WORTHINGTON — Nobles County Pheasants Forever has a lot to celebrate when it gathers for a non-traditional banquet next month in Worthington.

The chapter recently collected its third No. 1 Chapter in the Nation title as the most prolific habitat acquisition chapter in the United States in 2020, reaching $13 million in habitat expenditures since it was established in 1984. Meanwhile, its president, Scott Rall, was recognized last month as Minnesota Outdoor News publication’s Person of the Year. In addition, four land acquisitions were made since the chapter’s last banquet in March 2019.

Rall, president of the local chapter since 2005, can’t help but be pleased by the chapter’s success. It previously won No. 1 status in 2010 and 2014. As for his recognition by Outdoor News, he joins the ranks of an elite group of Minnesotans who are prominent in the conservation of game, fish and wildlife.

“I don’t consider myself an elite guy,” he said, noting that previous honorees have worked in the legislature or as lobbyists. “It’s really the first on-the-ground conservation guy that’s been named.”

Rall and a team of Nobles County Pheasants Forever volunteers are busy planning this year’s fundraising banquet, which isn’t a banquet at all. From 4 to 8 p.m. May 21, ticket holders will gather at the Nobles County Fairgrounds in Worthington for a drive-thru/walk-thru event that includes a to-go meal featuring pork chops sponsored and prepared by JBS.

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“All tickets from last year will be honored at that event,” said Rall, referencing the 2020 banquet that was cancelled due to the COVID-19 global pandemic. Attendees, however, will need to renew their Pheasants Forever membership prior to May 21. “If they renew their membership, we know they’re coming and can count them for a meal. That includes sponsors.”

The 125 sponsors for the 2020 banquet are being asked to pay a sponsorship fee again for the 2021 event. Those who do so will be included in special drawings for the chance to win one of seven additional guns.

Because of ongoing gathering restrictions with the pandemic, Rall said there will be an extensive online auction this year, featuring more than 40 items. The auction (give.uplandfundraising.org/nobles-county-pf) will open at 8 a.m. May 17 and close at 8 p.m. May 21, with winners announced at the fairgrounds that evening. Raffle drawings, meanwhile, will be conducted in-person on the fairgrounds. Plans are for it to be an outdoor event, with back-up plans to host the event inside the ice arena in inclement weather.

The event at the fairgrounds will include a program and highlights of the chapter’s accomplishments in the last two years. However, there will be no games for the children and no silent auction this year.

“We will not be providing any alcohol, but if people want to bring a cooler or sit on the tailgate of their truck and drink a beer (they can),” Rall said. “It’s BYOB.”

Tickets for the event are available for purchase at LPL Financial, Culligan and Worthington Federal Savings Bank, all in Worthington.

Expanding habitat

Since the last Nobles County Pheasants Forever banquet in March 2019, the chapter has completed the acquisition of four more parcels. Highlighted at this year’s event will be the 296-acre addition to the Ransom Ridge Wildlife Management Area at the intersection of 290th Street and Knauf Avenue. The original 80-acre WMA was formerly called the Elsing tract of the Ransom Ridge WMA.

“This is an acquisition that we have had in our sights for more than 25 years,” shared Rall.

“The layout and the topography is totally unique among WMAs in the farmland zone of southwest Minnesota," he explained. "It has hills, conifers and the Little Rock Creek runs through it. It has multiple man-made reservoirs, several wetlands and a measurable amount of undisturbed native prairie.”

Prior to purchase by Pheasants Forever, 38 acres of the land was used for production agriculture — something Rall said classified the parcel as marginal.

Since its purchase, Rall said volunteers have logged 1,062 hours in the spring, summer and fall of 2020 to clean up the land. They removed 650 Cottonwood trees, 125 other trees and more than 1,500 volunteer cedars. In addition, nearly 8,000 pounds of scrap iron (fence posts and metal debris) and two semi loads of tractor and automobile tires were removed from the site.

“We erected 15 bluebird boxes, 10 new wood duck boxes and rehabbed 10 existing wood duck boxes,” Rall said, adding that a prescribed burn was done on approximately 190 acres of the parcel, which bears the name Pheasant Run 39.

Pheasant Run 40 is a 59-acre addition to Pheasant Run 1 in Section 26 of Bigelow Township, purchased from Jesse Drost. Pheasant Run 41 is a 75-acre acquisition in Section 36 of Dewald Township, and Pheasant Run 42 is a 59-acre acquisition in Section 31 of Worthington Township, both of which are additions to the Lambert Prairie WMA.

“Even though Nobles County Pheasants Forever is one of the most prolific habitat acquisition chapters in the nation … our work accounts for seven-tenths of 1% of the land base in Nobles County,” Rall noted. “Everybody thinks Pheasants Forever has been out buying up everything. We’ve been really fortunate.”

In 2020, the local chapter spent $355,916 on habitat work in the county. That money is a combination of dollars raised by the chapter and partnership funds from Worthington Public Utilities, the Okabena-Ocheda Watershed District, Pheasants Forever’s Build A Wildlife Area and the Minnesota Board of Water and Soil Resources.

Additional fundraisers planned

The COVID-19 pandemic hampered the local chapter’s fundraising efforts in 2020, so Rall said it's planning some additional events in 2021.

On May 28, the chapter is bringing in 21-year Army Special Forces veteran Todd Van Langen to teach a tactical pistol class in Worthington, and on May 29-30, the Fort Bragg, South Carolina, man will teach a precision long-range rifle class. Van Langen spent 13 years as a hostage rescue team leader and completed multiple deployments as a sniper.

Then, on June 25, Nobles County Pheasants Forever is hosting its first-ever Public Lands Appreciation Rendezvous in collaboration with PF chapters in Martin and Nicollet counties. Planned as a rotating event with the first one in Nobles County, the rendezvous consists of a six-hour ride through Nobles County to view some of its signature public lands projects, Rall explained. Riders may join on side-by-sides, four-wheelers or automobiles.

That evening, participants are welcome to camp at the Nobles County Fairgrounds in Worthington. Only 40 electrical hook-ups are available.

Rall is hoping for 150 vehicles to participate in the ride, which will leave from the fairgrounds and take participants to Pheasant Run 1 in Bigelow Township, then through Bella Park, the Worthington Wells WMA, Ransom Ridge WMA and the Fenmont/Schwessinger wildlife complex.

Food will be available to purchase following the ride, and multiple gun raffles are part of the fundraising event.

“This has never been done,” Rall said. “With the inability to have our traditional banquet, we’re looking for new ways to fund our habitat missions.”

For registration information for any of the fundraising events, email Rall at scottarall@gmail.com.