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outdoors Willmar, 56201

Willmar Minnesota 2208 Trott Ave. SW / P.O. Box 839 56201

WILLMAR -- Slowly, but surely, the presence of deer hunting organizations is starting to take shape in Kandiyohi County.

Although the Minnesota Deer Hunters Association has been making itself and its programs known statewide for more than 25 years, a chapter in Kandiyohi County has been missing for a number of them.

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That changed last year, and a handful of energetic go-getters are starting to raise the MDHA's banner locally.

"The Kandiyohi County chapter has a small core group of very excited people who are in the process of rebuilding the chapter after several years of inactivity," wrote Mark Johnson, MDHA executive director, in an email to the Tribune. "I think the chapter has a very bright future, especially since they are concentrating on two very keep issues: hunting opportunity and youth hunter recruitment. With local deer numbers being down, people are concerned about not just their opportunity to hunt but also whether youngsters will have an opportunity to harvest a deer.

"MDHA and our Kandiyohi Chapter are committed to raising awareness and funds to reinvest in local projects and opportunities. Every dollar we raise stays in (Minnesota)."

Dennis Passa, the president of the Kandiyohi chapter, said his group is small with about a half-dozen members, and could use a lot more help.

"The biggest problem is getting people to commit to spending a little bit of time doing stuff," he said. "We're looking for help putting a banquet together and our habitat program."

One of the MDHA's programs that has become extremely popular is Hides for Habitat, which collects donated deer hides and sells them. Proceeds from those sales fund MDHA habitat programs.

"MDHA's Hides for Habitat is now in its 25th year and has generated about $4 million for Habitat projects on public land and for outdoor youth education and firearms safety training," Johnson wrote. "About 40 of MDHA's 67 chapters will be participating in collecting hides again this fall."

Area drop-off sites can be found on the MDHA's web site at www.mndeerhunters.com.

Passa said his chapter does collect hides, which in turn provides money locally for other potential programs.

"We've looked at doing some feed plots, but we're leaning toward partnering with the state to purchase some property," he said. "If we can throw in some local money, it reduces the cost for the state."

Like other habitat-oriented organizations -- Pheasants Forever, Ducks Unlimited, etc. -- the MDHA has to derive its funds from people in a poor economy. Not as many dollars come funneling in as in past years. But those dollars still find their way to the right places, Johnson noted.

"Despite the economy, membership is steady to climbing. MDHA Chapter fundraisers across the state are generally doing quite well. I think this is due to the fact that dollars raised at MDHA fundraisers is spent on wildlife habitat projects and young hunter education programs right here in (Minnesota). People want to know that their dollars are being spent wisely and one of our goals has been to make sure our chapters are communicating when and where money is being spent. Funds raised by MDHA chapters are used exclusively in Minnesota."

But to continue to improve deer habitat and hunting opportunities in Kandiyohi County, more help is needed.

"We're looking for a few more members," said Passa. "We have a lot of people that might come to the banquet, eat and take chance to win a gun, but not a lot of people willing to spend a few hours to help with the banquet."

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