguns across scattered parcels of prairie grass in search of wild ringnecks.
Organized under a break-even budget of $90,000 to $100,000, Luverne stayed true to the pheasant opener challenges met previously in Worthington, Montevideo, Marshall, Madelia and Mankato. The host communities raise money from sponsors, hold fundraising events, gain hunting cooperation from private landowners and pair groups of invited hunters with volunteer field generals.
Host communities must provide event space big enough to hold the banquet and flexible enough to accommodate muddied hunters, their dogs and bloody birds.
“We are pulling 300 to 400 people into our community, and we want to show them what we’ve got and encourage them to come back,’’ said Ron Prorok, a Pheasants Forever volunteer and employee of the Marshall Convention and Visitors’ Bureau, last year’s host.
The finishing touches in Luverne are still coming together. The high school marching band will play, corn stalks have been tied to 56 downtown light poles — 25 stalks to each pole — and the local Fine Arts Association will display a set of 30-foot wooden pheasants on S. Hwy. 75. A hunting dog parade is set for Saturday afternoon, a new Polaris ATV will be raffled and Pheasants Forever will join the Department of Natural Resources in dedicating a new public hunting land and conservation area called Rooster Ridge.
“The hardest thing for them is you’ve got to find enough landowners to give up their hunting space for Saturday morning,’’ said Dan Ruiter, a DNR spokesman. “They’ve done that and they’ve got lots of cooperation from business leaders.’’
Jane Wildung Lanphere of the Luverne Area Chamber said the blast of collaborative energy that’s funneled into the pheasant opener will promote the activity throughout southwestern Minnesota and put a spotlight on Rock County — the only county in Minnesota without a lake.
“We don’t have fishing as something to draw travelers,’’ Wildung Lanphere said. “It’s drawing attention to another sport that we have here and are proud of.’’