Taking the field

MARSHALL – More than 20 Minnesota youth and novice female hunters had the opportunity to put their newfound gun safety skills to the test while attending the Lyon County Pheasants Forever Mentor Hunt on Saturday near Marshall.

About a dozen adult mentors assisted at the event, helping to answer questions and guide the participants through the hunting experience.

“I’m nervous,” 13-year-old Danny Worwa said before heading out to hunt. “I’ve never been pheasant hunting before. I did gun training, though.”

Along with four novice adults, Worwa was one of 17 youth to take aim at a paper pheasant target at the Redwood River Sportsmans club after gathering for breakfast.

“We’re just shooting to see where you shot, the pattern of the pellets,” he said.

While Worwa and his father, Dave, are from New Hope, they didn’t mind driving down for the event.

“We had a friend of ours that did this three or four years ago and he really recommended it,” Dave Worwa said. “I used to hunt a lot, 30 years ago, when my dad was around, but I haven’t hunted for quite a while. It takes time to learn and anything being outdoors is good, I think.”

Matt Loftness, conservation officer for Lyon, Redwood and part of Yellow Medicine counties, explained that “patterning” was done to make sure the hunters were shooting in the right direction. He also encouraged the participants to listen to the mentors, ask questions and, above all, be safe.

“You’re all wearing blaze orange, which you have to by state law,” Loftness said. “You also have to know your zones of fire. Your mentors will help you, but you have to walk in straight lines. Make sure nobody is behind you with a gun.”

Loftness also stressed the importance of keeping the mentor’s dogs safe.

“If a rooster gets up and you’re going to fire a shot, make sure you’re letting that bird get up in the air,” he said. “Those dogs will flush those birds and some of the digs will jump up with the bird. My dog is about an $800 dog and I would not want my dog shot. Watch how the digs work. The last thing we want if for one of these dogs to get shot. Otherwise, we want you to have fun.”

LCPF President Nick Simonson said there is a two-bird limit at this time. On Dec. 3, the limit goes up to three. After dividing into four pre-assigned groups and discussing plans, participants and mentors set out to hunt nearby.

“This is a chance to show a lot of these first-time hunters, who have just completed gun safety, how to put what they’ve learned into play,” Simonson said. “Then we’re all in good shape. As long as they know where their muzzle is pointed, where the people and the dogs are and are respectful to the land, that’s all I ask for. Then, we have a great time.”

Twelve people made up Group 3, including 14-year-old Erin Steven of Marshall and her dad, Dan Stevens. The teenager has done the mentor hunt a few times now.

“It was really fun, for sure,” she said after the first walk-through of a wildlife management area. “It’s a good experience. It’s nice to have experienced people with who have done this before. They give you hints and stuff.”

Despite the wind and rain that accompanied the morning hike, Stevens said she enjoyed being out with the other hunters.

“It’s a good lesson,” she said. “It’s just fun being out walking and watching the dogs. It’s fun to watch them work.”

Three dogs – an English setter, a springer and a chocolate lab – joined the five youth in Group 3.

“We saw one rooster, but we weren’t ready for it,” 14-year-old Jared Antony of Marshall said. “We were getting back in line. It was pretty fun, though.”

Antony’s father, Mark, was also present on the hike.

“It’s usually me, by brother (Aaron) and my dad,” Jared Antony said. “We don’t go pheasant hunting very much and we want to learn and get used to it.”

Though no shots were fired until the group moved to the second patch of land, Peter Braun, 13, of Savage, said he had a good time.

“I got two shots off (later),” he said. “It doesn’t matter if I get a bird or not. I just like learning from the mentors.”

Lester Prairie eighth-grader Jamie DeBruyckere bagged Group 3’s only pheasant of the morning.

“It felt pretty good, actually,” she said. “I winged it and then the brittany went and retrieved it. It sounded like she had it in her mouth because you could hear a little fighting. Then she ran and she got it. It was cool.”

DeBruyckere, who was joined on the hunt by her dad, Arlyn, enjoyed the experience, but was also looking forward to heading to the Minneota area, to hunt on her grandpa’s land in the afternoon.

“It’s been really fun,” she said. “The last part we just did, it was really hard walking, but it was worth it. We saw quite a few roosters.”

Simonson said that no one pressures anyone to shoot a pheasant during the hunt, but they do stress safety at all times.

“I was talking to Stretch Lanoue and he said they had 15 birds get up, including five roosters, and nobody shot,” he said. “He and I were OK with that. If a person doesn’t feel comfortable, they don’t have to shoot. The important thing is safety.”

Simonson also noted the young roosters were easily mistaken for hens this year.

“I think it was a late hatch,” he said. “We’re talking mid-July or so. The one we got today, you could barely tell he was a rooster. The only reason we could tell was because he got up crowing. He didn’t have his full colors yet. He was kind of beige, like a hen. And if you don’t know, don’t shoot.”

At lunchtime, people learned that Group 1 had also shot a pheasant. No one knew for sure, however, if it was Joel Zabel, 14, or his friend Nick VanderVoort, 13, who killed the bird.

“We both shot at the same time,” VanderVoort said. “So I guess we both got our first bird at the same time.”

One family of hunters – Mick and Michelle Olson and their sons Marcus, 15, and Micah, 12 – also joined the mentor hunt.

“I grew up with hunters,” Michelle Olson said. “The girls could squirrel hunt and rabbit hunt, but we never duck hunted or bird hunted growing up. And the girls couldn’t deer hunt, so when we had kids, I said my daughter was going to hunt deer.”

The Olsons have helped put a number of kids through gun safety classes, including their own. Now, they just want to learn more about hunting together.

“I’ve gone bow hunting for deer, rifle hunting for deer and we went duck hunting a month ago,” Micah Olson said. “Pheasant hunting is fun, too. I like the shotgun.”

While Micah and his mother ate lunch and rested – he had a hockey game later that evening – his dad and brother hunted a small patch of land adjacent to the Redwood River Sportsmans Club. For his effort, Mick Olson bagged a pheasant.

Simonson said that southwest Minnesota had ample opportunities for pheasant hunting, even if a person didn’t have their own land. “There are 40,000 acres of public access land here,” he said. “That’s just within 30 miles of Marshall.”

Blaine resident Victoria Wise did her research and found that southwest Minnesota had prime pheasant hunting habitat available. After taking gun safety training three years ago, Wise was drawn to the sport of hunting.

“The reason I started was because I was deathly afraid of guns,” Wise said. “I belong to Becoming an Outdoor Woman (BOW), so I thought that through that and gun safety, I would understand the mechanics of the gun and how to handle it and that might alleviate my fear.”

Wise said she had no thought of hunting when she first began classes. “I feel better now,” she said. “I understand it and it’s not as scary for me.”

During the process of taking BOW’s upland bird hunting series, Wise was encouraged to apply for a mentored hunt.

“I looked at the bird numbers and knew this area had good numbers, so I applied for this county,” Wise said. “The pheasant hunting I’ve done has been in game farm situations, so I wanted to come and have a real experience. I enjoy it. It’s a lot of work, but I think it’s a good reason for a hike.”

Besides the enjoyment of watching the dogs work, Wise said she also feels a sense of independence while hunting.

“I think it’s a bit empowering,” she said. “I feel like, if I had to, I could sustain myself. I could hunt for food, and if I were stuck out in the woods, I could survive.”