With only a couple of days remaining in the ruffed grouse and pheasant hunting seasons last Dec. 29, Sabin Adams would have been chasing birds, had he felt better.
But he had a cold and wasn’t up to following his two dogs, Daisy and Remnar, through the hinterlands. Besides, nighttime temperatures were dipping below minus-20 near his home in Clarissa, Minn., and he worried the intemperate weather might make him sicker still.
Adams, however, did feel well enough that evening to attend a family holiday party with his wife, Sara, and their 3-year-old son, Briar.
While he was at the gathering, his cellphone rang.
“It was my mother,’’ Adams said. “My parents lived near us. She said I should go home right away. Our house was burning.’’
Thankful that Sara and Briar were with him, Adams nonetheless fretted for the family’s two dogs as he raced home. Daisy was a German shorthair and Labrador retriever mix he acquired while he was a biology student at Bemidji State, and Remnar was a 2½-year-old shorthair.
“By the time I got home,’’ Adams said. “The house was gone, and so were Daisy and Remnar.’’
Twenty-nine years old, Adams belies the slacker caricature that sometimes is ascribed to millennials.
A self-starter and hard worker, he was hired six years ago by Pheasants Forever (PF) to be the conservation group’s Todd County farm bill biologist. Promoted subsequently to PF habitat restoration specialist, and advanced more recently to statewide habitat project manager, Adams is charged with ensuring that the hundreds of thousands of dollars raised annually by the group’s 75 Minnesota chapters are transformed into high-quality upland and wetland habitat.
“A majority of habitat projects we do bubble up from our chapters,’’ Adams said. “A lot of times we’re doing work on public lands they use. Our job is to improve habitat on those lands, and in some cases acquire property to expand them.’’
A true believer in the value of public lands, Adams typically wears out a lot of boot leather every fall crisscrossing state and federal hunting properties in Iowa, Montana, Nebraska and the Dakotas, as well as in Minnesota.
Before their deaths in the house fire, Daisy and Remnar were Adams’ constant companions on these forays. Documenting these hunts in a YouTube vlog, he employs a shoulder-mounted camera to capture images not only of his dogs hunting, but of birds flushing.
Without the dogs, he said, these adventures would seem more like hikes than hunts.
“A buddy told me once he knew a patch of woods where there were ruffed grouse, but said I should leave my dogs at home ‘because we wouldn’t need them at this spot,’ ’’ Adams said. “I told him, ‘No, you go ahead. I don’t really care to hunt without my dogs.’ ’’
In his work for Pheasants Forever, Adams coordinates with the Department of Natural Resources and U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, as well as with Ducks Unlimited, The Nature Conservancy and other conservation groups to plan and fund large habitat projects.
“Contractors have to be hired and the projects supervised so they are completed according to our specifications,’’ Adams said, adding that newly acquired lands ultimately are transferred to the state or federal governments as wildlife management areas or waterfowl production areas.
None of which was on Adams’ mind that cold night last December while he, his wife and son surveyed the charred ruins of their home, and the fates of Daisy and Remnar.
“Working with our insurance company was a challenge,’’ he said. “I kept track. I called them 117 times. Finally, we found a house we liked outside of Osakis. We moved in Feb. 8.’’
But a home wasn’t a home, Adams and his wife believed, without dogs.
Good fortune struck when Brian Weaver, a German shorthair breeder from Ponsford, Minn., who had heard about the fire, offered Adams a free puppy.
“We were so grateful we said we’d buy a second puppy from the same litter,’’ Adams said.
Though just 9 months old, the dogs, named Skipper and Gilligan, would be patrolling a parcel of public land with Adams when the 2019 pheasant season opens at 9 a.m. Saturday were it not for another recent family addition.
Sara gave birth to the couple’s second child, a girl they named Luella, on Monday.
“With the new baby I’ll be hunkering down a bit more than I would otherwise on opening weekend,’’ he said. “Fortunately, there’s public land just down the road, a waterfowl production area, so if I can find a little time to get away, I will.’’