WORTHINGTON - One of the largest and most active Pheasants Forever chapters in the Midwest is gearing up for its annual fundraising banquet next week.

Nobles County Pheasants Forever will celebrate its 36th year and 37th land acquisition March 22 at the Worthington Event Center. Doors open at 5:30 p.m., with a meal to be served at 7 p.m. On hand for this year’s event will be nationally renowned wildlife artist Michael Sieve, who has donated an original oil painting to be raffled during the evening.

The banquet’s live auction will also include an original watercolor by another famous wildlife artist, Jerry Raedeke, as well as an original painting by Worthington’s Brad Behrends, owner of Behrends Sign Works, that features Pheasant Run 12 (Lambert Prairie).

Scott Rall, president of Nobles County Pheasants Forever, said this year’s event will include numerous gun raffles, including seven youth gun giveaways.

“It’s guns, guns, guns, lots of guns,” he said.

Raffle tickets will be sold throughout the evening, and there will be both a live and silent auction. In addition to the guns, items such as Orca coolers, Traeger grills, and Tactacam cameras will be up for grabs.

Tickets for the banquet may be purchased in advance at LPL Financial, Worthington Federal Savings Bank and Culligan Water Conditioning, all of Worthington, or from any of the organization’s committee members. Rall said the chapter anticipates selling about 500 tickets, and noted the banquet has sold out in recent years.

Emcee for the evening is Scott Roemhildt, southern region director for the Minnesota Department of Natural Resources.

This year’s banquet will celebrate the 37th land acquisition by Nobles County Pheasants Forever. The latest Pheasant Run is located southwest of Herlein-Boote Wildlife Management Area, north of Worthington. The approximately 155-acre parcel was purchased from Arden Harberts using proceeds from the Minnesota Land and Legacy Amendment, as recommended by the Lessard-Sams Outdoor Heritage Council, Rall said.

With the new parcel adjacent to the Herlein-Boote WMA, Rall said it creates the third largest wildlife complex in Nobles County at approximately 750 acres.

“Once planted to native perennial vegetation, it will hold 2 million gallons of rainwater before anything overflows into County Ditch 4,” Rall said. “Any wetlands that can be restored on the property will be restored.”

Rall approached Harberts about acquiring some of the land after Harberts spoke at a public forum on County Ditch 4 and said some of his land is consistently under water. At the time, Rall suggested Pheasants Forever would be interested in buying 50 acres, but Harberts said he’d rather sell the entire parcel.

“Twelve months later, Pheasants Forever became the owner of the property,” Rall said. The land will be seeded to native vegetation this fall, and is already open for public use.

The latest acquisition means Nobles County Pheasants Forever has had a hand in establishing more than 2,600 acres of wildlife habitat for public use in the past 36 years. Add in the public lands managed by the Minnesota DNR, and the total amount of public lands is around 4,500 acres in the county, Rall said.

“When selecting projects for habitat acquisition, clean water issues or initiatives are equally important in the selection process, as is habitat aspects of the property,” Rall said. “Nobles County Pheasants Forever, in my opinion, has done more clean water work in cooperation with its partners - the Okabena-Ocheda Watershed District and Worthington Public Utilities - than any other individual organization in Nobles County.”

The latest acquisition is located in the Kanaranzi-Little Rock Watershed District, and therefore the partners were not involved in the land purchase.

The local chapter is always on the lookout for additional land acquisitions to expand wildlife habitat and public access. Rall said there are several potential habitat and clean water acquisitions on the horizon.

“These dollars (raised from the annual banquet) are used as seed money for other grants,” he said.

While a fundraising goal hasn’t been set for this year’s banquet, Rall said the average PF chapter in the nation raises about $15,000. Last year’s banquet in Nobles County raised more than four times that amount.

“Nobles County’s fundraising efforts have been on a steady increase since almost the year 2000,” Rall said. “We now host one of the most successful banquets in the Midwest. Our support of individual and business sponsors has never been stronger.”

In addition to spending some of its proceeds to help with land acquisitions, Rall said the chapter supports youth mentor hunts, the Prairie Ecology Bus Center and Worthington’s firearms safety program. It’s also a host for the Warriors Never Give Up combat veterans hunt. This year’s hunt is planned the weekend after Minnesota’s pheasant hunting opener.