The Underdog Chapter

Limitations be damned: Virginia’s Piedmont Area Chapter relishes in the role of small chapter, big success for NWTF conservation and hunting heritage fundraising.

In a county of about 13,000 people on the edges of the Shenandoah Valley Mountains, a little more than two hours southwest of Washington, D.C., an inspiring story of a small NWTF chapter began to take shape in 2018.

The NWTF’s Piedmont Area Chapter near Madison, Virginia, a collection of old generation farms and blue-collar citizens, had seen its participation dwindle for nearly a decade and was a one-man show for the most part with Mark Fields running banquets. About that time, Bear Davidson became an NWTF member after the cattle ranch he operates moved to the area. Davidson wanted to meet local hunters and get involved in the community, so he attended the local 2017 banquet, which played host to 80 people and grossed about $35,000 for NWTF conservation efforts. It was a good showing, but the potential for more was evident.

“It was my first time being in a room full of 80 turkey hunters, and I loved every second of it,” Davidson said.

A PLAN FOR ACTION

Davidson began talking – something he’s got a strong propensity to do – about what could be done to grow the chapter and Fields soon gathered up 13 volunteers for a meeting in the G&G Ranch office. In two years’ time, banquet gross receipts more than doubled and nearly 300 people attended the 2019 banquet. After receiving the NWTF’s L.A. Dixon Jr. Memorial Outstanding Chapter Award for the third-highest grossing banquet nationally in 2019, the Piedmont Area Chapter’s 2020 spring banquet saw 470 attend and raised more than $105,000 — the first time in 30 years a Virginia chapter had eclipsed that mark.

“We want to try to get to 1,000 attendees, but we’ll have to find a bigger venue,” said Randy Hovey, Piedmont Area Chapter president.

Some other chapter highlights from 2019 and beyond included:

  • Raising $19,000 for Wheelin’ Sportsmen programs.
  •  150 new JAKES memberships.
  • 164 Banquet Sponsors
  • A turkey plunger sold for $1,200 with the winning bidder being the first excused for dinner
  • Bruce Dellinger, a local resident who is a quadriplegic, painted artwork with his mouth that sold at auction for $12,000
  •  During the NWTF’s Call for All campaign in the fall of 2020 amid COVID-19 restrictions, eight online chapter raffles raised $15,000 in nine days.

The chapter’s $15,000 donation to the Call for All fundraiser was the most of any NWTF chapter in the country.

“It was amazing to see everyone come together for the cause,” Davidson said.

In 2021, Hovey and volunteers orchestrated a pickup truck giveaway raffle in conjunction with Battlefield Automotive in Culpepper, Virginia. Chapter officers were told they couldn’t sell $100 tickets for a raffle. It wouldn’t work, people wouldn’t spend that much and a small community couldn’t support it.

Hovey, Davidson and the chapter didn’t listen. Conservation and hunting support came from 35 states, plus Canada and Australia, and the truck raffle put $60,000 in the chapter’s NWTF coffers.

“We were never going to know if we could do it unless we tried,” Hovey said. “Next time, we want to go bigger. We’ve just said, ‘We’re winning.’ We don’t care what it takes. The whole chapter has driven our success. They care about it and want to see it do well.”

Davidson is now the Virginia State Chapter vice president, and he and the state board have worked with NWTF District Biologist Cully McCurdy to find ways to fund a wild turkey research project in Virginia. “With the fortune we’ve had with our fundraisers we realize there is a lot that can be done,” Davidson mentioned. “We reached out to Cully as a Piedmont Chapter to see if we could motivate the powers at large to get a turkey study going on in the state of Virginia. Cully mentioned this was unprecedented from a chapter level. That’s what we want. To set new precedents.” There’s also a $10,000 grant for Wheelin’ Sportsmen donated by a NWTF member within the chapter and made available for as long as needed.

 “We’re on pace to net more than $100,000 again, and we want to spend it efficiently and effectively,” Davidson said.

SETTING A MARK

Davidson hopes the chapter’s success story ends similarly to that of another story he’s fond of: the elusive four-minute mile. Runners had tried to break the timed barrier for more than a century until British runner Roger Bannister crossed the finish line in 3:59. Once that happened, runners from all over the world began to attempt to beat the new mark, and, since Bannister accomplished the feat in 1954, nearly 1,500 runners have bested the four-minute mile mark. In similar fashion, Davidson hopes his chapter’s story can help inspire others to be even better.

“Everybody thinks you need to be this, to do this,” he said. “Our chapter is just a little story in a little county. There’s no secret to it; it’s just an attitude and understanding of the responsibility we have to the people who are watching us.”

Everybody loves the underdog story. Virginia’s Piedmont Area Chapter relishes in it, and wants to challenge other NWTF chapters to do the same. Competition breeds excellence, as they say, and the Piedmont Area Chapter is challenging others to beat them … and they don’t mind losing for the sake of conservation of the wild turkey and introducing newcomers to the path of the outdoors life. The chapter is creating a Super Fund for JAKES youth members and challenging other chapters to do the same to increase awareness of hunting, conservation and the love of the wild among our future leaders.

“We want to give back and set the precedent,” Davidson said. “We are fortunate because of what those before us have done. There are guys who have helped and grown this chapter in the last couple years that have moved on; we are thankful for them and their support and caring. I hope other chapters see the culture here, and I hope we get beat when we challenge other chapters to fundraise. If we’re doing this, just think about what everyone else could be doing.”

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Virginia