Why we hunt: How NWTF staffers got hooked

There are nearly as many reasons people get into hunting —specifically, turkey hunting — as there are hunters. Our staff is like every other hunter across the country. Some grew up in a hunting family, learning hunting skills from their family elders. Others came to the sport as adults. Whatever the reasons, the takeaway is that we should all strive to introduce others, no matter their background or age, to the sport. It’s never too early or too late to learn new appreciation for our wild places and wild things.

My story is like so many others. I did not grow up hunting, although my dad did hunt on occasion. After restarting our family farm, I longed to be able to provide my family with quality, organic meats to complement our organic vegetables. I was slowly working my way toward hunting when I came to work for the NWTF. Once here, I was exposed to immense knowledge on wild turkeys and the trials and exhilarations turkey hunting presents. With an invitation to hunt Rio Grande wild turkeys in Texas, learning to hunt became real. Although I made a conscious decision to learn to hunt, it wasn’t until I was sitting against my first mesquite tree and heard the first thundering gobble that I knew this was something I would do the rest of my life.

Matt Lindler, acting VP of Communications and editor of Turkey Country, also started turkey hunting in earnest after coming to work for the NWTF.

“I'd tried it unsuccessfully for a few years before, but I really got into it when I came to work for the NWTF 20 years ago,” Lindler said. “I was suddenly surrounded by experts who freely gave advice and helped me learn to pursue them more effectively.”

Matt Stewart, managing editor of Turkey Country and JAKES Country, said his “why” for turkey hunting is easy.

“I’ll never forget the first gobble I heard while hunkered down against a Georgia pine,” Stewart said. “The bird hammered inside of 40 yards, and it felt like the ground shook underneath me. It was like nothing I’d ever heard or felt before. I was in awe … and then one of my hunting buddies shot and missed it seconds before I would have had a shot. Exhilaration and frustration. That about sums up turkey hunting.”

Teresa Carroll, Hunting Heritage Programs coordinator at the NWTF, is also an adult onset hunter.

I was introduced to turkey hunting after beginning my career with the National Wild Turkey Federation,” Carroll said. “Already in my 40s, this amazing experience changed my life.  I have a newfound appreciation for nature and for the privilege I have as a hunter to harvest a wild turkey.

Sandy Miller, systems administrator at the NWTF, began hunting as a young girl, following her brother and father on hunts.

I started hunting when my brother would have dove hunts at his farm,” Miller said. “I wanted to be part of it, even though I was the only girl, so my Dad would take me with him and let me use his gun. That year for Christmas, all I asked for was my very own shotgun. And I have hunted dove, deer and turkey since. To me, just going to the woods and sitting undisturbed by anything other than nature is the best form of therapy you can have.”

Mandy Harling, director of Hunting Heritage Programs at the NWTF, was introduced to hunting as a college student.

“My husband introduced me to deer hunting when we were in college,” Harling said. “At first, I was an observer and studied in the blind. Then I accompanied him in the turkey woods and was immediately hooked. He tells people he went from shooter number one to number two. Today, we not only enjoy hunting together, but also with our children, and now he's number four! There is nothing like spending time in God's beautiful creation with the ones you love most. It's one of my favorite family traditions!”

For Pete Muller, NWTF public relations manager, it’s not just the gobble that keeps driving him to chase those elusive birds.

"Despite growing up hunting, turkeys were not something I grew up hunting, or even seeing, in Delaware,” Muller said. “In fact, I wasn't ever really exposed to turkeys at all until moving to Wyoming when I was well into my 20s. There is no doubt that the thundering gobble of a turkey is enough to keep hunters coming back each spring, but I think the biggest draw for me to turkey hunting is the versatility of turkey meat for preparing meals. The breast meat is more flavorful than its store-bought brethren's meat, though its texture is more consistent with pork. Fry it, bake it, smoke it, just don't overcook it. A turkey's leg meat is incredible table fare as well, though many hunters haven't taken advantage of these cuts. Better suited for recipes that require time and slow heat, the meat from drums and thighs also can be ground for spaghetti, chili or simply pattied out and thrown on the grill."

James Earl Kennamer, Ph.D., was born to work with wild turkeys. In 1954, when Kennamer was 12, his father took him turkey hunting at Ft. Benning Military Reservation near Columbus, Georgia. He said the beauty of the gobbler strutting back and forth that morning struck him like nothing before. It was then he knew his calling in life.

Over the next half-century, Kennamer charted a course to become one of the leading voices in wild turkey management and conservation. He did that and more. Kennamer retired Aug. 31, 2017, after 37 years with the NWTF, serving as chief conservation officer for more than three decades and, most recently, as advisor to the development department.

“We can be assured our children and grandchildren will see wild things and enjoy hunting like I have been able to do over my lifetime,” Kennamer said in a recent interview.

So no matter when or why you started turkey hunting, whether it drives you to your career or just a peaceful time in the woods, your story is important. Although we tend to pass down hunting traditions in our own families, don’t forget to pass them along to others outside your family so a new set of hunters will know the joy of hearing those spring gobbles firsthand.

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