Habitat & Conservation  |  08/23/2022

A Habitat Legacy


Memories of Gary Clancy and the wildlife area honoring his life


By Lee Clancy

For the better part of a decade, I had the ultimate privilege and honor of hunting many of southern Minnesota’s public lands with my late-father-in-law, Gary Clancy. For as much as I enjoyed hunting with Gary, our conversations behind the windshield of his old Toyota, as we navigated dusty backroads to our next hunting spot, are what I will always cherish the most.

Sure, we spent plenty of time discussing the more technical aspects of pheasant hunting: which cover to focus on and when, how to use the wind to our dogs’ advantage, which guns we preferred and why, and so forth.

But it was the conversations about pheasant hunting and life on the macro-scale which truly imprinted in my memory.

Gary often decried the loss of habitat he witnessed over the decades he hunted southern Minnesota. He instilled in me the value of pheasant haunts like old fencerows, lowlands and drainages. Often he agonized over the thought that, due to habitat loss, his grandchildren may not be afforded the opportunity to participate in the tradition of pheasant hunting that he so dearly cherished.

With Gary’s passing in 2016, after a long battle with cancer, the Gary Clancy Wildlife Management Area was created in his honor. I wasn’t exactly sure what to expect when the WMA first opened to public hunting in the autumn of 2020. But soon after stepping foot on the hallowed ground, I could feel Gary’s soul had touched this dirt.

Gary Clancy

Through his legacy of narrating the outdoor experience to countless other hunters and outdoor enthusiasts, he inspired the work that was done to restore this parcel. The transformation from old agricultural land (that some would say perhaps should never have been farmed) to a place that is now a vibrant and buzzing WMA exemplifies Gary’s qualities of perseverance and appreciation of the natural world.


Each clump of native grass, tangle of red osier and sprig of wildflowers seems just a little more special on this WMA. The light cadence of Gary’s Llewellin setter, Recon, and my setter, Chase, sorting through the cover just sounds a little quieter. And the familiar aroma of breaking open an over-under with two spent yellow hulls smells just a little sweeter.

Lee Clancy

As I hunt the Gary Clancy WMA, I often forget about the dogs breaking point a little too soon, and maybe busting a bird here or there. I seem to spend less time thinking about bagging a rooster and more time thinking about the excitement of sharing this tradition with my daughter, Prairie, and son, Cass. Just as Gary shared with me

Back in 2008, in one of Gary’s weekly-writings for the Minnesota Outdoor News, he ended his column about his grandson Lucas’s first pheasant hunt with the following:

“In our family, a youngster’s first pheasant hunt is a cause for celebration. I hope that it is always that way.”

Now, because of how Gary’s legacy is preserved in a WMA through programs like Build a Wildlife Area there is now one more place that will ensure many others can take their youngster hunting for their first hunt and have equal cause for celebration.