How Minnesota Bound’s Legacy is Tied to Habitat
By Casey Sill
Habitat is a conduit for memories, and so often those memories revolve around our dogs.
As we celebrate Bird Dogs for Habitat this month, it’s important to examine the connection between the two. Without habitat there’s no place for our dogs to roam, and no memories to be made. On the flip side, a mixed grass prairie doesn’t quite look the same without a shorthair quartering through the middle of it, and a cattail slough sounds a little empty without a lab wading through the muck.
Bird dogs can’t truly exist without habitat — and while habitat can certainly exist without bird dogs, would we really want it to?
There’s no stronger evidence of this connection than Ron Schara’s history with the Build a Wildlife Area program. Schara is the founder of Ron Schara Productions and was the longtime host of KARE 11’s “Minnesota Bound.” For over two decades, Schara and his black lab(s) Raven brought us stories of the connection between dog, handler and habitat. That connection came full circle when Schara got involved in Build A Wildlife Area, the program at the heart of Bird Dogs for Habitat.
The Build a Wildlife Area program was first envisioned by longtime Pheasants Forever staffer Joe Duggan in 2003. The initial concept was simple — to use corporate and individual donations as matching dollars toward the purchase of public land, allowing the impact of state and federal funds to grow exponentially.
The first campaign, bolstered by partnerships with Outdoor News, Minnesota Game Fair and the Anoka County Chapter of Pheasants Forever, culminated with the purchase of the 318-acre Mud Lake Wildlife Management Area in Morrison County, Minnesota. Schara and Raven entered the fray shortly after that first campaign came to an end.
Though Schara was the creator and host of “Minnesota Bound,” he had long referred to Raven as the star of the show — even if her rise to fame was mostly coincidental.
While in the early stages of transitioning to television from a 29-year career as an outdoor writer for the Minneapolis Star Tribune, Schara sat down in his home to film the very first episode of “Minnesota Bound.”
“It was a February day, too cold to be outside, and 6-month-old Raven is in the house with us,” Schara said. “As we’re setting up to shoot, my wife suggested I have Raven sit next to me.”
As every black lab owner knows, their coats make them incredibly difficult to see on film, and to the camera Raven looked like a black blob with a couple of those costume googly eyes stuck to the top. Schara’s cameraman Joe asked if there was something he could put around her neck to make her stand out a little more.
“I thought to myself, Joe’s from Pittsburg, he thinks we dress up our hunting dogs,” Schara said. “But I agreed and walked down the hall of the house looking for something that might work.”
The first thing Schara came across was a red, farmers handkerchief — and Minnesota’s most famous dog was born.
In the 23 years that followed, Schara explored every nook and cranny of the Minnesota outdoors with Raven (I II and III) at his side. The dog became so iconic in the north that Schara started selling plush Raven toys, complete with her trademark red bandana.
Shortly after BAWA kicked off in 2003, Schara began selling the Raven toys at Minnesota Game Fair and donating a portion of the proceeds to the program. The first year they raised $25,000, which became $250,000 after it was matched multiple times.
The toys were such a hit that Gander Mountain, a sponsor of Schara’s, began selling them in-store and donating $5 From every Raven sold to BAWA. They sold over 10,000, raising another $50,000 that was matched again and again. When all was said and done, Raven raised over $1 million for the Build a Wildlife Area program.
“She didn’t know what a star she was,” Schara said. “So, I didn’t have to pay her.”
Raven III died in March 2020, and all three dogs were honored with a memorial at Two Rivers Wildlife Management Area, a BAWA project in south central Minnesota. A statue of Raven now looks out over 700-acres of habitat she helped create — permanently protected and open to public access.
Schara stepped down as the host of “Minnesota Bound” in 2018, though he’s still heavily involved in production and makes regular appearances on the show, as well as on “The Flush” with Travis Frank.
At 80, Schara speaks with the same measured tone and earnest optimism that made him famous in the heyday of 90s outdoor television. When he calls Raven the star of the show, it doesn’t feel like false modesty. He means it.
Their legacies are tied together intimately, and what a beautiful example of the impact bird dogs can have. A 30-year career, 1,000 episodes, dozens of Emmys and over a million dollars donated to conservation with matching funds — all because of a six-month-old black lab puppy in a red bandana.
Schara isn’t sure if he’ll ever have another lab, but he doesn't want to rule out the possibility altogether. He still hunts, though not as much as he used to, and can attest to the idea that without a dog, the space feels strangely empty.
“I was on a pheasant hunt in South Dakota for ‘The Flush’ last year, and I was the only one there who didn’t have a dog,” he said. “It dawns on you that if you’ve had a dog for 50 years like I have, and all of a sudden you don’t — it gets lonely out there.”
Casey Sill is the public relations specialist at Pheasants Forever and Quail Forever national headquarters in St. Paul, Minn. He can be reached at email@example.com.