As pheasant hunters united to celebrate a South Dakota tradition Friday night at the Corn Palace, they got a little help ringing in the eve of the season opener from Gov. Kristi Noem.

Noem’s appearance at the Pheasant Country chapter banquet was the first for a South Dakota governor. Prior to speaking to a crowd of roughly 700 pheasant hunting enthusiasts, Dave Allen, president of Mitchell-based chapter of Pheasants Forever, gifted Noem with a $10,000 check that will go toward the Second Century Initiative that she started in January, which is largely aimed at helping conserve pheasant and wildlife populations.

“We may be the only state in the nation that actively celebrates killing a bird and turning it into a state holiday,” Noem said, while drawing a laugh. “Welcome to South Dakota.”

Noem then led the group of hunters in prayer, as she gave thanks for the sport of pheasant hunting and asked for hunters to stay safe during this year’s season, which begins today at noon.

“We pray our sights be straight and our aim to be steady. We thank you Lord for this land, and we pray we may return next fall,” Noem said.

While Allen has been with Pheasants Country for several decades, he said this year's event -- the 34th edition for the chapter -- had a special level of energy.

“Pheasant hunting is a rich South Dakota tradition, and it brings so many people to our state,” Allen said. “This is a memorable banquet, and we’re proud to have the governor help us kick off the season opener.”

While there were numerous raffles and prizes handed out, the purpose of the banquet remains the same; conserving pheasant habitat, while encouraging more youth hunters.

“It’s awesome to see how much this Pheasants Forever chapter has grown over the years,” said Nick Backlund, who volunteered to sell raffle tickets during the event.

Scattered throughout the Corn Palace were handmade displays of mounted pheasants, shotguns and custom-built hunting dog kennels, all of which were raffle prizes. Allen said this year’s prizes showcase the talent of local artists, who donated many of the raffle items. A number of area sporting goods stores provided guns that were auctioned off at the banquet, as well.

“We keep it local. We have a lot of talented artists here in Mitchell and around the area,” Allen said. “It’s great that they believe in what we do here at Pheasants Forever. We’re all about youth hunting and always will be, because that’s how the tradition stays strong.”