Minnesota doesn’t close up shop as the leaves change colors – there is so much to be done as temperatures cool and the days grow shorter. Many Minnesotans across the state have been counting down the days to when they could break the blaze orange gear out of the closet, map out the good hunting spots, and plan a weekend (or two) with friends and family to get out in the fields.

It was my great honor to be in Austin, Minnesota recently to host my first Minnesota Governor’s Pheasant Hunting Opener. As a lifelong pheasant hunter and member of Pheasants Forever, I was looking forward to this weekend for a long time. It is a great opportunity to highlight Minnesota’s strong outdoor heritage. And I’m happy to say we had a successful hunt, with 170 hunters taking a total of 44 pheasants (including my own rooster).

The Governor’s hunting and fishing openers are unparalleled opportunities to showcase the best Minnesota has to offer. In addition to Austin, I’ve travelled to Albert Lea for the Governor’s Fishing Opener, and Northfield for the Inaugural Governor’s Mentored Turkey Hunt. I’m looking forward to being in Fergus Falls for the Governor’s Deer Hunting Opener later this fall.

Hunting and fishing are long-standing Minnesota traditions that bring friends, family, and neighbors together. During the hunt in Austin, more landowners opened their land and more hunters signed up as guides than necessary to accommodate the event, a positive sign of the community enthusiasm and spirit surrounding the event. And more and more Minnesotans of all backgrounds are taking up hunting. I’m excited to see the hunting community open up opportunities for new hunters. One of my favorite parts of the weekend was sharing the pheasant hunting experience with first-time hunter Lieutenant Governor Flanagan. She took part in a women’s mentored hunt with experienced women hunters.

Minnesotan’s enthusiasm for outdoor activities isn’t just good for our culture, it’s good for our economy. Hunters contribute $725 million to Minnesota’s economy each year for direct hunting-related expenditures like equipment, food and lodging. Travel and tourism generate $15.3 billion in leisure and hospitality sales in Minnesota.

And we know our state’s commitment to conservation is critical to ensuring Minnesotans can take part in our outdoor traditions for generations to come. One of this year’s Pheasant’s Opener events was a land dedication ceremony, where we committed 140 acres of farmland generously donated by the Worlein family to be turned into public hunting land. Hunting relies on the restoration and maintenance of natural habitats, the careful monitoring of species populations, and of course, the weather. It makes sense, then, that conservation efforts rely on the revenue from hunting license sales, the benefits extending beyond maintaining good hunting lands to protecting pollinators and clean drinking water.

Unfortunately, we face some serious challenges to maintaining Minnesota’s outdoors legacy. This past year, we experienced an unusually harsh winter followed by a wet spring which delayed the nesting season, contributing to decreasing pheasant populations. The Governor’s Pheasant Hunting Opener is a critical opportunity to recommit ourselves as a state and as a community of hunters to preserving our pastime and our natural environment for generations to come.

Thank you to everyone who worked hard year-round to make the Governor’s Hunting Pheasant Opener possible and a rousing success. I am committed to maintaining Minnesota’s way of life of hunting, fishing, and enjoying the outdoors, and I’m already looking forward to next year’s Pheasant Hunting Opener in Fairmont. I hope every hunter in our state finds good hunting and better community this season.