The pandemic can't stop hunting enthusiasts from uniting at the 35th annual Pheasants Forever Banquet in Mitchell to celebrate the start of the season.

The pre-pheasant hunting event that attracts around 500 to 700 hunters from across the region each year will be held from 5:30 to 10:30 p.m. Friday at the Corn Palace. While the local event organizers are implementing safety measures that include 200 fewer chairs and changes in the food service, Dave Allen, president of Mitchell-based chapter of Pheasants Forever, is proud to be hosting the annual banquet.

“It’s been a rough year for everybody, and I hope this will allow the hunters and guests to enjoy themselves for the night as it always does,” Allen said. “This banquet is a tradition for so many people, and it would be tough not to have it. We have confidence that the safety measures will keep everyone safe.”

Perhaps the most notable change for this year’s banquet is the elimination of the dinner, which has included a full course pheasant meal in the past. In addition, attendees will be recommended to social distance in accordance with the Center for Disease Control and Prevention.

During the 2019 banquet, Gov. Kristi Noem paid a special visit and joined the hunters at the Corn Palace. Although Allen said there won’t be any special guests this year, it won’t take away from the fun atmosphere.

Newsletter signup for email alerts

“We’ll have sanitizer stations set up around the Corn Palace floor. The guests won’t touch the food until it is served to them in their seating area,” Allen said. “It will all be hors d'oeuvres this year. But I also want to reiterate if you’re sick, stay home.”

The raffles will also have one less prize, but roughly $50,000 worth of guns will be given out to the attendees.

With the ongoing coronavirus that’s still sweeping through the state and nation, Allen expects to see a smaller crowd this year.

But the celebration of South Dakota’s rich culture of pheasant hunting will be on full display Friday night at the Corn Palace.

“I think a lot of people are feeling caged up, but pheasant hunting is all about the outdoors and being in nature,” Allen said.

South Dakota's traditional pheasant season begins at 10 a.m. Saturday.