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Wild Side: Big year for Kinnickinnic Chapter of Pheasants Forever

Successful young hunter Colin Roettger with a brace of pheasants, his father Al on the right and Tim Christensen on the left with his dog Ranger. Note the excellent pheasant habitat, big bluestem prairie grass, in the background. Dan Wilcox photo.

On a cloudy and cool Saturday morning in late September the Kinnickinnic Chapter of Pheasants Forever (PF) held its 24th annual dog trial at the Brian and Mary Hopp farm north of Beldenville. Unusually heavy rains in late summer forced cancellation of the dog trial last year.

The annual PF dog trial is a family event with a big tent, hunters, spectators, food, kids and plenty of dogs. It's a fundraiser for the PF chapter and a time for hunters and dogs to get tuned up for hunting season starting later this month. Hunters and dogs were judged on finding, shooting and retrieving pheasants. The cool weather and dew in the morning made good conditions for the dogs that follow their noses to find the birds.

A brief morning shower cast a rainbow over the "HoppDakota" farm on Sunday morning as the annual PF youth hunt began. The youth hunt is also a family affair, with moms, dads, kids and dogs. About 20 PF volunteers helped out.

Eighteen young hunters participated this year. Most had already completed a hunter safety course and had done some clay bird target shooting at the River Falls Sportsmen's Club. The young hunters that completed a Hunter Safety course were allowed to hunt pheasants in the field. Youngsters who hadn't yet completed a Hunter Safety course could do target practice shooting accompanied by a parent or guardian.

Charles Earhart, State PF Youth Education coordinator, came up from Mineral Point with several automated clay bird throwers and a number of youth-sized shotguns. Earhart gave refresher instruction on firearm safety to the young hunters. PF emphasizes hunter safety during pheasant hunting; carrying guns in the "port arms" position and shooting only ahead and high to protect other hunters and the dogs.

Brian Hopp, Belinda Hopp, Mel Warren, Chris Gervais and other PF volunteers conducted a clay bird target practice for the kids. They provided some additional youth-sized guns, shells, targets, protective glasses and hearing protection. They instructed the young hunters in shooting technique. Young Nicholas and his brother David Krampert of Hudson noticeably improved their shooting with practice and powdered many of the clay birds thrown for them.

In addition to target practice, the young hunters got a chance to do some pheasant hunting. PF volunteers provided blaze-orange clothing. The Ellsworth Rod and Gun Club donated 60 large rooster pheasants for the youth hunt. Some of the parents and kids had their own dogs, but PF volunteers ran their dogs for those who didn't. Not all the boys and girls bagged pheasants but some of them, including 13-year-old Colin Roettger of River Falls, carried birds back from the field. After the hunt, the PF volunteers served lunch for all.

Tim Christensen said that this year was a good one for the Kinnickinnic PF Chapter. A successful fundraising banquet in March enabled the chapter to purchase and donate a considerable amount of wildlife shrubs and food plot seed at the annual DNR habitat plants distribution event in Baldwin last spring. The Kinnickinnic PF Chapter, along with the Kinnickinnic River Land Trust and with a generous contribution from the Nagel family acquired the 210-acre Nagel property in the Kinnickinnic River headwaters near Casey Lake in St. Croix County. The Nagel family had already planted much of the property to native prairie vegetation. The land has since been donated to the DNR to be a wildlife management area accessible to the public.

The Kinnickinnic PF Chapter helped sponsor another youth educational hunting event this year. It is planning an annual fundraising banquet next year on March 10 at the River Falls Golf course to help continue its efforts to improve wildlife habitat and to promote conservation-minded hunting.

There are many young hunters in the area who remember the Brian and Mary Hopp farm from their first hunting experience and appreciate the PF volunteers who taught them.

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