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Turkey banquet a community gathering

by Minden Press-Herald

About this time one year ago, I approached Mark Johnson, owner of Mark Johnson Plumbing in Ruston, offering him the opportunity to sponsor a table for the upcoming banquet sponsored by the North Central Louisiana Chapter of the National Wild Turkey Federation.
Johnson was a bit hesitant at first but decided to “bite the bullet” and plunk down the cash to sponsor a table for his employees to attend last year’s banquet.

I called Johnson a week ago with the same offer as a year ago and this time there was no hesitation for Mark Johnson Plumbing to sponsor a table. At last year’s banquet, one of the individuals sitting at his table won a gun.

That’s the way things go at the annual banquet because of the abundance of valuable merchandise that attendees will be taking home at the banquet’s conclusion. The get-together not only gives those who attend the opportunity to win valuable prizes, visit with friends and enjoy a delicious meal, but the event also generates funds for a wild creature that is the subject of one of the most successful come-back stories of any that inhabit the woods and fields and bottomlands of our state.

When most of us my age were growing up in Louisiana, we hunted squirrels and ducks and later, whitetail deer. Wild turkeys? Forget about it. Except for a few isolated spots around the state, there were none and for folks living in north central Louisiana, the only images of wild turkeys we heard of were emblazoned on whiskey bottles. There was no season because there were none to hunt and our spring time outdoor activity was focused on trying to catch bass, bluegills and crappie.

Over the past couple of decades, that has all changed big-time. Now, we hear deer hunters complain that they can’t keep feed out for deer because the turkeys are eating it up. Seldom do I go hunting on my Jackson Parish lease that I don’t see or hear turkeys. In short, they’re here and in good numbers. In fact, wildlife officials are saying that the hatch this year in north Louisiana is one of our best ever. When I heard that, my adrenalin level jumped up a couple of points because this means I’m likely to get to play games with a gobbler or two when the season kicks off at the end of this month.

The healthy increase in the turkey population didn’t happen by accident. The hard work of a number of individuals and organizations to trap and relocate turkeys as well as providing suitable habitat for the birds has led to the recovery and proliferation of wild turkeys in Louisiana. Chief among these groups is the National Wild Turkey Federation (NWTF) which has been the leader in encouraging others to get involved in conservation and habitat enhancement efforts to ensure we’ll have turkeys far into the future.

Banquets, such as the one the North Central Louisiana chapter will be holding March 8, are extremely important in generating funds to keep this success story dynamic.

Luke Lewis, wildlife biologist with the NWTF is the prime mover in putting the local banquet together and knows that the funds generated will go to a good cause with much of it being spent locally.

“Here in north Louisiana, we are putting a good bit of money into the Caney District of the Kisatchie National Forest. One good thing is that these dollars grow because we leverage these funds on a three-to-one match through the Pittman-Robertson national program. We’re into prescribed burning on some of the area as well as working on wildlife openings, things that create or maintain suitable wildlife habitat,” Lewis said.

The North Central banquet kicks off Tuesday March 8 at the Ruston Civic Center with doors opening at 5:30. Tickets can be purchased from Lewis by calling him at 318/423-7777 or contacting any committee member.

Glynn Harris Outdoor column is sponsored by D.C. Pawn in Minden

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