Sportsmen do more than hunt
Next Thursday, Viking Sportsmen, Inc. will host its 25th annual Viking Sportsmen Club fundraising banquet.
Most people have probably heard of this club and maybe even attended an event the group has been a part of, such as the annual Ice Fishing Challenge or perhaps the Junior Viking Sportsmen Habitat Day.
But did you know this club has been involved with an annual pheasant release; that it has purchased and maintains docks around the county; helps the Department of Natural Resources with walleye stocking efforts; or that club members teach a firearm safety class for youth?
Gene Sullivan, a member of Viking Sportsmen, Inc. who has been on the board of directors for at least 15 years, provided information to the newspaper about the club.
He noted that the upcoming annual banquet is the group's largest fundraiser of the year.
It is scheduled at the Holiday Inn on Thursday, March 18. Social hour begins at 5:30 p.m. and dinner is served at 7 p.m. A ticket to the banquet, which also gets you a membership into the club, is $35.
The Viking Sportsmen Club, open to both men and women of all ages, originally formed in 1945 under the name Alexandria Sportsmen Association. The name changed to Heart O'Lakes Game and Fish Unlimited and eventually, in October of 1959, it adopted its current name, Viking Sportsmen Inc.
In February of 1970, the group acquired its tax-deductible status and is now a non-profit 501(c)(3) organization.
It meets on a monthly basis on the third Thursday of each month at 6:30 p.m. at the Bemo building at the Douglas County Fairgrounds.
The club's mission is to support and improve the conservation of wildlife and its habitat by establishing education programs and conservation practices designed to preserve and enhance nature's wealth in Minnesota for future generations.
One of the lesser-known programs of Viking Sportsmen is the kids' food plot program, which celebrated its 25th anniversary in 2009.
The wildlife food plot contest is open to high school students and younger children in Douglas County. Each participant establishes a minimum one-acre food plot that remains standing until spring. Eligible food plot crops include corn, grain, sorghum, sunflowers, soybeans or a combination of crops.
An independent panel judges the food plots in early December with the final judging to be announced at the annual kids' plot banquet.
About 150 kids are involved in this program, said Sullivan.
There are two scholarships available through Viking Sportsmen Inc. - the Bill Banke/Viking Sportsmen Scholarship and the Art Engelbrecht Environmental Education Scholarship.
Both of the scholarships are perpetual and available to seniors in high school, noted Sullivan. He said applicants could contact the main office at Jefferson High School for more information.
The club has now been involved with stocking walleye fingerlings for the last few years. Sullivan noted that the club has spent more than $60,000 in the last three years on the stocking program and works closely with the Department of Natural Resources.
Last fall, the club stocked 14 area lakes with fingerlings and Sullivan expects the club will do the same this fall.
Money for the stocking program comes from a variety of sources, including area lake associations, sales from hats and T-shirts and also a fish fry that Sullivan expects will become an annual event. The first Viking Sportsmen Fish Fry took place last year and was a big success.
One of the reasons the club got involved in the stocking program, said Sullivan, is because its members feel the natural reproduction of walleyes has significantly gone down hill.
"We just need to give the walleye a little boost," he said.
Other programs or projects Viking Sportsmen Inc. is involved with include:
Youth programs - Kids Fishing Day, Habitat Day, firearm safety classes and the Alexandria Area Youth Trap League.
Piers and docks - The club has purchased three docks for public use, which are located on lakes Henry, Victoria and Geneva. They have also helped in the purchase of other docks, all of which are handicapped accessible.
Pheasant release - The club releases 500 bred hens into the wild each year.
Senior fishing - Along with the help of many volunteers, the club puts together a day of fishing for senior citizens each summer, typically, the third Wednesday of July. Anywhere from between 125 to 150 seniors are taken out fishing that day and then treated to a fish fry at the Douglas County Fairgrounds. Sullivan noted that the group usually feeds about 300 at the fish fry.
Land acquisition - Sullivan noted that the club buys property and keeps it as wildlife management areas to be used for public hunting.
For more information about Viking Sportsmen Inc., visit its website at www.vikingsportsmen.org or call Gene Sullivan at (320) 808-1431.