The Governor's Pheasant Opener last weekend in Marshall unfolded to rave reviews by the 200 or so hunters and guides who participated, and by a like number of additional enthusiasts who attended a banquet that jump-started the two-day event.
That said, a kerfuffle has arisen over the brand of shotgun shells gifted to the hunters and guides at the governor's opener. The steel shells were made by Fiocchi, an Italian ammunition manufacturer.
Fiocchi was not a sponsor of the governor's event, and how their cartridges came to be loaded in shotguns toted by most of the opener's 108 hunters and 47 guides is a twisted tale — and one that miffs Federal Cartridge Co. of Anoka, a leading shotgun cartridge manufacturer.
Federal Cartridge officials note that, unlike Fiocchi, their company employs about 1,000 Minnesotans, and pays about $6 million in state taxes.
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Rewind to 2008, when a proposal by the Department of Natural Resources (DNR) to ban lead shot on state wildlife management areas in Minnesota's agricultural region was torpedoed by the National Rifle Association and the National Shooting Sports Foundation (NSSF), of which Federal Cartridge is a member.
Both groups argued, as did Federal, that the amount of lead shot deposited in these areas (mostly by pheasant hunters) is negligible and poses no threat to people or wildlife.
What's more, no science exists to prove otherwise, the groups said.
The DNR persisted, and in October 2015 it tried a different tack to secure the lead-shot ban. Without notifying Federal in advance, the agency announced it would implement the ban through its rule-making authority.
"Reducing lead in the environment is a good thing," DNR Commissioner Tom Landwehr said at the time. "It seems like it's time to make the switch."
Fighting back, the NRA, the NSSF and Federal Cartridge appealed to legislators for support, and a stalemate ensued until this spring, when the Legislature passed a bill prohibiting the DNR from enacting lead-shot restrictions before July 1, 2019.
The law also gave the DNR $30,000 to study lead-shot deposition on state lands.
President Donald Trump also figures into this story. Recall he was a long shot to win the presidency, and that Hillary Clinton — an advocate of tightening gun laws — was expected to prevail.
In response, the firearms and ammunition industry, expecting a repeat of the sales boom that accompanied President Obama's election, boosted production.
But Clinton didn't get elected, Trump — a gun ownership advocate — did. Result: Gun and ammo sales flattened, and some manufacturers are still sitting on large stores of inventory.
Which is why Federal Cartridge has furloughed more than 400 employees this year, most recently two weeks ago, when 200 hourly and salaried workers were let go.
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The Governor's Pheasant Opener depends on sponsors' contributions of cash and products to pay the bills.
Federal Cartridge was a sponsor of the first six Governor's Pheasant Openers, donating steel shells (all shells at the event are steel or other non-toxic) each time, but declined sponsorship in 2016. Ryan Bronson, Federal's director of conservation and public policy, cited budget issues for the withdrawal. Also, he said, "given the politics of the lead-shot issue" Federal's presence at the governor's event might be distracting.
This spring, Federal indicated it would again sponsor the Governor's Pheasant Opener. Last month, however, the company reconsidered.
"Our promotional budgets were tight, and we were going to lay off 200 more workers," Bronson said. "I didn't think it would look good to be giving away ammunition while we were letting people go."
Federal's last-minute exit left the Marshall organizing committee, headed by Cal Brink, executive director of the Marshall Area Chamber of Commerce, in a lurch.
Cabela's had agreed to donate shells for a youth trap shoot that was part of the weekend event, and the Marshall organizers had a relative handful of Winchester shot shells remaining from that donation. Still, they were shy more than 150 boxes of shells, with a retail value of about $1,500.
"So the committee agreed to buy some shells from Runnings, and Runnings also donated some shells," Brink said.
But when the shells arrived from Runnings on Thursday, Oct. 12, to be stuffed into participants' gift bags, a problem surfaced. The shells were made by Federal, and because Federal had declined sponsorship, the committee thought it would be unfair to promote the company by including its shells in the bags.
This put Brink in an uncomfortable position. A lifelong hunter, he has sided with Federal in its dispute with the DNR over lead shot.
"I have been very vocal in my belief that hunters should have the choice of the type of ammunition they use within different types of hunting situations," he said. "But the Governor's Pheasant Opener sponsorship presented a different kind of issue."
DNR Commissioner Tom Landwehr said last week his agency wasn't involved in the ammo switch. And Lisa Havelka, southern regional manager of Explore Minnesota, the state tourism agency, said the DNR's disagreement with Federal over lead shot didn't factor into her agency's actions, either.
"I'm not familiar with [the lead shot] issue," she said. Instead, "because Federal declined sponsorship, to have them highlighted by including them in the [gift] bags" wouldn't have been right.
So the committee returned the Federal shells to Runnings in exchange for Fiocchi cartridges, the only other brand Runnings had in sufficient number to cover the order.
The next day, Friday, Oct. 13, members of the organizing committee visited a Marshall ice arena that would host the hunters and guides at breakfast and lunch, before and after the hunt on opening morning, Oct. 14.
As part of its sponsorship, Runnings was allowed to park two semi trailers in the arena emblazoned with its logo. Coincidentally, the logos of Browning and Federal Cartridge also were prominently displayed on the trailers.
When the committee saw the Federal Cartridge logo on the trailer, a decision was made to cover it, again because Federal wasn't a sponsor.
But Browning wasn't a sponsor, either, and its logo was allowed to remain. This was because Browning, Brink said, "wasn't competing" with other event sponsors.
Federal Cartridge, Bronson said, understands it put the organizing committee in a tough spot when it declined sponsorship this year.
"Why we would have our product exchanged for an Italian product that wasn't a sponsor, and have our logo blocked out on a trailer, is difficult to understand," Bronson said. "If they say it's not because of our position on lead shot, so be it. But it's like we're being punished for not contributing this year, when we've contributed to six of the eight governor's openers."
Looking for a bad guy in this twisted tale?
More like a kerfuffle.
"A commotion or fuss, especially one caused by conflicting views."