Highlights from Pheasant Fest’s grand finale
By: Chad Love
After a wildly successful and record-setting three-day run in the city where it all started, on Sunday afternoon the curtain finally fell on the 2023 National Pheasant Fest & Quail Classic, presented by Federal Ammunition.
The numbers told the tale of an event that in its 18 years of existence has grown into the ultimate celebration of upland conservation and the upland lifestyle. The 2023 edition broke records for both attendance and membership, with 33,154 show-goers walking the aisles during this year’s show.
In addition to that record-breaking performance, this year’s show was also unique in that PF & QF were celebrating 40 years of conservation success and the culmination of the largest and most ambitious campaign in its history, Call of the Uplands, as well as the introduction of the organization’s newest CEO.
“We couldn't have asked for a more electric atmosphere to celebrate the organization's anniversary and the conclusion for Call of the Uplands, the first comprehensive national campaign in the history of The Habitat Organization," said Marilyn Vetter, Pheasants Forever and Quail Forever's newly minted president and CEO. “The support we’ve received from volunteers, sponsors, and vendors as part of Pheasant Fest & Quail Classic is moving the needle for conservation, hunting heritage, public lands access and so much more. Thank you to all our dedicated supporters for making this weekend one for the record books.”
PF & QF Chief Marketing Officer Bob St. Pierre stated, “As Dorothy once said, ‘there’s no place like home’. Pheasants Forever and Quail Forever was born from a passion for upland birds and with a dream to create better habitat for the grasslands we all love, and those birds and bees require to thrive. It’s been a blast to be in our hometown celebrating the successful delivery of 11 million acres of habitat through our Call of the Uplands campaign. The energy and enthusiasm experienced on the show floor will stir the passions for pheasants, quail, and the uplands for the next year.”
This year’s show floor was 40 percent larger than the last time the event was held in Minneapolis, making this the largest footprint in the history of Pheasant Fest & Quail Classic. Hundreds of the nation’s top outdoor retailers, outfitters, dog breeders and dog trainers were in attendance —and the seminar stages were full of discussions covering everything from dog training and pheasant habitat to public lands hunting and opportunities that lie ahead for the 2023 Farm Bill.
The show floor highlight on Sunday was the State of Conservation panel discussion and meet and greet. This unique opportunity to join the CEOs of the nation’s most prolific conservation groups as they discussed some of the current issues facing America’s sportsmen and sportswomen covered a wide range of topics including corner crossing, climate policy, walk-in access, The Endangered Species Act, the North American Grasslands Act, 2023 Farm Bill, and the Inflation Reduction Act.
The panel discussion included new PF & QF CEO Marilyn Vetter as well as retiring CEO Howard Vincent, Ted Koch, executive director of the North American Grouse Partnership, Theodore Roosevelt Conservation Partnership president and CEO Whit Fosburgh, Ron Regan, executive director of the Association of Fish and Wildlife Agencies, Dr. Steve Williams, president of the Wildlife Management Institute, Ruffed Grouse Society and American Woodcock Society President and CEO Ben Jones, and Backcountry Hunters and Anglers President and CEO Land Tawney.
The weekend was highlighted by a sold-out Saturday night banquet featuring a celebratory film to cap the ending of The Habitat Organization’s six-year Call of the Uplands® national campaign. All told, the comprehensive effort was the catalyst for more than 11 million acres protected, enhanced, or restored throughout pheasant and quail country in North America since 2017. More information about campaign goals will be released in the coming week.
Additionally, the show garnered 5,490 Pheasants Forever and Quail Forever Associate/Affiliate memberships and over 150 Elite memberships to the nation’s leading upland habitat conservation group – a mark which crushed previous event totals in 2020.
National Pheasant Fest & Quail Classic also delivered tangible wildlife habitat benefits for pheasants, quail, and other wildlife. The Landowner Habitat Help Room serviced 155 landowners to provide conservation guidance on 20,103 acres across 17 states. Accompanied by a trained Pheasants Forever or Quail Forever biologist, landowners were educated on ways they can improve their acres for wildlife and even what local, state and federal conservation programs they qualify for.
Next year, National Pheasant Fest & Quail Classic returns to Sioux Falls, South Dakota, where chapters, members, exhibitors, speakers, and attendees will celebrate the accomplishments and mission of The Habitat Organization on March 1-3, 2024, at the Denny Sanford Premier Center. Sioux Falls last hosted the event in 2018 when it generated a $3.9 million economic impact for the region.