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It takes a village to have a successful pheasant hunt

By Janet Kubat Willette

Date Modified: 02/05/2013 4:22 PM

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WATERTOWN, Minn. — Decision makers take care of the things they know.

It's our responsibility to educate them on the different things that are out there, said Wayne Trapp, who teaches science and advises the Conservation Club at Waconia High School.

The Waconia High School Conservation Club formed in 2006-07. Its goal is to offer members an opportunity to explore, expand and protect natural resources. Club activities range from ditch clean ups and camp outs to ice fishing and cleaning up the lake shore. The club has 250 members.

For the past four or five years, the club has participated in a youth pheasant hunt. This year, the club hunted at Wings of Watertown, which is owned by Bill McDonald.

McDonald put the land in the Conservation Reserve Program six years ago. It's a 15-year contract. McDonald has turned part of the former field into a hunting preserve with the goal of making enough to pay the taxes and keep the land in the conservation program.

"The thing is, my dad (Flip) was pretty smart before he died, we used to just laugh and say wouldn't it be great if we could afford to keep it in habitat," McDonald said.

Economic pressure exists to take the land out of conservation. McDonald has 200 tillable acres enrolled and he figured that with the crop prices last year and the farm's high corn base he would have made more than enough to pay the penalty for early withdrawal.

But he and his wife both work full time and he loves to hunt and fish. If all the habitat is eliminated, where will people hunt and fish?

He remembers his father saying, "Are you going to drain all the lakes," during a fishing conversation. That comment echoes in his mind as he does everything possible to keep his family's land wild.

At the same time, McDonald says he understands why farmers are bulldozing trees and taking out habitat. Huge money is involved and it makes all the sense in the world to farm that land, he said.

Yet, there are some farmers who choose conservation. Some tend shelterbelts and waterways and enroll pieces of land in continuous CRP or the general Conservation Reserve Program.

"As a farmer, I am concerned with land conservation," said Bruce Schmoll, who farms near Claremont and is president of the Minnesota Soybean Growers Association. "Many of us are hunters and believe in providing an environment that allows for sustaining manageable population levels of wildlife that will be enjoyed by many generations to come."

Schmoll raises pheasants, something he started when his sons were in gun safety. He now has two granddaughters who enjoy his pheasant raising hobby. He raises about 50 birds a year and is a board member for Pheasants Forever in Dodge County.

He's been involved in the pheasant youth hunt for young people who take firearm safety training in Dodge County for three or four years.

His female yellow lab, Bella, is excited about hunting, gentle and eager to please. She goes along on the youth hunts.

Trapp, who grew up in Claremont, needed extra help this year with the WHS Conservation Club youth hunt and called on Schmoll to come to Watertown with Bella. The two men knew each other through Boy Scouts, Trapp was a member and Schmoll helped with the troop.

"You meet neat people and it's important to stay in contact with them," Trapp said.

Since harvest was over, Schmoll decided to head north to help at the Nov. 30 hunt.

It was quite an experience at Wings of Watertown, as a film crew from Minnesota Bound accompanied Schmoll as he took the youth and dogs pheasant hunting. For many of the youth, it was their first hunt.

Schmoll, who has trained Bella only with voice commands, it meant keeping track of her, talking to the film crew and keeping track of the students under his watch all at the same time.

It can be a bit of a circus atmosphere with dog handlers shouting commands or making hand signals to their dogs, kids hollering and adults coaching on when a pheasant is in range and what's a safe direction to shoot.

Thirty kids hunted that day in groups of 10 and 50 birds were put out. The students shot 31 birds. One group got 14 of the 15 birds that were put out for them, Trapp said.

It was a successful hunt, but Conservation Club activities are about so much more.

"It's not whether you catch a fish or shoot a bird, it's everything that goes with it," Trapp said.

It's the stories, the camaraderie, the experience. He shared a story of one father who dropped his daughter and a friend off for ice fishing, leaving them with a radio, ice shack and fishing equipment. When he returned to pick up the girls, he thanked Trapp for giving him something to talk to his daughter about. The two had spent the evening before taking out the fishing equipment and talking.

Trapp said research indicates that kids active in the outdoors have a lower chance of them making bad choices.

A lack of understanding of the outdoors exists.

There will come a time with the kids in the Waconia High School Conservation Club will be leaders. They will have to make the decisions about what they value. His goal is that they make an informed decision.