Wildlife populations, including turkey, are sustained by recreational shooters and hunters buying firearms and ammunition, licenses and tags.
The tom was fired up. Just 25 yards away, he was pacing back and forth hammering away with gobbles. He had a couple of hens keeping him company, they too getting annoyed by the soft clucks coming from the near side of a hedgerow. I was backed up in the brush another 25 yards, shotgun poised and facing the strutting decoy that was waiting for the angry tom. All I needed was for him to be impatient enough to cross the shallow slough of water that kept him from him separated from me.
It was quite a show to hear. In fact, aside from the frustrating back and forth game of patience between hunter and prey, the fact that this was a common occurrence for hunters is particularly notable.
“When I was a kid, just seeing a turkey was something to talk about,” explained Brian, my turkey guide, a 20-something-year-old, who sported a beard longer than the birds he hunted.
He knew a thing or two, bagging his first bird of the season on opening morning, and another for his season limit just two days later. He added those to a running tally of hashmarks that’s filling up the inside of his favorite turkey hunting ball cap.
That eastern wild turkey that was pitching fits and testing my patience is indicative of just how important hunting – and hunters – are to the success of wildlife conservation. There are an estimated 7 million wild turkeys drawing hunters into the woods these days, but just a hundred years ago, there were less than 100,000. Wild turkey began to disappear altogether from states they originally populated as early as 1813 and, by 1920, they were nowhere to be found in 18 of the 39 states of their original range.
This was about the time conservation began to take hold. President Teddy Roosevelt, a dedicated hunter, already instituted conservation programs to preserve dwindling resources for future generations. Other sportsmen saw, too, that unmanaged hunting and unchecked habitat destruction threatened to annihilate an already decimated wildlife population. They told lawmakers there was a need to institute managed game seasons, a system of laws and regulations to restore fish and wildlife as well as their habitats through sound science and active management. What emerged was the North American Model for Wildlife Conservation.
Firearms and Ammunition Makers’ Wildlife Investment
Monetary investment was crucial to making the model work. Growing wildlife, including wild turkey populations, meant investment from those who passionately believed in the heritage, resource and understood the benefit for all Americans. Congress acted at the urging of sportsmen, and the Pittman-Robertson Wildlife Restoration Act was signed into law in 1937. This act placed an excise tax on the production of firearms and ammunition, which is supported by purchases by hunters and recreational target shooters. So far, this fund has collected more than $11 billion for wildlife conservation, habitat restoration, public access to lands and education.
It’s humbling to think that we are the beneficiaries of this vision of booming turkey populations, along with duck, deer, elk, antelope, and bison. The turkey gobbling just beyond my sight was a hope to those who started the programs that all Americans enjoy today, hunters and non-hunters alike. It’s sustained by recreational shooters and hunters buying firearms and ammunition, as well as licenses and tags, that continue to invest in healthy wildlife for generations to come.
After all, I don’t want to be the last hunter to get frustrated by a turkey getting hung up just beyond range. Thanks to sound management, even if this season leaves me without a punched tag, there will be plenty of opportunities next year.
Mark Oliva manages public affairs for the National Shooting Sports Foundation.