A five-day pheasant festival in Stettler in October will be a model for other Badlands communities to follow, according to Canadian Badlands Tourism (CBL) president Bob Long.
Long, and several others, were present last Friday, July 25, to announce what promises to be the first of several events in the communities in the CBL umbrella.
The festival is scheduled to take place in the County of Stettler between Oct. 15-19, and in addition to pheasant hunting, will see the release of 3,000 pheasants, including 300 hens.
“This is a great opportunity to showcase our community and provide an economic benefit to our local business on an annual basis,” Darcy Pollack, the festival’s chairperson, said during the event. “With a 3,000 bird release, we will also be making a significant conservation effort for our local pheasant population.”
Conservation is something dear to Pollack’s heart. The Stettler resident accompanied his father as he hunted the bird, graduating from being the youngster who carried and collected the shells to a hunter himself as he grew older. Now, with a son of his own – albeit too young to accompany him on the hunt – Pollack wants to be sure that there’s a future in hunting for him to share, just like his father shared with him.
“I hunt a bit of everything, but bird hunting is my passion,” he said, adding that he’s hunted with both the bow and the shotgun.
“Our hunting opportunities around here are endless. Upland, migratory, big game like deer, elk and moose – it’s all here.”
He noted the land around Stettler is mostly privately held, meaning hunters have to acquire permission from the landowner before hunting game. This can be a problem, since sometimes landowners are concerned about the liability aspect, as well as potential damage to property or livestock.
However, the festival organizers have already managed to secure more than 30 landowners’ permission to use their land for the festival in October, bringing the hunting land to more than 20 quarters.
The festival is still looking for more, though – as well as volunteers for during the festival.
“We need people for the set up and breakdown, marshals, help for releasing the birds, and cleanup of the site,” Pollack said, mentioning a few berths in which volunteers are needed.
The festival has applied for a special licence, meaning that hunters registered and participating with the event won’t need a hunting licence – the festival will, essentially, confer a licence to participants. However, participants will need to supply their own shotgun, shells, and safety gear like fluorescent hunting clothes.
The plan for the festival currently consists of an opening banquet on Friday, Oct. 17. The banquet will include music and entertainment and a silent auction. The following days will be dedicated to the hunt.
Organizers are driven by the success of a southeastern Alberta pheasant festival in Taber, which is now in its fourth year. The success of the event, which sees itself booked solid within days of the opening of registrations, has bolstered the community’s economy.
Ross Hutchinson, with Alberta Agriculture, noted that at least $10 million comes from the pheasant hunting business in Alberta alone, and there’s room for that number to keep growing.
“This festival helps support a larger effort in Alberta,” he said. “I know I’ve downed a few (pheasants) in my day and…I know pheasant hunters would love to see pheasant hunting return to the area.”
CBL rolled out some numbers to prove just what an economic benefit the festival would be to the area. More than 4.2 million people visited one or some of the 62 CBL communities in 2011, spending $552 million in the region.
Tourism employs more than 9,000 people and generates $250 million in tax revenue for federal, provincial and municipal government, Long said.
The festival would pump some of that revenue into Stettler.
“I cherish the time I spent growing up, hunting with Dad,” Pollack said. “I want to see that continue, and continue the tradition with my son.”