Val Gillig was a bit mysterious when I asked her what the big auction item would be at this year's Pheasant's Forever banquet.
"I can't tell you exactly because it's a surprise," she said. "I don't want to give it away because it's so cool."
The only hints she would give are it's American-made and much of it comes from area businesses.
So we'll all be surprised when we get to the end of the live auction during the 22nd annual banquet March 26 at Meadowbrook Ballroom, Bascom.
Yes, it's time to get your tickets if you don't already have them. Gillig's contact information is below.
"It's not too late to get donations in if people want to donate," she said. Items for the live and silent auctions are welcome, and smaller items for the raffle tables. Any donations are appreciated.
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The local chapter is continuing the theme of the last few years and concentrating on offering American-made products as prizes.
"We have a lot of USA vendors that have donated," Gillig said.
In her 17th year as banquet chairman, Gillig said she still gets nervous when the date approaches. She and a handful of dedicated people raise funds at the banquet each year and disperse those funds to benefit nature.
If you've been to previous banquets, it will be much like other years. Like last year, doors open at 5 p.m. and people can eat as they arrive - or whenever they feel like it - until 7 p.m. There's an open bar.
If you've never been to a Pheasants Forever banquet, it's time you checked it out, especially if you love nature and conservation.
Funds raised that night - usually $10,000-$12,000 - work all year long here in Seneca County to create and retain upland wildlife habitat. The local group assists landowners in buying seed for conservation areas, and works to set aside nature areas such as the Kelbley area on US 224 near SR 587 and the Redfox area near Bloomville.
Tickets are $60 per couple, or $45 per single, for adults, and $15 for additional family members ages 15-18. The cost for children 8-14 (who are eating pizza instead of the buffet dinner) is $8.
If you aren't able to attend the dinner, memberships are $35.
Gillig stressed the banquet is open to the public, but you must buy tickets in advance. The ticket cutoff date is March 19.
It's a great way to spend a Saturday evening among a group of people who share a common interest in providing habitat for upland wildlife. Not only ringneck pheasants benefit, but many species of ground-nesting birds and innumerable other animals. You're likely to touch base with lots of people you already know, and meet some new friends.
I'm looking forward to trying my hand at shooting with the Ringnecks' Laser Shot, a shooting simulator with a laser to show accuracy.
The simulator was purchased with donations from last year's banquet. I remember I was amazed at how fast the donations came in after youth leader Marie Keefe explained the Laser Shot after the live auction. Money just kept coming in until the Ringnecks reached $5,000.
"Everybody gets a pass or a ticket this year to play it," Gillig said. "This year everybody gets a chance to try it out. We want to show people, educationally, what it's like."
Later, she said the names of three people will be drawn from among those who tried it to compete in a tournament. The winner will get a prize.
Some of the raffles in store for us this year are a gun safe and guns, including a limited edition Ithaca shotgun, and other sports gear.
One raffle features a Rada knife, which is USA-made with a lifetime warranty, along with Nordic Ware cookware.
Another raffle allows the winner to choose among three mystery prizes.
"There might be lots of good stuff in one and another one might be full of toilet paper," Gillig said.
This year, the bartenders are going to be selling chances on some beer lights.
Limited edition prints, as well as items donated by local artists, will be sold during the live auction.
"You know we like to keep things lively and entertaining," Gillig said.
One unique item in the live auction this year is a clock with a picture of a black lab donated by Native dog food.
"Whoever buys it gets 100 tickets to enter a national drawing for a 2011 John Deere utility task vehicle, and it's loaded with 12 40-pound bags of dog food," she said. "You get 100 chances. That'll be pretty good."
For ticket information or to donate items, call Gillig at (419) 937-2264.
I'm looking forward to this one. See you there!