Area pheasant hunters have gotten accustomed to heading west for action, but next weekend, the real action is definitely to the east.

The Minneapolis Convention Center is host Feb. 14 - 16 to the 2020 National Pheasant Fest & Quail Classic. It will mark the fifth time Minnesota has hosted the national event. Its hosts — Minnesota Pheasants Forever and Quail Forever — are hoping to see as many as 30,000 or more come and enjoy the three days of activities, according to Jared Wiklund, public relations manager for the organizations.

You can look at the convention as a continuation of the season that closed at year’s end, or as an early start on the next. Either way, “it’s a great place to get re-invigorated and get enthusiastic about the traditions of upland hunting,” said Wiklund.

It starts on a fun note. This year’s convention will continue the popular Bird Dog Parade, a spectacle all its own. This year’s parade will feature 100 dogs of many different sporting breeds.

On the serious side, the 2020 convention is putting a focus on the importance of public lands. It will feature presentations and panel discussions with many well-known leaders who understand the importance of our public lands legacy.

Land Tawney, president of Backcountry Hunters and Anglers, will speak and participate in panel discussions on Friday and Saturday. Sam Soholt, who has become well-known for traveling in a bus to hunt public lands in the West, will present on all three days. Convention attendees will hear a west central Minnesota perspective as well: Scott Glup, manager of the Litchfield district U.S. Fish and Wildlife Office, is among panelists for a public lands discussion on Saturday.

At least 10 vendors at the public lands pavilion will be donating anywhere from 10 percent to 50 percent of their revenues to Pheasants Forever to be used toward the acquisition of land for a wildlife management area in Minnesota.

Highlights of the convention also include opportunities to discover new recipes and tips on cooking wild game from some of the country’s best-known chefs. Among them are outdoor adventurer Lisa Erickson, known for her cooking segments on Ron Schara’s “Minnesota Bound” TV show; Danielle Prewett of MeatEater fame; and Jack Hennessy, author of “Braising the Wild blog.”

A separate pavilion will feature presentations and information to help get people started in hunting. There will be people ready to help you make your way into the hunting and fishing realm and connect you with folks to help you do it, according to Wiklund.

Another pavilion will be dedicated to helping landowners develop and maintain habitat. A bevy of biologists will be available to help those interested in making the best choices on Conservation Reserve Program lands.

The country’s pheasant range has seen significant losses in grasslands, especially with the decline of CRP acreage. The loss of habitat has taken its toll: Pheasant numbers are down, and so too are the numbers of hunters who pursue them. In Minnesota, the sale of pheasant stamps declined from a peak of roughly 129,000 in 2006 and 2007 to about 72,000 in 2017.

These challenges are not new. Concerns about the loss of habitat and the desire to get more people in the field had much to do with the start of Pheasants Forever in Minnesota. Kandiyohi County became the state’s first out-state chapter when it was launched in 1983.

That spirit is alive today, according to Wiklund. “You know, in tough times it seems that Pheasant Forever and Quail Forever members rally,” he said when asked the mood going into the convention.

He pointed out that the CRP program is on its way up, with funding to increase the number of acres from today’s 24 million to 27 million. Add to this the pending expiration of contracts for currently enrolled lands, there are opportunities in the CRP sign up on about 8 million acres, he pointed out.

Other positives: Thanks to the Legacy amendment, Minnesota is continuing to acquire and protect habitat. Pheasants Forever and its chapters remain as dedicated as ever to local acquisitions.

“We have a great opportunity here to put more birds on the landscape, absolutely,” said Wiklund. The glory days of pheasant hunting are not over, he added, pointing out that the enthusiasm for upland hunting and habitat preservation will be on full display at the convention.

For more information on the convention: https://www.pheasantsforever.org/Pheasant-Fest.aspx