By Will Mortenson

At age 12, when we first learned to hunt, we were told to aim high and only shoot if we could see blue sky. We remind ourselves to aim high because there is a temptation to take an easy, close shot at a low bird. It is a rule we use to avoid collateral damage – shooting a friend or loyal chocolate lab.

Our state broke the “Aim High” rule this week, announcing that the annual Governor’s Hunt would move from the heart of pheasant country to our state’s biggest city. The event will change in focus from encouraging economic development broadly across all of South Dakota to promoting certain industries and featuring Sioux Falls.

It is easy to see the rationale: Sioux Falls is growing gangbusters. Focusing on hunting-related industries is a natural tie-in. Sioux Falls is home to the largest share of donors and Governor’s Hunt invitees. Many economic development prospects are considering Sioux Falls. It looks like an easy shot.

But this is where we need to remember to aim higher.

The Hunt has rightly been a source of pride for our state for two reasons: driving economic development for the state and world-class hunting. I fear we have surrendered both.

Since inception by Governor Joe Foss and modern conception by Governor Bill Janklow, the Governor’s Hunt has been about all of South Dakota. It was an event to pitch our state — from the Black Hills to the Coteau Hills. Sioux Falls has plenty of funds and personnel to carry off their own economic development event, if they choose.

In states like Illinois and Minnesota, there is a tendency to think of the state as its biggest city — and everywhere else is an afterthought. I don’t want to live in Illinois or Minnesota. I want to keep our best things scattered across the state.

The Hunt has been based in Pierre because it is our capital, but also because Pierre is (along with the Jim River valley) the apex of pheasant hunting worldwide. There is nothing wrong with hunting around Sioux Falls, unless you’ve been to Presho.

I can’t claim to be an unbiased observer – I grew up in Fort Pierre and now live in Pierre. Our community feels like we’ve been forsaken for the big city. We feel like someone took a low shot and peppered us. The event was never about Pierre. It was about South Dakota and we were proud to play host. We took pride in rolling out our finest red carpet to help sell our state to the world. I hope we do again, someday.

I hope our state pivots from Sioux Falls. It may be a tougher shot, but the Hunt can be about all of South Dakota and all types of industry. The Hunt can and should return to our best hunting grounds and not only around Pierre – Watertown, Aberdeen, Yankton, Mitchell, and Huron. Let’s return the Hunt to a statewide showcase of South Dakota.

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