Praise for turkey preservation

Lynn Burkhead

ATLANTA — As the NWTF celebrates its 32nd annual convention this year, Georgia was certainly on the mind of attendees Saturday night at the organization's yearly awards banquet.

In addition to a number of NWTF awards passed out — including the fourth ever presentation of the NWTF 5-Star Award to longtime volunteer John Barton — the night featured plenty of star power, as well.

The star power was provided, in part, by the event's keynote speaker, well known Rolling Stones keyboardist Chuck Leavell, a prominent Georgia plantation owner and tree farmer. Leavall is also an ardent conservationist and an avid hunter in addition to being one of the musical sidekicks of Mick Jagger.

"We come here to share the joy that we get out of our stewardship practices," said Leavell, who has participated in a White House conference on conservation.

"You know, I was interviewed not so long ago and the interviewer said 'Well, Chuck, you are a tree farmer and you are an outdoors person…what's the most rewarding thing to you about doing these things?'

"I thought for a minute and said 'Well, you know for me it is that day when you've worked so hard and everything is fairly much done and you get a chance to go out there in the woods, maybe you get the bird dogs and go behind them and hunt some quail.

"(Or) maybe you put on some camouflage and sit at the base of that tree and try to call in that gobbler.

"Or maybe you just get up on that deer stand and see what's coming into the feed plot.

"Or even just a day when you take a walk in the woods when you hear the wind through the pines, hear and feel the crunch of leaves up under your feet, that's the great, great reward we get for the work that we do."

The scores in attendance couldn't have agreed more.

Leavell indicated that accomplishing the task of keeping our nation's conservation and hunting heritage intact will and does take a lot of work.

It will also require being proactive he said.

"To not just take the time but make the time to do the things that we need to do to face the challenges and be better stewards of the land," Leavell said. "We need participation by all; we must engage ourselves in all of these issues and all of these concerns.

"We need to do it together because together we're strong. We learn together and we stand together as good stewards of our land and our wildlife."

After a rousing ovation, Leavell turned to find a keyboard behind him.

He then sat down and wowed the crowd with his considerable talent, playing the Peach Tree State song "Georgia on My Mind" made famous by the late Ray Charles.

Later in the evening, after a number of other awards were presented including the Wildlife Law Enforcement Officer of the Year award to South Carolina game warden Richard "Todd" Campbell — the musical star power continued as the Grammy and CMA award winning Peasall sisters took to the main stage to perform bluegrass favorites.

Following their musical talent, country music star Lorrie Morgan entertained the big crowd at the NWTF Awards Banquet with a high energy concert of old hits, new favorites, and forthcoming songs from a new album.

Along the way, Morgan let the crowds know that she wasn't just a celebrity hired to provide good entertainment — like the crowd applauding her music, she was a hunter.

"This last fall, I went on my very first deer hunt with my good friend Michael Waddell and T-Bone," Morgan said. "My son (Jesse) went out to Texas with me and I got my very first big, big buck."

Incidentally, Morgan will also be going on a spring turkey hunt this year in Tennessee with NWTF CEO Rob Keck and others.

On a night when the NWTF celebrated its historical success in restoring the wild turkey to the American landscape and looked boldly into the future to face coming challenges, it only seemed fitting that the star power in attendance let the crowd know of their own passion for the land, for the wildlife, and for the outdoors.

It's that passion that has given the NWTF a rich history for more than 30 years and it is that same passion that will keep the organization's torch burning bright for many more years to come.

Hunting and the wildlife all across America are depending on such passion being very much on the minds of conservationists everywhere.