by Cody McLaughlin - Monday, November 20, 2023
The National Wild Turkey Federation (NWTF), the award-winning conservation juggernaut that helped unify the effort to conserve and restore the wild turkey and its incredibly important hunting heritage in North America, is 50 years old this year.
“Our staff and partners are rallying like never before for our 50th anniversary, beginning with our convention this past February,” said NWTF co-CEO Jason Burckhalter. “There seems to be no shortage of creativity and innovation around ways we can raise critical funding for the NWTF’s mission to conserve the wild turkey and preserve our hunting heritage, whether it’s unique products from our corporate partners or once-in-a-lifetime events our staff and volunteers are hosting. These efforts will act as a springboard to propel the NWTF for the next 50 years and paint a bright picture for the future of the wild turkey and conservation.”
NWTF chapters in states across the country have held banquets honoring the groups’ five decades of achievements while the NWTF’s annual convention in February enjoyed record-breaking attendance, drawing 67,368 attendees from all 50 states.
The firearm manufacturer SK Guns commemorated the NWTF’s milestone anniversary with a special release of its collectible 50th Anniversary NWTF Collectors Limited Edition Rifle and 1911. As explained on its website, a genuine American walnut stock features turkey tracks leading up to the NWTF’S 50th anniversary logo that continue over to the opposite side, reflecting the next 50 years to come. A turkey beard begins a similar “uniquely custom” turkey feather scroll leading up to a 24K-gold engraved image of two gobblers. On the left of the rifle is a continuation of the custom turkey beard, feathered scrolls and two wild turkeys in flight. The guns sold out almost immediately and went for an eye-popping $3,100 each.
Winchester Arms and Mossy Oak also teamed up with the NWTF to release a commemorative gun: the 2023 SXP OD Green Long Beard pump shotgun. Designed to be “the ultimate turkey hunting pump shotgun,” it features a pistol grip stock with spacers to adjust the length of pull and interchangeable comb height pieces, is dressed in OD Green Perma-Cote and Mossy Oak Bottomland finish and features an NWTF 50th Anniversary logo on the receiver.
In addition to the slew of commemorative guns, NWTF supporters and collectors can find other 50thanniversary merchandise as well. Watchmaker Hook + Gaff has released a custom NWTF watch and is donating a portion of proceeds back to the NWTF. Shepherd Hills Cutlery has released a commemorative NWTF 50th anniversary Case knife for an affordable $89.99.
Winchester Ammunition has even introduced commemorative Long Beard XR turkey ammunition in honor of the organization.
“The Winchester commitment to conservation spans more than 150 years, and as the NWTF’s first million-dollar sponsor, we congratulate their leadership and membership on this milestone anniversary,” said Matt Campbell, vice president of sales and marketing in a statement announcing the release. “The NWTF has reached millions of people through its conservation, hunting and shooting sports programs, and we’re very honored to help support the organization’s continued efforts.”
Honoring the NWTF’s tradition of conservation, 24 state legislatures and counting have honored the NWTF on its 50-year anniversary by passing resolutions, including those in Alabama, Arkansas, Georgia, Idaho, Illinois, Indiana, Kansas, Kentucky, Maryland, Michigan, Minnesota, Missouri, Nebraska, New Hampshire, New Mexico, New York, Ohio, Oklahoma, South Carolina, South Dakota, Tennessee, Virginia, West Virginia and Wisconsin. Six more states pushing for similar legislation include California, Delaware, North Carolina, Pennsylvania, Vermont and Washington.
“From all across the country, elected officials have honored the NWTF’s 50 years of conservation success through numerous proclamations, resolutions and citations,” said NWTF co-CEO Kurt Dyroff. “We are beyond honored to receive this recognition which speaks to the immense efforts of our volunteers, staff, and partners for the past half-century.”
Oklahoma state Rep. Anthony Moore commended the NWTF for 50 years of delivering on its mission to conserve and preserve America’s turkey hunting heritage by issuing an official Oklahoma citation of recognition, which, in “acting on behalf of the citizens of this great state, wishes to recognize and celebrate the 50th anniversary of the National Wild Turkey Federation and salute the organization as well as its chapters and members from across the United States for their tremendous efforts to further scientific state-led wildlife management and the conservation of America's wild turkey and its habitat.” The NWTF Oklahoma State Chapter allocated $113,234 to the NWTF mission for 2023, which will be matched with more than $3.3 million in partner funds that will be dedicated to further turkey research, habitat restoration and more.
Michigan’s Senate passed Senate Resolution 26, honoring the NWTF and its Michigan chapter for “helping the Michigan Department of Natural Resources restore wild turkey populations across the state, resulting in an estimated 200,000 birds” and concluding with a resolution to “recognize the NWTF's significant contributions to scientific wildlife management, research and habitat conservation as well as promoting and protecting the long-honored outdoor traditions in Michigan and throughout the United States of America.”
One of America’s great conservation success stories, the story of the wild turkey is one worth remembering. For decades prior to the NWTF’s founding, human population explosions across the country threatened America’s wild turkey habitats. After laws such as the Lacey Act and the Pittman-Robertson Act made landmark progress such as by outlawing market hunting and establishing a funding mechanism for conservation, state wildlife agencies used these laws to help fund and organize wildly successful trap-and-transfer programs between states.
The NWTF was chartered in Fredericksburg, Va., in 1973 by insurance salesman and outdoor writer Tom Rodgers. Rodgers had invested $10,000 of his own savings and spent more than a year traveling across the country to share his vision of a national organization dedicated to the conservation of the five American subspecies of the North American wild turkey.
Since 1985, the NWTF has invested more than half a billion dollars to conserve or enhance more than 22 million acres of critical wildlife habitat, forests and grasslands across public and private lands. It is also the largest and longest-serving nongovernmental stewardship partner of the United States Department of Agriculture Forest Service, conserving habitat on National Forest System lands for more than 40 years. Its members and chapters have invested more than $8.5 million in research throughout North America to ensure healthy wild turkey populations.
In kicking off its 50th anniversary year, the NWTF doubled down on its dedication to wild turkeys in January by launching its Habitat for the Hatch initiative in January to combat the decline of turkeys in the Southeast. The program will create 1 million acres of essential wild turkey nesting habitat in close proximity to quality brood range over the next 10 years. The NWTF also allocated its largest single-year investment in research ever at more than $500,000, bringing its 12-month investment to more than $1.2 million and its partner project funding to more than $11 million.
Looking to its next 50 years, the NWTF has set a series of ambitious goals to meet during its 50th anniversary that include but are not limited to: conserving one million acres of wildlife habitat; providing $1 million to education and outreach programs; dedicating $5 million to an endowment to ensure conservation continues in the future; and increasing NWTF membership to 250,000 members. You can learn more about the NWTF’s goals here.
About the Author
Cody McLaughlin is a conservationist and conservative thought leader on public policy issues including hunting, fishing, gun rights, free-market tax and wage policy and the environment. His business includes serving as an executive producer for podcasts and livestreams in the hunting and veterans’ affairs spaces, including for the popular Blood Origins podcast. An advertising consultant for conservative political causes, he manages clients’ digital communications and online presence, serves on the board of the Alaska Outdoor Council (the Last Frontier state’s NRA Affiliate) and is a former board member and lead spokesman of the New Jersey Outdoor Alliance.
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