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Deer Hunters chapter celebrates 30 years - and growing

Randy Willie (right), past president of the Carlton County Chapter of the Minnesota Deer Hunters Association, presents an award of appreciation to Bob Davis, a charter member for 30 years. Phyllis Rousseau/Pine Journal1 / 2
Mark Johnson, MDHA executive director, talks with conservation officers in front of the Wall of Shame, displaying mounts of poached animals.2 / 2

Most area events would be envious of having nearly 500 people in attendance on a single night. But the Carlton County Chapter of the Minnesota Deer Hunters Association (MDHA) just keeps packing 'em in year after year for its annual banquet. This year's 30th anniversary celebration, held last Thursday at the Four Seasons Sports Complex in Carlton, was no exception.

"This is the second largest banquet of its kind in northern Minnesota," said Gene Fulton, co-president of the Carlton County chapter along with Al Huhta. "The only one larger is in Hibbing - and we're gaining on 'em!"

Fulton said while the final numbers are not yet in, a preliminary estimate of this year's membership drive/fund raising at the event stands at something like $60,000. The tickets for the banquet included a year's membership in the association as well as the evening banquet and eligibility for prize drawings and raffles.

Fulton said 52 rifles were given away at this year's event, as well as a four-wheeler trailer (with its own built-in pull-behind trailer for the wheelers) and many other prizes, many of them donated by area merchants.

The evening's banquet was catered by B&B Market of Cloquet, and Fulton said they served some 450 people a full turkey and roast beef dinner "in less than 30 minutes."

"It was great. The last plate came out as hot as the first," said Fulton enthusiastically. "We are already getting requests to have the same thing next year!"

Honored at the banquet with a special plaque of appreciation was Bob Davis, proprietor of Rice Haven in Floodwood. Davis is a charter member of the local chapter who joined at its very beginning 30 years ago. Since then, Davis has served as president, vice president, secretary and treasurer, and he remains an active member and hunter yet today.

"We thought it was time to start recognizing some of the guys who have been around for a while," commented Davis of this first-ever award.

Also a part of this year's 30th Anniversary Deer Hunters' Association Banquet were area conservation officers Jeff Humphries and Scott Staples, as well as Staples' K-9 partner Schody, who has been instrumental in locating firearms involved in two recent criminal incidents. The officers also had on display their well-known "Hall of Shame," depicting photos of deer poached throughout the area. According to MDHA local treasurer Rod Skagerberg, the displays are so much in demand throughout the state that the chapter had to raise money to buy two trailers to transport the displays to other chapters.

Attendance at the MDHA banquet has remained consistently high over the years, and the total membership of the chapter now numbers over 600.

"When the chapter was first formed," said Fulton, "it used to be just a guy thing, but that certainly isn't the case any longer."

He explained that the membership now includes many women, children and entire families, due in part to the addition of the Forkhorn program for young people age 17 and under.

"When the youth program first got started," said Fulton, "there were only 18-19 Forkhorns. Now, we have 135!"

Funds raised by the Carlton County Chapter of the MDHA go toward an increasingly wide range of projects. Every year the chapter sponsors a "Spring Fling" at the Cloquet VFW at no cost to its members, and Fulton said tree seedlings and thousands of pounds of grass seed for food plots are given away to members. The group also helps support the Archery in the Schools program in Carlton, the Carlton County 4-H Shooting Sports Program, the Foundation for Disabled Archers, the Hides for Habitat Program, the DNR K-9 program, the Cromwell-Wright Youth Firearms Program and the Cloquet Youth Baseball-Softball Association.

In addition, the group raised funds for a new mechanical deer decoy for the DNR, helped with clearing brush and replanting in areas around the county, and raised $5,100 to send 15 kids to Forkhorn Camp for a week at the Laurentian Environmental Learning Center. The chapter also helps sponsor firearms safety classes as well.

Skagerberg said one of the chapter's newest initiatives this fall will be to have specially painted pink Hides for Habitat collection boxes at Outdoor Advantage and B&B Market in Cloquet, with a portion of the proceeds going to support breast cancer research and services. He explained the hides collected are sold to Widdes Feed in Esko, with the proceeds coming back to the chapter to distribute as they see fit.

Fulton said the outstanding success of the local MDHA chapter and its annual fall banquet are testimony to the enthusiasm of local hunters - rifle, archery and "camera" - for the sport.

"It's a real passion," he said.

The Carlton County Chapter of the MDHA meets monthly on the third Wednesday of every month except November and June at 7 p.m. downstairs at the Carlton VFW.