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  • Writer's picturePatrick Durkin

Pheasant Fest Returns to Wisconsin’s Backyard

Whether you want to ogle 45 breeds of sporting dogs, hear inspiring conservation messages from MeatEater’s Steven Rinella, or seek professional help on managing your uplands, you’ll stay busy Feb. 22-24 at the National Pheasant Fest & Quail Classic in Schaumburg, Ill., northwest of Chicago.

This is Pheasants Forever and Quail Forever’s 15th national convention and festival, and it takes place in the Renaissance Schaumburg Convention Center, 90 minutes from Milwaukee and just under two hours from Madison. This marks the third time the three-day event is held in or near Wisconsin. Madison played host in February 2009, and Milwaukee welcomed it in 2014.

Pheasant Fest is the nation’s largest show for upland-game hunters, bird-dog owners and wildlife-habitat conservationists. It draws 20,000 to 30,000 hunters and their families. Although it offers lots of family-based fun, it’s also a trade show featuring wildlife conservation, dog training, wild-game cooking, quail and pheasant hunting, and habitat restoration and management.

Rinella, host of the “MeatEater” TV show on Netflix and hunting’s top-ranked “MeatEater” podcast, will deliver the keynote address Feb. 23 during PF’s national banquet. The Michigan native and lifelong hunter has written several award-winning books, including “The MeatEater Fish and Game Cookbook,” which debuted in November as Publisher Weekly’s No. 11 best-seller and the Washington Post’s No. 13 best-seller in nonfiction books.

The MeatEater cookbook is also’s No. 1 meat-cooking book, and Rinella’s “MeatEater: Adventures from the Life of an American Hunter” ranks No. 7. That book’s audio version ranks No. 11.

“Steven Rinella has become the voice of a new generation of hunters, and we’re thrilled to enlist his talents to help us connect our habitat-conservation message to that new audience,” said Bob St. Pierre, PF’s vice president of marketing and communications.

PF has nearly 150,000 members and 725 local chapters nationwide. Wisconsin has 8,004 PF and QF members, and 31 PF and one QF chapters. Wisconsin’s PF members make up 5.3 percent of the group’s total enrollment.

Since its creation in 1982, PF has spent over $784 million on 530,000 habitat projects benefiting 17 million acres nationwide.

Although Wisconsin supports modest pheasant numbers, we send hunter-packed caravans to Iowa and the Dakotas each fall to hunt ringnecks. Only Minnesota sends more pheasant hunters to South Dakota – the nation’s top pheasant-hunting state.

And make no mistake: Wisconsin doesn’t neglect its pheasants. Wisconsin’s PF/QF chapters have completed 22,663 conservation projects that improved 175,308 acres of wildlife habitat, including 6,873 acres now open to public hunting.

PF in Wisconsin also employs six Farm Bill biologists to help landowners with voluntary conservation programs. So far they’ve provided technical assistance and wildlife planning to landowners/producers on 138,860 acres.

“If we just wanted big numbers for Pheasant Fest, we’d hold it in the Twin Cities near our headquarters every year,” St. Pierre said. “But this is all about making acres while expanding our conservation discussions.”

Pheasant Fest offers everything from kids’ games to training seminars. One of its most popular events is the “Bird Dog Parade,” which features Labradors, Brittanys, Weimeraners, Airedale terriers and over 40 other gun-dog breeds.  This year’s dog parade begins at 11 a.m. on Feb. 22 to help open the show. The “Bird Dog Stage” also offers 10 or more seminars daily, including a popular shed-antler dog-training talk by Tom Dokken.

Also speaking at the event is Wisconsin conservationist Doug Duren of Cazenovia, who will appear daily to discuss how he works with “cooperators” who like doing chores for landowners in exchange for hunting access.

“This is all about sharing the conservation experience,” Duren said. “Few new or young hunters have a network of hunting buddies. They might not be hardcore hunters yet, but they might get there with a landowner’s help. I talk about providing ways for newcomers to hunt, help with chores, and experience the camaraderie that’s a big part of hunting.”

PF also caters to “foodies” and “locavores” with its “Wild Game Cooking Stage,” which features seminars by four accomplished cooks: Hank Shaw, a blogger at “Hunter, Angler, Gardener, Cook,” and author of books and magazine articles about cooking wild game; Lukas Leaf, lead chef for “Modern Carnivore” and executive director of Sportsmen for the Boundary Waters; Rachel Hogan, a certified natural-foods chef and upland hunting guide; and John Hennessy, a blogger at “Braising the Wild” and prolific recipe creator.

For families, the “Youth Village” offers instruction on fishing, airguns, dog training and wildlife crafts. The “Pollinator Pavilion” offers seminars on honey bees, monarch butterflies and other species that depend on wildflowers.

Meanwhile, PF/QF focuses on its habitat-conservation programs, including its popular “Landowner Habitat Help Desk” and a “precision ag” workshop. An integral part of those services is the Farm Bill Biologist program, a partnership between PF, wildlife agencies, and the USDA’s Natural Resources Conservation Service.

“People can come to Pheasant Fest and walk out with a conservation plan for their property,” St. Pierre said. “We’ll also show them how drones can be used to assess crops, water, milkweed plants and other necessities.”

St. Pierre encourages landowners to bring a legal description of their property (township, range and section), or be able to pinpoint their property on a map. A PF biologist will study aerial photos and topographical maps of their land and discuss options with them.

Pheasant Fest’s hours are noon to 8 p.m. on Friday, Feb. 22; 9 a.m. to 6 p.m. on Saturday, Feb. 23; and 9 a.m. to 4 p.m. on Sunday, Feb. 24.

Wisconsin Pheasant Stamp Sales

Year Stamps

2017 32,118

2016 33,279

2015 35,036

2014 35,077

2013 35,198

2012 35,428

2011 34,569

2010 37,135

2009 40,096

2008 42,272

2007 39,760

2006 33,243

2005 30,456

2004 31,024

2003 33,288

2002 32,319

2001 31,437

2000 31,911

1999 34,049

Patrick Durkin photos:

-- Pheasants Forever has nearly 150,000 members nationwide, including 8,004 in Wisconsin.

-- Badger-state hunters and their gun-dogs travel often to Iowa and the Dakotas to hunt pheasants, and work closer to home to improve Wisconsin’s pheasant habitat.

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