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None for Dayton but 52 birds harvested during Governor's Pheasant Opener

Speaker of the Minnesota House Kurt Zellers, left, U.S. Rep. Collin Peterson and Gov. Mark Dayton discuss the morning's hunt Saturday at the Watson Hunting Camp near the Lac qui Parle refuge. Western Minnesota played host Saturday to the first Governor's Pheasant Opener. (Tribune photo by Tom Cherveny)

MONTEVIDEO -- House Speaker Kurt Zellers bagged the rooster, but Gov. Mark Dayton fired plenty of zingers Saturday as he inaugurated the first Governor's Pheasant Opener near the Lac qui Parle refuge northwest of Montevideo.

"Today the speaker and I were in the same party," said the DFL governor as he, the Republican leader of the House and other hunting party members returned from a morning hunt on public lands on the Lac qui Parle refuge.

The governor did not bag a bird but had to hold his shot as his press secretary was between him and two roosters the party flushed, according to Dave Trauba, manager of the refuge for the Minnesota Department of Natural Resources, who served as the party's guide. Zellers and Paul Johannis, of Willmar, harvested the two roosters for the party.

"The main thing we're just out having a good time," said the governor as the 85 hunters -- split into 10 separate parties -- returned from the morning hunt for a noon lunch. Dayton also went out for second try in the afternoon, but was not successful.

The hunters also included U.S. Reps. Collin Peterson, D-Minn., and John Kline, R-Minn., state Rep. Joe Hoppe, R-Chaska, officials from the DNR, representatives with Pheasants Forever, and media personnel from outlets ranging from Warroad to Worthington.

Organizers felt that Montevideo's role as Pheasant Capitol proved successful, as the hunters chased up and harvested more birds than many had anticipated. At day's end, the participants had harvested 52 birds and counted more than 350 that had been flushed, according to Dennis Larson of Montevideo, who helped organize the event.

"I am surprised to see as many birds," said Tom Landwehr, commissioner of the Minnesota Department of Natural Resources. His son, Hunter, age 13, harvested his limit of two birds.

Congressman Peterson bagged a bird early and was with a party of hunters that harvested five roosters while chasing up lots of hens. Peterson rated the hunt as good as last year's despite predictions that pheasant hunting would be poor due to an estimated 64 percent population drop from last year.

Peterson has been a participant in an annual community hunt hosted by Montevideo, and had originally suggested to Dayton that he make it the site for a first-ever Governor's Pheasant Opener.

By all accounts, getting birds was second to enjoying the morning's sunshine, the countryside and wildlife, and taking opportunities for good-natured ribbing.

Dayton and Zellers joked that they had agreed to make Montevideo the site for a new Vikings stadium, but would hold off until halftime of the game with the Bears on Sunday night to break the news to the owner of the team.

Dayton also teased Zellers that his hunting dog was badly behaved, but added: "He behaved better than members of your caucus."

Zellers took the zingers in good humor. "We had a great morning," he said.

Organizers of the hunt are hoping the event draws attention to the hunting opportunities to be found in the Montevideo area. On that account they had reason to smile as well.

"There's birds here," Larson said.

Tom Cherveny

Tom Cherveny is a regional and outdoor reporter with the West Central Tribune in Willmar, MN.

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