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Pheasants Forever has 140,000 members nationwide, including 9,000 in Wisconsin. Badger State hunters travel often to Iowa and the Dakotas to hunt pheasants, and work closer to home with Pheasants Forever to improve pheasant habitat in Wisconsin. / Pheasants Forever

Pheasant Fest

What: National Pheasant Fest & Quail Classic.
Where: Wisconsin Center, downtown Milwaukee.
Hours: 1-8:30 p.m. Friday; 9 a.m.-6 p.m. Saturday; 10 a.m.-5 p.m. Feb. 16.

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Whether you want to ogle nearly 40 breeds of sporting dogs, introduce your kids to Rudy the Rooster or seek professional advice on managing your land’s pheasant habitat, you’ll find plenty of ways to busy yourself this coming weekend at the National Pheasant Fest & Quail Classic in Milwaukee.

This is Pheasants Forever’s 10th national convention and festival, and it takes place in the Wisconsin Center in downtown Milwaukee. This also marks the second time the three-day event has been held in Wisconsin. Madison hosted Pheasant Fest in February 2009 and attracted about 20,000 to the Alliant Energy Center.

Pheasant Fest is the nation’s largest show for upland-game hunters, bird-dog owners and wildlife-habitat conservationists. It drew nearly 29,000 in Minneapolis in February 2013. Although the event offers plenty of family-oriented fun, it’s also a trade show that focuses on wildlife conservation, dog training, wild-game cooking, quail and pheasant hunting, and habitat restoration and management.

U.S. Congressman Paul Ryan, R-Janesville, will deliver the keynote address Saturday during Pheasants Forever’s national banquet. Ryan, a lifelong hunter and the Republican Party’s 2012 vice-presidential candidate, has also served as co-chair of the Congressional Sportsmen’s Caucus in Washington, D.C.

Pheasants Forever has 140,000 members nationwide, including 33 Wisconsin chapters and 9,000 PF and Quail Forever members in the state. Wisconsin’s PF membership is 6.4 percent of the group’s total enrollment, and a 23 percent jump from 7,300 members five years ago. It also ranks Wisconsin No. 5 in PF’s national membership.

Although Wisconsin supports only modest pheasant numbers, we’re famous for sending hunters to Iowa and the Dakotas each fall to hunt ringnecks. Only Minnesota sends more pheasant hunters to South Dakota — the nation’s top pheasant-hunting draw.

As with all successful conservation show/conferences, Pheasants Forever offers members everything from kids’ activities to educational seminars. One of its most popular events is the “Bird Dog Parade,” which features everything from Labradors and Brittanys to Weimeraners and Clumber spaniels.

This year’s dog parade begins at 12:15 p.m. Friday to help open the Classic. During the parade, renowned dog trainer Bob West — Purina’s director of sporting programs — will be on stage to explain each breed’s history and unique characteristics.

Pheasants Forever also caters to “foodies” and “locavores” with its Wild Game Cooking Stage, which features seminars by three accomplished cooks: Hank Shaw, a blogger who’s also written two books about cooking wild game; Tovar Cerulli, a vegan-turned hunter who studied what he dubbed “adult-onset hunting” for his master’s thesis in college; and David Draper, the primary contributor to Field & Stream magazine’s “Wild Chef” blog.

For families, Pheasant Fest’s Youth Village gives youths hands-on instruction on fishing, archery, dog training and wildlife crafts. The village also offers educational seminars on honey bees and game birds; snakes, turtles and toads; and nationwide efforts to restore whooping cranes to eastern North America. The group’s youth mascot, Rudy the Rooster, will be around to meet and entertain small children.

Meanwhile, Pheasants Forever focuses heavily on its habitat-conservation programs during the Classic, including its popular Landowner Habitat Help Desk. On average, the help desk meets with 300 landowners at this annual conference and provides recommendations for 105,000 acres.

An integral part of this service is the Wisconsin Farm Bill Biologist program, a partnership between PF, Wisconsin’s Department of Natural Resources and the USDA’s Natural Resources Conservation Service.

“People can come to Pheasant Fest and walk out with a conservation plan for their property,” said PF spokesman Rehan Nana. “We’ll have our Farm Bill biologists from Wisconsin on the show floor, and about 12 to 18 work stations ready to help landowners improve their property for wildlife through local, state and federal conservation programs.”

In recent years, PF’s Farm Bill biologists have contacted 5,813 Wisconsin landowners and helped them improve 28,184 acres for pheasants. PF biologists Josh Nemec, Altoona; Julie Peterson, Appleton; Erin Holmes, Dodgeville; and Eric Krueger, Portage, will be available during the show to discuss their work regions.

Nana encourages landowners to bring the legal description of their property (township, range and section) or be able to pinpoint their property on a map. A PF biologist then will study aerial photos and topographical maps of their land and discuss options with them.

Patrick Durkin is a freelance writer who covers outdoors for Press-Gazette Media. Email him at patrickdurkin@charter.net.

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