Big Country, Big Heart

With Family Values, North Dakota's Knife River Chapter slices to the core of the habitat and heritage missions

North Dakota's Knife River Chapter

Words by Tom Carpenter  ||  Images by Matt Addington

Words by Tom Carpenter
Images by Matt Addington


Crossing the Missouri River at Bismarck, you start climbing up and up and up through steep river breaks, finally topping out to a rolling plateau of grain and grass with fingers of timbered streambottom.

The land swells and ebbs and flows as if a prairie ocean. It shoulders on and on, to what seems like forever. Heartland. It is big country.

A pheasant hunter’s heart beats a little faster. A pheasant dog in the seat beside him perks up. We are a long way from home. But then we are there. A new home.

That’s just the way it is when you spend a couple days with the family of families that is the Knifer River Chapter (#67) of Pheasants Forever in Beulah and Hazen, North Dakota. They give back to the land and their community and the PF mission in unmatched fashion, with

a board comprised entirely of Life Members (and all their bird dogs are Lifers too)

financial sponsorship and volunteer coaching of shooting teams at both Beulah and Hazen highs schools

pollinator programs across the landscape, with pollinator projects big and small, and Milkweed in the Classroom plus annual pollinator planting projects written right into local gradeschool curriculums

an annual youth hunt for kids who aren’t from hunting families

an unmatched annual fundraising banquet-bash that is a highlight of the local communities’ year

We hunted. We ate. We laughed. We hunted some more. We talked of, and saw, the Knife River PF Family’s impact on the land and the community.

It is big country. Knife River PF fills it with their big heart.

Morning Moves: Smith Farm

On a cold morning after a skiff of snow, we headed out in two groups on the farms of Donna Smith — mother-in-law and mother, respectively, of past president and current board member Kurt Swenson, and FayE Swenson. A big potluck (focused on game, of course) the evening before had us all moving a little slow at first … but rowdy, uncooperative roosters got the danders of both hunter and bird dogs up, and soon some birds tumbled from the sky and into grasslands, shelterbelts, wetlands and grain stubble where eager bird dogs picked them up.

Afternoon Action: Chapter Projects

An afternoon tour of chapter habitat and pollinator projects, some well-managed pastureland, and more Smith land, kept the afternoon filled with hunting action. Miles added up for hunters and dogs alike. But there were places to go, birds to find, and new friendships to spur us ahead.

Frost to Pheasants

The second morning found a smaller group – chapter president Randy Huntimer, his brother Rick, chapter secretary Chris Knopik and me – hunting prime habitat on farms belonging to Rick and to his kind neighbor Kelly Hintz. An early start scattered the feeding birds far and wide, but as the day warmed, we found them in grass, creekbottom cattails and sidehill plum thickets.

Sakakawea Signs

Not far in North Dakota miles from the chapter’s home, Lake Sakakawea sprawls. The chapter has erected Pheasants Forever trophy boards at bay access points along the lake, so that folks displaying their catches and bags are also spreading the PF brand far and wide.

The Players

Jesse Hermanson is vice president for Knife River PF.
Austin Lang is a Precision Ag & Conservation Specialist for PF, based in Jamestown.
Cole Greensteinner serves on the board and handles the chapter’s communications and social media.
Kurt Swenson, past president and current board member, hosted the hunt.
Chris Knopik, shown with Pippa, is chapter secretary. His wife Tracy is chapter treasurer.
Warren Swenson, son of Kurt and Faye, grew up in the chapter, and is now PF’s newest Precision Ag & Conservation Specialist in North Dakota.
Seth Owens is Education & Outreach Program Manager for PF in North Dakota.
Bill Wagner helped found the Knife River chapter in 1984, and continues to advise on the board.
Randy Huntimer is chapter president. 
Chris Knopik, shown with Pippa, is chapter secretary. His wife Tracy is chapter treasurer.
PF Knife River Chapter #67

Click here to find a PF chapter near you and get involved!

This article originally appeared in the Spring Issue of Pheasants Forever Journal. If you like this content and would like to see more of it, consider supporting Pheasants Forever as an annual member: among many other benefits, you'll receive the Pheasants Forever Journal 5x/year in your mailbox.