The year 2020 will be a year to celebrate for the Fergus Falls Fish and Game Club. This alliance of sportsmen and women will mark its 100th anniversary with a variety of speakers, activities, and 10-month standing display at the Otter Tail County Historical Museum.
In 1920, the 18th Amendment outlawed the production and consumption of alcohol, women were granted the right to vote and the tea bag was invented. That year in Otter Tail County another notable event occurred: The Fergus Falls Fish and Game Club (FFF&GC) was founded. For area hunters and anglers the club’s formation heralded in an era of industrious wildlife related projects and a convincing conservation ethic that lives and thrives today.
The Fergus Falls club is likely one of the oldest active sportsmen’s club in Minnesota. On March 9, 1920, a group of seven men and women organized the club calling themselves the Fergus Falls Fishing Club which was then changed to their current name one year later. Their mission statement was “The conservation of game and fish in Otter Tail County.” At that time many of the members were World War I vets and a big game license cost only $2.
At the time of its founding, conservation was an idea supported by only a few farsighted individuals. It was a time when teens were entertained by plinking at an old tin can or in setting a basket full of muskrat traps. It was an era, unlike today, when people and families were exposed to the outdoors more rather than being tethered to a cellphone some other electronic device.
One of the club’s first social activities was in 1920 that promoted a competition crow hunt. The contest began with single shooters the first year and the winner shot 685 crows winning him a nice shotgun. In 1921 it changed to a team shooting contest that ended Aug. 15. The winning team of A. J. Anderson shot 1,244 crows followed by Dr. Whittaker’s team having shot 1,170 crows. The losers hosted the winning team to an open air hot dog feed. In 1949 they changed to point system: adult crows 10 points, young crows five points, crow eggs two points, woodchucks three points and gophers two points. The Barnesville club was also invited to join in the contest.
Back then annual meetings were quite the shindig usually being held in a church basement. In 1927 the Ladies Aid of the Federated Church served an exquisite banquet. An orchestra provided an evening of music with its members dressed in hunting and fishing attire. Kenneth Davenport accompanied himself on the piano and performed two yodeling numbers.
A few years later in 1928 the club held a benefit dance with proceeds going toward the purchase of pheasant eggs that were then distributed to area farmers for hatching. Everyone trapped back then and that same fall an area fur buyer handled 8,000 muskrat skins from within a 100 mile radius of Fergus Falls paying $1 to $2.50 for each rat — a considerable income at the time.
In the 1940s attendance at the annual meetings for a small town was quite impressive. Most people still lived and worked on diversified farms and most everyone hunted or fished. An invite to the annual meeting was quite a compliment. In 1946 there were 354 members attending and in 1949 a whopping 500 people attended their annual meeting.
Environmental education has long been at the forefront of importance to the club. To that end, a slide program was prepared in 1974 and members were invited to present that program at the first ever convocation held at the Fergus Falls High School. In subsequent years the club’s education committee presented this same program to each and every (1-12) class in Fergus Falls.
As interest and support for environmental education grew, the club recognized the need to pursue a process for the creation of a permanent fully staffed public facility dedicated to the study and advancement of sound land and water conservation. Partnering with the U.S Fish and Wildlife Service and the city of Fergus Falls they formulated two decades worth of proposals, counter-proposals, and fundraising campaigns. Finally the club’s dream was realized in 1998 with the grand opening of the Prairie Wetlands Learning Center.
The FFF&GC is firmly involved with the purchase and restoration of rural properties throughout southwestern Otter Tail County. In fee title the club owns 11 parcels totaling 1,207 acres. Each property except one, (One Mile Prairie) serve as “walk-in” access areas and are open to all public outdoor activities including hunting and trapping. To an even greater extent, the club has partnered with Pheasants Forever, the U.S Fish & Wildlife Service and a host of other government agencies in securing many additional acres of permanent wildlife habitat.
There are always projects a plenty for members or volunteers who want to be involved. Whether it’s working to manage their land, building birdhouses, helping at the West Ottertail conservation building, or assisting with a variety of educational and outdoor activities; there is always something for everyone to lend a helping hand. New members are always welcomed and meetings are held the first Tuesday of each month (7 p.m.) at the Prairie Wetlands Learning Center.
Separate from their normal club activities, they maintain and promote the Fergus Falls Fish and Game Club Foundation. Interest monies gained from foundation assets are awarded as scholarships to area college students and teachers who are pursuing degrees or furthering their education in conservation related fields of study.
The club has been honored with a number of prestigious awards.
The first major honor was the MN Conservation Federation President’s Award in 1969 “for outstanding and distinguished service in the field of natural resource management”. More recently, in 2018 the MN Outdoor News presented them with the “Outdoor Leaders Award” and in 2011 the club was named the “West Otter Tail County Conservationist of the Year” by the West Otter Tail County Soil and Water Conservation District. In 2015, the Minnesota chapter of the Wildlife Society presented the club with the” Conservationist of the Year” award. In addition, the Minnesota Department of Natural Resources acknowledged the club with the “Golden 50 Award” (years covering 1951-2001) that recognizes the top 50 organizations or individuals that worked to save and restore wetlands and promote the acquisition of state wildlife management areas.
Now 100 years since that first historic gathering, the FFF&GC continues to follow their vision; caring for the region’s natural resources and serving as influential contributors to the benefit of the outdoor community. In August of 2020, to highlight their 100th anniversary they will host a special banquet at the Bigwood Event Center in Fergus Falls. In addition, the Otter Tail County Historic Museum will in February dedicate a 10-month running exhibit of the club’s heritage, present coffee klacks, and showcase a variety of local artwork and related conservation memorabilia.