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Willmar dog trainer guides governor's party

Tribune photo by Tom Cherveny Paul Johannes was tapped to help lead the hunting party of Minnesota Gov. Mark Dayton, top right, with his gun dogs. Johannes is shown with two of the four Springer Spaniels he led. The party of four hunters bagged two roosters while working public land on the Lac qui Parle wildlife area.

By Tom Cherveny

LAC QUI PARLE -- Working his dogs to flush ringtails is nothing new for Paul Johannes.

Doing so on behalf of the Governor and Speaker of the House in the state legislature, well, that was definitely new stuff for Johannes, who lives just south of Willmar.

"I've taken out other hunting parties and so forth, but this is the first time with a political figure,'' said Johannes last Saturday at the Watson Hunting Camp near the Lac qui Parle Wildlife Area.

And what was it like?

"We had a blast,'' he said.

Johannes had just returned from a morning pheasant hunt with Gov. Mark Dayton and House Speaker Kurt Zellers.

Leading the hunting party on public land was Dave Trauba, manager of the Lac qui Parle wildlife refuge for the Minnesota Department of Natural Resources. Katherine Tinucci, press secretary to the governor, also joined the party but did not hunt.

Johannes sells insurance in the Willmar-to-Olivia area.

He is known by many for his passion for dogs. He is an amateur trainer and participates in hunting competition field trials, sometimes traveling long distances to do so.

He owns some hunting land south of Montevideo. He had offered it for use during the Governor's Pheasant Opener when he learned that the hunt's sponsors were looking for sites. They asked for his resume. He sent it in.

"And I got a phone call asking if I would guide the governor's team,'' said Johannes, laughing.

He led the party with four Springer Spaniels, one of which belonged to a friend. He's been working almost exclusively with Springer Spaniels since 1992; before that, he favored pointers.

Johannes said the dogs worked the ground hard. So did the hunters. They pushed hard through what he called some "very nasty cover.''

"It was hard to hunt,'' said Johannes.

Zellers and Johannes each bagged a rooster. The governor's chance might have come when two roosters were flushed, but Johannes said his press secretary was between him and the birds.

"I have to give the governor credit," he said. "We worked hard this morning and he wants to go out again.''

The afternoon outing did not produce a bird for the governor either, but it really did not matter.

Johannes and Trauba both emphasized that the day was all about enjoying the outdoors. Trauba said it was hard to ask for a better day. Blue skies and perfect temperatures, and there were new geese and ducks flying into the refuge. "Thrilled,'' said Trauba after the morning's hunt.

Getting a bird is a bonus, said Johannes. He enjoys working the dogs as much as anything. He confessed that he's virtually quit deer and waterfowl hunting because pheasant hunting gives him the best opportunity to go afield with his dogs.

"It was a fun day, it really was,'' said Johannes.