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No outdoors indoors

COVID brings a halt to many sportsmen’s groups annual gatherings

Kim Fundingsland/MDN Young hunters prepare for a Youth Pheasant Hunt conducted by Pheasants For The Future of Minot. The organization is one of many in the region that is being affected by the coronavirus pandemic.

Coronavirus has severely cut into the scheduled activities on many fronts, including the annual banquets and fundraisers of area wildlife and sportsmen’s organizations. For some, it will be the second such cancellation due to COVID.

Although participation in outdoor activities has seen a large increase during the coronavirus pandemic, unfortunately, most indoor programs have been canceled, crushed due to COVID concerns.

Examples include the recent round of North Dakota Game and Fish Department advisory board meetings, once again held “virtually” with none of the face-to-face interaction with interested sportsmen in local communities throughout the state.

Fargo was forced to shelve its Ice Fishing Show due to Health Department guidelines enacted due to coronavirus precautions. In announcing the cancellation show organizers said they plan to make the 2021 show “bigger than ever” next Dec. 10-12. The Minot Rifle and Pistol Club’s Fall Gun Show fell to COVID as well. The popular event was scheduled to be held at the State Fair Center this past Nov. 28-29.

“It’s a loss,” said Eric Lehner, president, Minot Rifle and Pistol Club.

The club, like many others, rely on income received from annual events to support other causes within the community and area. The loss of annual fund-raising events by many sportsmen’s groups will have a trickle-down effect, limiting or eliminating their contributions made to youth groups and conservation efforts.

The West Dakota Waterfowlers regrettably was forced to cancel its 15th annual banquet scheduled for February. The event normally attracts up to 250 sportsmen that participate in a fund-raising auction and various raffles.

“The regulations have cut us down to so few people that we can’t even have all of our sponsors there,” said Dale Filipek, West Dakota Waterfowlers. “This will cut into all kinds of things we donate to. COVID has kind of blown a hole in everybody’s year.”

Trophy Night is an annual event hosted by Minot’s Souris Valley Bowmen the Saturday prior to Super Bowl Sunday. Not this year though.

“Right now we’ve canceled it and we’re watching our money,” said Jeff Jacob, Souris Valley Bowmen.

Jacob said the SVB count on businesses helping to contribute auction and raffle items but that it is a “tough time” to request such donations.

One of the last club’s to host a fund-raising banquet is the Souris River Basin Longbeards. They were able to host a banquet Feb. 8, 2020, just weeks before the coronavirus pandemic struck. Their 2021 banquet has been moved to March 20 in the hope that the COVID effect will be on the decline. Still, says club President D.J. Randolph, necessary changes are being made.

“Normally we have around 275 people. Now we’re planning on a scaled down version of 100-110. That’s all we’re allowed to have,” said Randolph.

The SRBL hold their event at Minot’s Grand Hotel, counting on raffles to raise money to support a wide variety of projects. Less people means less fund-raising.

“You need numbers,” said Randolph. “Our raffles and auctions will be run differently. Hopefully, things will ease by then and we’ll have a good time.”

Randolph noted that even securing volunteers during the pandemic is an issue, something other organizations have noted as well.

The SRBL have already canceled their annual ice fishing derby on Lake Darling. That event had been set for Jan. 9. Canceled too was their spring fishing derby scheduled last June. Yet another loss due to COVID is the club’s annual scholarship contribution to top high school students in the area.

“There’s no scholarships this year, kind of a sad deal,” said Percy Ottmar, SRBL. “We won’t be doing anything with that.”

One of the state’s best known annual fundraisers is the Devils Lake Volunteer Fire Department Ice Fishing Derby, the largest such event in the state. It attracts 4,000-5,000 people on the ice and many more attending various events associated with the derby. It is still scheduled for Jan. 30 but won’t quite be conducted as usual.

“Pre-registration and some of the stuff we do downtown is probably not going to happen,” said Cory Meyer, DLVFD. “We feel we can get on the ice and do it safely, COVID friendly. The holes in the ice are drilled 10 feet apart and we are encouraging people to stay with the people that came with them. Give a little space and wear masks of some sort.”

Meyer says outdoor registration “on the ice” is a likely alternative to having fishermen register at an indoor location. Also, he says, other changes are possible. Meyer encourages anyone interested in the event to check the DLVD Fishing Derby website frequently to stay up to date, particularly after Jan. 4.

The Mule Deer Foundation has a banquet scheduled for March 6, 2021, at Minot’s Sleep Inn. Whether the event will actually be held on that date remains in question according to Regional Director Marshall Johnson, Bismarck.

“That’s our earliest banquet in 2021,” said Johnson. “All of our events have a backup dates 30 to 45 days later. We’ve set up and canceled and set up and canceled several events. The longer this goes on the scarier it gets. We’ve canceled the Dickinson event three times.”

Johnson said he requires all volunteers working Mule Deer Foundation gatherings to wear masks and utilizes plexi-glass protective shields where possible to “do the best we can.”

“We are planning for 50% of the previous year. That’s what we are anticipating,” said Johnson. “We’ve got some really strong chapters out there but it is hard to keep your volunteers engaged. We’ve really tightened the belt, had some furloughs and wage cuts but we’ve done very well as an organization.”

Pheasants For The Future in Minot hosts the city’s largest sportsmen’s banquet every year with an attendance anywhere from 800 to 1,200 people at the State Fair Center. Their March of 2020 banquet and fundraiser was canceled because of COVID. Now they’ve lost their 2021 banquet as well.

“It just doesn’t make financial sense for us,” said Kellen Lattendresse, banquet co-chairman. “The best case scenario is that we can have 200 people there, including staff. We have 50 people on our board.”

PFTF President Ben Goodman said a decision was made in mid-December to cancel the banquet but held open the remote possibility that it might be held should the situation change.

“It doesn’t mean that if things are looking really well we don’t call some sort of audible,” remarked Goodman. “We just didn’t see a way to gather enough people and actually be able to social distance. We are coming up with some online auction deals and a couple of other raffles.”

Pheasant groups are popular throughout the state, including the Sakakawea Chapter of Pheasants Forever in Garrison. Their annual fall banquet for 2020 was postponed due to coronavirus. Now they are hoping to hold a fund-raiser this spring, if possible.

“We went to Plan B, tentatively,” said Patricia Stockdill, secretary. “We are looking at holding what we dub the “‘spring hatch“‘ sometime in March. Not a full-blown banquet. We will cut back. We’re up in the air.”

Stockdill said the Sakakawea Chapter hopes to meet sometime in January to go over their options for holding an event in some form, normally in the Garrison City Auditorium.

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