“So, what’s the big deal about turkeys?”
That’s the question I heard uttered while walking through the Gaylord Opryland Resort in Nashville last weekend as I attended the National Wild Turkey Federation’s (NWTF) Convention & Expo.
Not everyone at the resort was there for the turkeys, and seeing thousands of people in camo and wearing NWTF logos on their shirts and caps had to be intriguing to the vacationers, partiers, and other tourists.
“So, what is the big deal about turkeys?”
It’s a valid question, and one this show proves convincingly.
Wild turkeys are in the opinion of this wildlife journalist, the most important game animal in America, and it’s not because I like to hunt them (which I do).
It’s not because they are widespread across America and can be hunted by everyone-no matter income level (which they can).
It’s not even because wild turkeys have an incredible conservation story that rivals any species on planet Earth (and it does.)
It is because wild turkeys are a little high maintenance.
Well, not in the setting, First Nation’s tribes initially knew them or when the first Thanksgiving occurred featuring them for dinner.
They tend to be a bit high maintenance for the wilderness where natural fire is nonexistent, and prescribed burns are few and far between.
And due to their habit of roosting in trees together at night, they can be easy pickings for poachers.
On top of that, modern land usage has altered their natural habitat to the point it looks nothing like the wilds of 100 years ago in most places.
If we get habitat right for turkeys and manage it for them, all species benefit. And it’s just whitetail deer but also bighorn sheep, mule deer and nongame species like the endangered Louisiana pine snake and the gopher tortoise.
But turkey hunters have a soft spot for their high maintenance love and will spend money, volunteer, lobby, and recruit other hunters to enter a sport that has saved the wild turkey in modernity and for future generations.
In 1973 there were around 1.5 million wild turkeys nationwide. There are now close to seven million.
That same year the NWTF came into existence.
I think not.
Walking the floors of the expo, I saw people of all walks of life smiling, talking turkey, and seeking ways to make their family’s pursuit of these magnificent birds successful.
There are no events like this for people drawn to help the Louisiana pine snake or gopher tortoise.
But tens of thousands will attend an event and travel across the country to get there to help turkeys. It’s truly a modern conservation miracle.
America needs to hear the story of the turkey.
And in my native state of Texas, it really needs to be heard.
Thanks to the effort of NWTF-Texas and the Texas Parks & Wildlife Department (TPWD), Eastern turkeys have been restored from near zero in the 1970s to around 10,000 now.
TPWD”s “Super Stockings” are highly effective, and with NWTF’s help, they are making Texas a more complete turkey state.
The fact we have 500,000 plus Rio Grandes is tremendous, but seeing Easterns come back solely because of the efforts above shows real promise for the future.
At the Saturday awards banquet, NWTF national recognized the Texas organization as numerous chapters, and individuals received accolades of the highest levels.
And as we went in for chapter and state group photos, the photographer informed us we were the most prominent group.
We are after all Texans. Everything is bigger here, right?
We have a long way to go to catch up with other states in turkey hunter numbers, but in terms of heart for these birds and hard-working NWTF staff and volunteers and TPWD, Texas is second to none.
My takeaway from the show is NWTF is on the cutting-edge of wildlife conservation, and hunter recruitment as its Texas crew move forward doing great things-deep in the heart of the state with the most turkeys.
God bless Texas and God bless the wild turkey!