“The Turkey is a true original Native of America... He is ... a Bird of Courage, and would not hesitate to attack a Grenadier of the British Guards who should presume to invade his Farm Yard with a red Coat on.”
— Benjamin Franklin, writing in a letter in 1784 to his daughter criticizing the choice of the eagle as the national bird.
Contrary to popular myth, there’s no evidence that Benjamin Franklin ever actually suggested that his fellow Founding Fathers should have chosen Meleagris gallopavo, i.e., the wild turkey, as the national emblem.
But there’s no question that Franklin held a certain admiration for these feathered friends, something that lives on today in the form of the National Wild Turkey Federation.
Conservation efforts aimed at the once-vanishing (more on that later) and venerable fowl will be at center stage Tuesday when the Hopkins County Longbeards chapter of the National Wild Turkey Federation hosts a Hunting Heritage Super Fund banquet.
The event begins with doors opening at the Hopkins County Regional Civic Center at 6:30 p.m. Tuesday, March 24, with dinner being served at 7:30 p.m.
“The Hopkins Co. Longbeards Chapter of the National Wild Turkey Federation is one of NWTF’s newest chapters at two years old, yet our volunteers have made great strides in this short amount of time to be involved in the local youth and outdoor community,” wrote Dale Thompson, a member of the local chapter, in a memo announcing the banquet. “Since our first Hunting Heritage Banquet last spring, which was wildly successful, we have made great strides in becoming an evermore present entity in in the evolution of outdoors and the heritage of hunting.”
Money raised at the banquet goes toward wild turkey conservation, but also serves to preserve the tradition of hunting. And the Longbeards members aren’t just preaching to the choir on this one — they reach out to involve youngsters and women in their efforts.
“Programs such as the J.A.K.E.S. (Juniors Acquiring Knowledge Ethics & Sportsmanship), and W.I.T.O. (Women In The Outdoors) continually have events throughout the year, which create a healthy, family-oriented environment for young people and ladies to gain greater knowledge and respect for the outdoors,” Thompson wrote. “Our local chapter also sponsors a college scholarship, which is awarded to a local area high school graduate, which is then entered into the state chapter’s scholarship program with the possibility of being awarded the national scholarship of $10,000. This year’s recipient will be announced at the banquet.”
Walk through any of the wildlife management areas in and around Hopkins County and there’s a definite chance you’ll run across a wild turkey, but that was not always the case. The wild turkey was once an important and abundant source of food for Native Americans, but the bird populations dwindled drastically in the early 20th century due to loss of habitat and hunting pressure. Wild turkeys were virtually eradicated in the Northeast United States, for example.
Fortunately for the species, reintroduction programs slowly but surely helped re-establish and even expand herds. By 1973, when the National Wild Turkey Federation was launched, there were an estimated 1.3 million wild turkeys in North America. Today that number stands at more than seven million birds, thanks in no small part to the $286 million raised by the wild turkey federation since 1985 to uphold hunting traditions and conserve more than 13.9 million acres of wildlife habitat.
For more information about the Hopkins County Longbeards chapter or Tuesday’s banquet, contact Dale Thompson at 903-348-7372.
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