Wild turkey federation convention draws record crowd

Nashville, Tenn. — A record crowd of turkey hunters and conservationists flocked to the Gaylord Opryland Resort and Convention Center here recently  for the 38th annual National Wild Turkey Federation Convention and Sport Show.

The three-day gathering, which included a sport show, turkey-calling and call-making contests, drew a crowd of 48,350 – nearly 2,000 more than the previous high.

The convention also was used to highlight the NWTF’s latest initiative: “Save the Habitat. Save the Hunt.” The program is designed to slow the loss of critical wildlife habitat by conserving and enhancing 4 million acres; attracting 1.5 million new hunters; and increasing access to 500,000 additional acres of public hunting ground.

The program calls for a $1.2-billion fund-raising effort to make it happen.

NWTF CEO George Thornton also unveiled plans for the NWTF Hunting Heritage Center and Palmetto Shooting Complex at the NWTF Wild Turkey Center in Edgefield, S.C.

“Our vision is to have the premier hunting heritage and outdoor education center in the country by the end of the decade,” Thornton said. “Our commitment is to use it to save the habitat and save the hunt.”

Karen Lee, NWTF director of marketing and communications, said the convention-goers “left with a better understanding of the NWTF and our Save the Habitat. Save the Hunt initiative.”

The Save the Hunt. Save the Habitat program comes at a time when wild turkey numbers have taken a surprising dip in some traditional strongholds, such as Pennsylvania and New York, South Dakota, Texas, Arkansas, and Mississippi.

New York’s turkey population is at a 20-year low, while Pennsylvania’s bird numbers are continuing to decline. Mississippi’s turkey numbers are down 43 percent; Arkansas has seen a 34-percent dip, and Texas is down 30 percent.

In South Dakota, Merriam’s turkey numbers are down by 25 percent, according to NWTF and state biologists.

In some cases, the declines have been attributed to habitat loss.

The convention, sponsored by longtime NWTF supporter Midway USA, featured a three-day sport show with 420 exhibitors. Numerous hunting and TV celebrities were on hand, including Will Primos, Mark and Terry Drury, Michael Waddell, Ronnie “Cuz” Strickland, and Jessie Duff.  

The event also included the new Family Adventure Village, which gave kids the chance to explore hands-on conservation education and a variety of outdoor skills, as well as earn a special collectible patch.

NWTF members and active military personnel received free admission to the sport show with their membership card or ID.

Country music act Thompson Square performed at the Saturday night awards banquet, while The Isaacs entertained at the Thursday night welcome dinner, as well as on Saturday.

The sport show included seminars, celebrity autograph sessions, and the Grand National Turkey Calling Championships.

Matt Van Cise, of Brookville, Pa., captured his third consecutive and fifth overall Senior Division Grand National Calling Championship at the event. That tied him with Jimmy Pollard, who also won three straight titles, and Missourian Walter Parrott, who has won the title five times.

NWTF volunteers and chapters also were recognized for their exceptional work, and several special awards were given to media members, biologists, educators, and organizations.

A new social hub of the NWTF convention, The Waterin’ Hole, attracted attendees daily and into the evening where they met and talked turkey over food and drink.

“It’s why we’re here this weekend,” said Primos, of Primos Hunting Calls, who served as master of ceremonies for the Thursday welcome party and Saturday’s awards banquet. “We’re here to have fun and celebrate the early success of our new initiative, Save the Habitat. Save the Hunt.”

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