Like many Minnesotans, I grew up pheasant hunting, walking the fields on my family’s farm. Itwas, and is, a tradition passed from one generation to the next. Pheasant hunting helped instill in me a lifelong respect for the outdoors.

While time-honored traditions – from the State Fair to fireworks on the Fourth of July – have been upended by COVID-19, pheasant hunting is one thing that has largely stayed the same. COVID-19 hasn’t changed the nature of the sport. In fact, basic gun safety requires social distancing.

Minnesota has a rich history of seizing the seasons no matter the conditions, a tradition that can continue even during the COVID-19 pandemic. Minnesotans can still safely and fully enjoy the three-month pheasant hunting season on our state’s 593,000 acres of public lands in the pheasant range and almost 30,000 Walk-In Access acres.

For Minnesotans, disappearing for a weekend to hunt, fish, or enjoy our state’s natural beauty is a rite of fall. And this year, amid COVID-19, Minnesotans can still find socially distanced solace in the Minnesota pastime that for so long has connected families with the outdoors.

I was looking forward to this year’s annual Governor’s Pheasant Hunting Opener celebration in Fairmont. However, I was still able to enjoy this year’s opener and our beautiful fall weather near my hometown of Mankato in a small, socially distanced group.

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As long as we practice social distancing, mask-wearing, and staying in small groups, Minnesotans don’t need to be home-bound this winter.

Minnesotans should continue to stay active while preventing the spread of COVID-19. As the leaves change and the weather gets colder, this year’s pheasant hunting season serves as a well-timed outlet for stress. The opportunity to spend time outdoors and enjoy the camaraderie of the hunt with friends and family can improve mental health and provide physical, social, and emotional benefits.

It’s important that we continue to seek out the hobbies and passions that get us outside and into our communities. Not only does it benefit our mental health, but it supports our natural habitats and boosts our economy during a particularly challenging time for Minnesota’s working families.

The Minnesota Department of Natural Resources (DNR) estimates that in 2019, more than 52,00 people hunted pheasants in Minnesota alone. By last Friday, the DNR had already sold 50,481 pheasant stamps, up 13 percent from last year. From hunting equipment to travel, hunting energizes local economies and contributes more than 12,400 jobs and $733 million to the state economy.

Minnesota is one of the top pheasant-hunting states in the country. Decades of conservation efforts by Minnesotans made that possible. Each hunt supports our conservation efforts. Funding from hunting licenses provides resources to fight soil erosion, improve water quality, and benefit wildlife species.

Beyond the conservation, commerce, and mental health benefits, pheasant hunting is a valuable part of Minnesota’s cultural heritage. It allows Minnesotans to take advantage of the many opportunities in our state to get outside, while still doing their part to keep their neighbors healthy.

Whether you’re a lifelong hunter or you’re wearing the blaze orange for the first time this year,

I hope you have a safe season and successful hunting.

Tim Walz is the governor of Minnesota.