Hunters pursue dollars during banquet season
The State Journal-Register
No sooner are most of the popular hunting seasons closed than another one opens.
It’s banquet season. And it’s a time of year with two purposes.
One is just for fun.
“It’s a social event where the guys can get together and share hunting stories,” says Tom Dillon of the Central Illinois Bobwhites chapter of Quail Unlimited. The Central Illinois Bobwhites are having their event Feb. 19 in Sherman.
“We try to put it on after the hunting seasons when the guys are shut in and don’t have as much to do,” he says.
But the social side is just one aspect. The other is financial.
Banquet season raises millions of dollars for conservation. Events support the work of Ducks Unlimited, Delta Waterfowl, The National Wild Turkey Federation, Pheasants Forever and Quail Forever, Whitetails Unlimited, Rocky Mountain Elk Foundation, Safari Club International and others.
All those events with their ticket sales, raffles, auctions and other games help fund habitat, hunter education and youth programs.
Nick Ripley of the Illinois River Valley Chapter of Pheasants Forever says his group donated $5,000 to the organization’s build a wildlife area after the fund was depleted by a 1,000-acre land purchase last year.
The acquisition in Knox County will be open for public hunting and recreation.
Other chapters kicked in pledges and donations that added another $15,000 to the fund.
The chapter also plans to team up with Wildlife Prairie State Park to help improve wildlife habitat.
The group’s banquet will be held Feb. 19 at the Countryside Banquet Facility in Washington.
Illinois Pheasants Forever chapters netted $844,000 from fundraising in fiscal 2010 (July 1, 2009 to June 30, 2010) — mostly proceeds from banquets.
Waterfowl enthusiasts raised $1.8 million at Ducks Unlimited events in Illinois last year, not including money coming in from foundations and individual donors.
“This is what your average DU members attending DU events contributed,” says Eric Schenck, Illinois biologist for Ducks Unlimited.
DU will hold its state convention in East Peoria, Feb. 18-19.
Dillon says his group works to provide seed for habitat projects and helps landowners who plant shelterbelts of trees and food plots to sustain wildlife through tough winters.
In an agricultural state such as Illinois, such efforts are important so food and wildlife cover remains, even after fall tillage is completed, Dillon says.
Groups carry out some projects on their own, and enter into partnerships for others.
Brent Lawrence of the National Wild Turkey Federation in Edgefield, S.C., says local fundraising numbers tell a partial story.
“Every dollar that we bring in at a banquet, it is multiplied three to four times over,” he says.
Money raised is leveraged into government grants so bigger projects can be tackled.
“Thanks to our wonderful volunteer base, which allows us to have wildlife biologists on staff, we are able to get $5 million in grants per year (nationwide),” Lawrence says.
Dollars translate into acres managed for wildlife, Lawrence says.
“Since 1985, we have managed to help conserve or improve 15.9 million acres of wildlife habitat nationwide. That’s bigger than the state of West Virginia and eight times the size of Yellowstone National Park.”
Even though turkey hunters go to the pheasant and quail hunters’ banquets, and vice-versa, there has been some competition for dollars in recent years.
“The economy has been tough on everybody trying to raise money,” Dillon says.
Conservation groups often have key interests in common.
Ducks Unlimited, for example, is a strong proponent of the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Conservation Reserve Program that pays landowners to set aside marginal or erosion-prone land.
Grasses planted provide nesting cover for ducks in North Dakota and South Dakota, for example, just as grass provides habitat for pheasants.
Lawrence says dollars raised to help wild turkeys also benefits other wildlife.
“We have a number of people who attend our banquets because they’re supporters of quail, deer, rabbits and even non-game species,” he says. “Even though we have turkeys in our name, when you help wild turkeys you’re actually helping a wide variety of species.”
Chris Young can be reached at (217) 788-1528.