Being named “Large Business of the Year” by the Little Falls Area Chamber of Commerce came as a surprise to Gregg LeBlanc and Joe LeBlanc, cousins and owners of LeBlanc’s Rice Creek Hunting & Recreation in Little Falls.
They consider the award an honor as it is a testament to their thriving business and the hard work they, Manager and Wedding Coordinator Krista Smude and other employees do.
“We’re honored. Gregg, Krista and I have lived in this community our whole lives, so we are glad to see a business like ours to prosper and become a ‘Business of the Year,’” Joe said.
The nomination highlighted that the business was very deserving of the award.
“Rice Creek is the definition of an area business that promotes the betterment of the community. Every year, they organize and sponsor numerous events at no charge to the public. They are a great example of an organization that encourages healthy outdoor activities, family fun and promote hunting for youth and differently abled people,” the nomination said.
Rice Creek was initially established by Joe’s dad, Bert, and his uncle, Don, in 1961. Joe said it was his dad’s passion for conservation and wildlife that inspired him to start the business — a passion that was passed on to the next generation.
“We love doing conservation type things. There’s a lot of deer here because of the hunting club and the way it is laid out, we provide cover for our pheasants, which provides food for the deer,” Joe said.
Gregg, Joe and his brother, Elden, took over the business in 1984. The fact that several landowners joined together for one purpose is what made it all possible, Joe said. A co-op of landowners, all relatives, that were willing to provide the land, a total of nearly 1,500 acres.
One of those relatives is Gregg’s dad, Charlie.
“He has been a big part of this. We have been able to use Charlie’s land, which has been very useful to our growth,” Joe said.
A large number of customers and other visitors make their way to Rice Creek year-round. While hunting for pheasant, duck, turkey or chukar, is their main business in the fall, they offer unique wedding weekend experiences from May to mid-September and from December to March.
Many of their hunting customers come from out of state or from the Minneapolis/St. Paul area.
Joe said about 75% of the hunts come from businesses who bring their clients as a perk to Rice Creek for an unforgettable experience.
Rice Creek has been the home to many weddings and receptions for more than 10 years. At first, outdoor weddings were held, but in April last year, the LeBlanc’s built a large event center for that purpose. Since the new addition was included, Rice Creek has held 18 weddings.
In December 2019, Rice Creek hosted its fourth annual Winter Fun with Santa, a free event that is open to the public. Some of the activities the more than 1,000 visitors can enjoy are arts and crafts, photos with Santa, petting and photos of reindeer, cookies, dog sled rides, hay rides and more.
In addition, Rice Creeks hosts shooting camps for responsible young persons with a great emphasis on how to safely handle a firearm, sporting clays and more.
Once a year, Rice Creek hosts a gun fair with Reeds Family Outdoor Outfitters. About 10,000 visitors come to the three-day event and give them an opportunity to try out a firearm before purchasing it from Reeds. To further the visitors’ enjoyment, trick shooters are also brought in, Joe said.
Joe said because their hunting business is as successful and prosperous as it is, they are able to give back more to the community.
What makes Gregg, Joe and Smude enjoy most about the business is meeting the customers and working with their staff and making sure they have a good time during their stay..
During the busiest season — fall, Rice Creek employs 49-65 employees, but the number decreases during their slower seasons.
“It’s been challenging to find enough employment for all of our staff, except for a few get-togethers out here, but now with this new addition we are able to provide some employment for quite a few of them on a weekend when there is a wedding. They prep during the week,” Joe said.
Owning a shooting preserve comes with its own set of challenges, but it’s not something the LeBlancs shy away from and there is no cookie cutter model to follow.
“We’re providing a unique business. Shooting preserves are not the same. There is no rule book for it. There’s nothing you can look at how it’s done,” Gregg said.
The business will be honored at the Chamber’s annual meeting at the Falls Ballroom in Little Falls, Thursday, Feb. 27.