GARRISON -- Look toward the sky on a clear day and you may spot a participant in one of Crow Wing County's lesser known but active racing clubs.
The Crow Wing Racing Pigeon Club has been around since the early 1990s, but most people probably aren't aware that the sport exists locally. The club has eight active members who live near Brainerd, Pillager, Nisswa, Garrison, Milaca and St. Cloud. The club is based out of the clubhouse on Highway 371 north of Brainerd, but members keep their own birds at their own home lofts. They fly in competition with three other racing pigeon clubs based in Duluth, Bemidji and Wadena with a total of 35 members. Club president is Rich Bemboom, who lives in Milaca.
Kevin Woizeschke, the club's racing secretary, has about 300 racing pigeons and other pigeon breeds in his Wilderness Loft at his rural Garrison home.
If you drive by Kevin and Julie Woizeschke's home, don't be surprised if you spy a large flock of racing pigeons circling above. They're just outside exercising in preparation for their next race. The club usually holds seven or eight races in the spring, or one per weekend. Then they fly another seven or eight races in the fall, starting in August, to train their young birds that they raised from eggs in the spring. A racing pigeon returns home the same day it is released from as far away as 600 miles.
Racing clocks are important to find out how fast racing pigeons can return to their loft. Kevin Woizeschke, Garrison, owns this manual pigeon clock (right) built in the early 1900s, which he used to use until he bought an electronic clock and equipment (left). The manual clock requires pigeon owners to stop the clock when they see their birds return. The racing pigeons, when wearing the electronic bands (bottom left), trip the electronic clock as they enter the loft, making the electronic method more reliable. The string of bands (bottom right) are permanent, seamless bands used to identify each racing pigeon that are placed on a bird's legs when it is 5-7 days old.
Woizeschke has always enjoyed raising pigeons. He used to show fancy pigeon breeds in 4-H at the Crow Wing County Fair as a youth. Once he got out of college, he started once again raising pigeons. He's been in the racing pigeon club since 1996. He works as a non-game wildlife technician at the DNR Baxter office.
Raising pigeons is a stress-free hobby for Woizeschke. The calming coos of his birds from the pigeon loft can be heard throughout his yard. He is able to watch the eggs hatch and the pigeons grow into veteran flyers, breeding his fastest and best birds to create a better breed of racing pigeons. As the birds fly about the yard, the flapping of their wings make a whooshing sound. They're not a very quiet bird, he said.
On race day, each club member brings 25 racing pigeons to the clubhouse where the birds are loaded onto a racing trailer the club owns. Then a driver takes the racing pigeons to a selected starting point, whether it be Topeka, Kan., or Sioux Falls, S.D. The driver calls back to the Brainerd area to make sure the weather conditions are favorable along the designated route, then lifts a lever and the birds are freed. Each racing pigeon has a permanent, seamless band identifying its owner and an electronic band. This band will keep track of when the birds were released and will be triggered the moment the birds arrive back at their lofts.
Racing pigeons can travel up to 60 miles an hour or more in order to return home. Woizeschke said at least 90 percent of his racing pigeons return to him each race. There is the chance they could be killed on the journey, attacked by hawks or simply not be well enough to fly. That's why it's important to have healthy and well-bred racing pigeons, he said. Some birds take their time returning to the loft. One racing pigeon took a whole year to come home.
These racing pigeons took their turns leaving the loft entrance at Kevin Woizeschke's rural Garrison pigeon loft. Woizeschke exercises his birds, who often can be seen circling his and his wife Julie's home. Often the birds can attract predators, like hawks.
Club members meet back at the clubhouse after the race to download their information, figuring out which birds did the best.
"It's just kind of fun watching them fly around," said Woizeschke. "You get to sit out in your yard and watch the sky, waiting for your birds to come home."
The Crow Wing Racing Pigeon Club will help new racers get started in the sport for free or with a minimal investment -- just to see if they like the sport. The club's $25 annual membership fees will be free the first year and all the equipment will be provided. Club members will even donate some racing pigeons to get new members started and help them build a loft.
People from a variety of professions are involved in pigeon racing, said Woizeschke. They come together for their shared love of raising pigeons.
"It's all about the birds, that's why we do it," said Woizeschke.
If you are interested in joining the Crow Wing Racing Pigeon Club or interested in more information, call Kevin Woizeschke at (320) 692-4182 or Scott Hanson at (218) 568-5328 or contact the club via e-mail at email@example.com. Check out its Web site at http://cg.zip2.com/lakesarea/Groups-cwrpc.
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