When Jake Hanson moved to South Dakota in 2015, he had never been pheasant hunting, but six years on, it’s hard to imagine his life without it.

Almost immediately after being introduced, Hanson felt a strong emotional connection and knew he had to get involved with the future of his newfound passion.

“I grew up in northern Minnesota where we didn't have grasslands, we had forests, so I wasn’t a pheasant hunter,” Hanson said. “But there was just something about walking that prairie landscape that made me feel not only more connected to the land but also that sense of urgency to do my part to conserve this for generations to come.”

Fast forward to late July of this year, and Hanson, who lives in Sioux Falls with his wife, Emily, was named South Dakota’s regional representative to Pheasants Forever, the nation’s largest-nonprofit organization dedicated to upland habitat conservation.

South Dakota regional representative Jake Hanson and his wife, Emily, stop for a photo during a pheasant hunt. (Photo courtesy of Jake Hanson, Pheasants Forever)
South Dakota regional representative Jake Hanson and his wife, Emily, stop for a photo during a pheasant hunt. (Photo courtesy of Jake Hanson, Pheasants Forever)

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In his new role, Hanson has a wide range of responsibilities, the largest of which is overseeing and assisting the various mission-oriented events put on by the 33 active Pheasants Forever chapters in South Dakota. The chapters spread to each corner of the state and have a combined membership of more than 6,000. Hanson expects the number of chapters to reach 35 soon, perhaps even by the end of 2021, as a student-led chapter on the campus of Northern State University in Aberdeen and an all-women’s chapter based in Sioux Falls are both in the works.

Founding a chapter is an early part of Hanson’s Pheasants Forever story as well. A few years ago, Hanson was part of a group that started a Watertown-based chapter, for which he served as president until taking up the regional position.

While Hanson says having a background in conservation biology is common within the organization, his own background is actually in nonprofit management and fundraising, which gives him a unique lens to view a range of administrative and hands-on programming roles. Hanson graduated with a bachelor's degree in environmental studies from Concordia College in Moorhead, Minnesota, and is nearing completion of a master's degree in nonprofit leadership and a certification in natural resource management from the University of Denver.

During his first couple months on the job, Hanson was busy with a flurry of meetings throughout August and September as well as preparing for the organization’s busiest month of the year in South Dakota. Fourteen chapters have banquets during October to coincide with pheasant hunting opener, along with other large fundraising efforts and outreach events.

South Dakota regional representative Jake Hanson kneels next to his dog, Jep, during a pheasant hunt (Photo courtesy of Jake Hanson, Pheasants Forever)
South Dakota regional representative Jake Hanson kneels next to his dog, Jep, during a pheasant hunt (Photo courtesy of Jake Hanson, Pheasants Forever)

Looking to the future, Hanson is excited about the campaign Pheasants Forever launched just before he was hired. Known as ‘Call of the Uplands,’ the campaign aims to raise $500 million to use toward the improvement of 9 million acres of upland habitat, introduce 1.5 million new people to the uplands through various outreach and educational programs and permanently protect 75,000 acres of land.

“It’s probably the boldest campaign the organization has ever undertaken, but there’s never been a greater need than right now to protect the grasslands as they continue to disappear across the nation,” Hanson said, citing the loss of 53 million acres of United States grasslands since 2009.

Hanson’s motivation has always come from a genuine passion for hunting, working with hunting dogs and the land, which is why he’s dedicated this chapter of his life to the Pheasants Forever mission.

“If you have that love within you, I think you have a significant responsibility to care for those resources and pass that love on to the next generation,” Hanson said. “I strive every day to pass this love onto others so we can keep the cycle moving in the right direction.”