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No Limit to the Fun
Oct 9, 2013
The Benedictine sisters of Mother of God Monastery have been embracing life on the prairie in South Dakota for over 100 years — a little longer than South Dakota’s most popular game bird, the Chinese Ringneck Pheasant. Being that steeped in South Dakota history, it should come as no surprise that their activities include hosting an annual pheasant hunt. This year’s September hunt, the sisters’ eleventh foray into the charity ringneck hunting world, was again held at Oak Tree Lodge near Clark, South Dakota. That the local business community and faithful would support the sisters and the good works they do by participating in the event should also come as no surprise.
MOTHER OF GOD
The Benedictine sisters have a rich history, reaching back to Italy in 529 A.D., with a focus on life organized about the Rule of Saint Benedict. The Rule, a guide for organizing a Christian community around the precepts of work and prayer, continues to direct the Benedictines to this day. The sisters made their way to South Dakota, near Zell, in 1874 — a full forty-five years before the first ringneck season. In 1967 the sisters established a convent in Watertown, on a hill overlooking the Sioux River. Today, Mother of God is home to 54 sisters.
Through the years their mission has changed. In the early years their focus was on education and health care. Several of the participants in the Nun Hunt were the beneficiaries of Benedictine religious education. (Full disclosure: this writer was educated by these nuns at St. Otto’s in Webster.) A major focus of the sisters today is the Benedictine Multicultural Center, a facility aimed at encouraging understanding of our area’s many cultures, and providing assistance to those newer South Dakotans that may be in need and find navigating South Dakota a little challenging.
OAK TREE LODGE
The Makens’ family roots at Oak Tree only reach back to 1901, making them the younger South Dakota members of this nun-pheasant-landowner partnership. While the family makeup there has changed through the decades, Bill Makens is the current patriarch. He started making the move back to South Dakota, and Oak Tree Lodge, in 1998. The Makens family are dedicated and faithful Catholics, who host this hunt as one way to participate in their faith. The patriarch, Bill, had a long history of fundraising for Catholic schools in the Twin Cities, so the Nun Hunt was a natural fit.
The Nun Hunt takes place at the Oak Tree hunting preserve northeast of Clark. Over thirty hunters and a pack of trained hunting dogs partake in the hunt. Oak Tree’s hunting ground is in close proximity to its lodge, and the layout shows a love and attention to hunting and the husbandry potential of the land. Oak Tree’s 8,000 acres are dotted with food plots, sloughs and standing bean and corn fields. It is a hunter’s dream land, because it has been designed to be a pheasant’s dream land.
While challenged this year with winds of over twenty miles per hour, the hardy crew harvested 62 pheasants — and all the fun that was legal to have. While the wind makes the hunting more challenging, no South Dakotan ringneck chaser would allow limits on the fun at a Nun Hunt.
The hunters that come to the Nun Hunt enjoy the hunt, the outdoors and the camaraderie — but they also understand that the event is about raising funds to help the sisters continue their ministries, and the hunters are fully invested in that cause. Like all good charity events, there is an auction. Auctioneers Randy and Chris Owen donate their services, bringing both a humorous and ecumenical flair to the hunt. For example, while raising one’s own bid is frowned upon at most auctions, it may be the norm at the Nun Hunt!
On one occasion, local OB/GYN hunter, Dr. Flaherty, raised his bid after winning in exchange for a hug from the sister assisting with the auction. A successful hunter, at this auction, is likely to come home with a basket of nun-baked bread and sister-pickled preserves. The only rain that falls on this event is the inevitable ability of the Vikings to lose on the Sunday of the Nun Hunt, but there are some things even the Sisters’ good cheer and preserves can’t remedy.
GOOD THINGS HAPPEN FOR A GOOD CAUSE
Outside of South Dakota, it probably seems a little odd for a pacifist group of prayerful ladies to raise money with Mr. Remington’s finest, but here it makes perfect sense. The sisters, the ringnecks, and the landowning Makens have deep roots in our state. A day in the field hunting pheasants is among the finest blessings to bestow upon a South Dakota hunter — well, a hunter from anywhere, for that matter. The sisters caring for our people, birds that inspire our state, and the landowners that create the habitat for those birds all nurture parts of what is best about life in South Dakota. When all these come together for a good cause, many good things happen — and, well, that’s why there’s no limit on a Nun Hunt: because the nuns have never put a limit on the good they would do for those they have touched along their journey here at home in South Dakota.
Lee Schoenbeck grew up in Webster, practices law in Watertown, and is a freelance writer for the South Dakota Magazine website.