Brandon Butler: Initiative has wild turkeys thriving

Wild turkeys were as exotic as elk when I was growing up in Northwest Indiana in the 1990s. Turkeys were something my Kentucky family hunted down south, not something we chased in the cornfields and small woodlots surrounding my home.

Then, through the efforts of public/private partnerships, turkeys began showing up. Now that we had them, habitat had to be created and managed to keep them. For the last 10 years, the National Wild Turkey Federation (NWTF) has been working to do so with its initiative, “Save the Habitat. Save the Hunt.”

NWTF was founded in 1973. Since its inception, the organization has led the way for turkeys. According to a recent press release, NWTF has poured over half a billion dollars into wildlife conservation and has positively impacted over 22 million acres of critical wildlife habitat. The NWTF has also invested over $8.5 million into wild turkey research to ensure the wild turkey population remains healthy.

The initial goal of NWTF was turkey reintroductions and stabilizing populations. That mission was completed across most of the country, so the organization began working to protect what it helped restore. Today, NWTF continues to deliver its mission by delivering conservation improvements. Without clean and abundant water, healthy forests and wildlife habitat, and resilient communities, we won’t have turkeys, so NWTF’s army of volunteers and dedicated staff work to ensure we have those. They also work to ensure we maintain turkey hunting opportunities across the U.S.

In 2012, the NWTF set out to bolster its mission by creating the “Save the Habitat. Save the Hunt.” initiative, a national campaign entailing three distinct goals: 1. Conserve or enhance 4 million acres of wildlife habitat; 2. recruit 1.5 million hunters; and 3. open access to 500,000 acres of public hunting land — all by the end of the NWTF’s 2022 fiscal year. In 2020, the final metric of the initiative was surpassed thanks to the dedication of NWTF chapters, volunteers, partners and staff. As the 2022 fiscal year officially closed Aug. 31, the official totals for the “Save the Habitat. Save the Hunt.” initiative are:

  • 5,216,914 acres conserved or enhanced (goal accomplished in 2020)
  • 1,534,819 hunters recruited (goal accomplished in 2019)
  • 700,041 acres opened to public hunting access (goal accomplished in 2018)

“The 10-year initiative rallied our membership, staff and partners to help deliver our mission on an unprecedented scale,” NWTF co-CEO Kurt Dyroff said. “We faced many challenges over the last decade, but what we accomplished is a testament to our dedicated people who make the NWTF so special. We will look back 50 years from now and see that ‘Save the Habitat. Save the Hunt.’ served as a springboard for mission-focused delivery far into the future.”

Saving the habitat to benefit the species is one aspect of preserving turkey hunting, making sure we have turkey hunters is another. In the same span of years, NWTF helped to recruit 1.5 million new or lapsed hunters. The additional hunters represent the present and future funding source for conservation efforts. The education and outreach efforts of NWTF work to ensure hunters and shooting sport enthusiasts are America’s most stalwart conservationists.

“This is the beginning of a new era,” Dyroff said. “There are still many challenges ahead, and we are not letting our foot off the gas. We will continue to increase the scope and scale of mission delivery so that we may have a positive impact for future generations.”

Turkey hunting has become one of my greatest passions. There is nothing like listening to a turkey gobble at dawn on a chilly spring morning. Giving back to this amazing species through volunteer work to “Save the Habitat. Save the Hunt.” has been a rewarding undertaking for hundreds of thousands of sportsmen across the country. NWTF has led the way.

See you down the trail …

Brandon Butler writes a weekly outdoors column for the Daily Journal. For more Driftwood Outdoors, check out the podcast on www.driftwoodoutdoors.com or anywhere podcasts are streamed. Send comments to [email protected]