By Jennie Zeitler, Staff Writer
Keith Sand began raising pheasants in 1990 and has developed Sand Pine Pheasants into a busy family recreation location near Avon.
His great-great-uncle, Pete, bought the original 120 acres east of Avon in 1860. Pete’s nephew, Keith’s grandfather Leo, took the land next. Leo’s son, Werner, is still a one-third owner of the farm, with a three-way partnership between Werner and his sons Roger and Keith.
The three-way partnership was established in 2001, leading the way for Keith to set up Sand Pine Pheasants in 2003. All 300 acres of the current farm are classified as a hunting preserve.
Roger milks about 70 head of Holsteins from his base across the road from Keith, while Keith grows sorghum, corn and prairie grass on the preserve land. About 310 acres are rented to grow corn and hay for the cattle and for sale.
From a beginning of 100-200 pheasants in 1990 to 9,000 this year, Sand Pine Pheasants has expanded to fill a niche.
“We sell about 5,000 chicks every year from our hatchery; we pick our own eggs,” Keith said. “The pheasants all stay in Minnesota.”
Sand Pine is maxed out raising 9,000 birds so more birds are obtained by contract.
There are five different fields for hunters, with hunts being offered in the mornings and evenings.
Sand Pine Pheasants also offers European-style hunts, where several shooting stations are set up surrounded by a wooded area. Pheasants are then released from the woods.
About three years ago, Keith was approached by Ron Welle of Midwest Outdoors Unlimited to do a European-style hunt for disabled veterans. The stations are handicapped-accessible, and with 10 stations they can accommodate 20 hunters.
“We do two disabled veterans hunts each year,” he said. “It’s really cool to see those guys out there.”
Veterans from every war from World War II through Afghanistan have participated in the hunts. “This is very unique. It’s a style of hunt they can still do,” Keith said.
There is a dog handler with a dog behind every shooting station to retrieve the birds. Each hunter averages 10 birds.
A king’s feast follows the events (chicken and ribs with all the trimmings), with volunteers’ dinners costing $15. Ammunition is supplied and beverages and meat trays are provided during and after the hunts.
Aiding with those hunts are Action Trackchairs. Sand Pine Pheasants owns two and the rest are supplied by chair developer Tim Swenson.
The chairs are made in Marshall and can run through any terrain, in water up to 18 inches, and in snow, ice, mud and sand.
“They can go up and down hills, over six to eight-inch logs and I’ve seen them drive over one-inch saplings,” said Keith.
A Junior Achievement fundraiser is conducted every year at Sand Pine Pheasants, helping young boys and girls become businessmen and women.
At least 50 of the first customers back in 2003 still come every year. During the 2011 season there were 2,285 customers.
Dan Willenbring first came to Sand Pine Pheasants about five years ago with a friend, and has come since then with his brother and their sons.
“Everybody is very friendly,” he said. “Our dad is 82, and we were able to get him out using a Trackchair; it was a great experience. There’s great camaraderie.”
During the first season, 1,200 birds were shot out. Last year, it was 13,300.
Keith worked full-time until three-and-a-half years ago, besides doing all the pheasant work. He gets some help here and there from his five sons.
Paintball activities are offered during the summer at Sand Pine Pheasants.
Pheasant season begins Sept. 1 and runs through April 30. Currently, there are openings from Sept. 1 through April 30.
For more information about hunting or Action Trackchairs, call Sand Pine Pheasants at (320) 363-4790 or look online at www.sandpinepheasants.com.