A new Registered Student Organization plans to keep the hunting tradition alive while simultaneously conserving the animals it hunts.
The National Wild Turkey Federation, a group on campus completing paperwork to become an RSO, shares the goals of an organization of the same name. The national organization is a not-for-profit conservation and education group dedicated to conserving wild turkeys and preserving the hunting heritage.
Ross Smith, a senior from Perry studying forestry who started the initiative to form the RSO, said the group will accept anyone, even if his or her major has nothing to do with hunting or forestry.
Smith said he got involved because he was a former Juniors Acquiring Knowledge, Ethics and Sportsmanship member, and he wanted to hunt turkey for fun. He said he decided to form the RSO after he found out others had a like-minded passion for turkey hunting.
“A lot of people think turkeys are stupid,” he said. “I think they are harder to hunt than deer.”
Smith said turkeys have better senses, except for smell, and are smarter than deer, which makes them more of a challenge to hunt.
He said he wanted the NWTF’s Carbondale chapter to help support the RSO. Its support makes the RSO the first collegiate chapter in Illinois.
Smith said the RSO has around 15 to 20 members and looks to increase its size.
The NWTF organization encompasses more than 250,000 members and volunteers and has helped restore and manage North America’s population of more than 7 million wild turkeys, according to the group’s website. In addition, the NWTF has acquired or improved habitats on more than 17 million acres of public, private and corporate lands and spent more than $372 million to conserve habitats to uphold the hunting heritage.
The organization also supports programs such as JAKES, Women in the Outdoors and Wheelin’ Sportsmen programs. These groups have helped children, women and disabled individuals learn to enjoy the outdoors, understand the importance of wildlife management, and appreciate hunting as an honorable pursuit, according the group’s website.
James Garver, district adviser to the Auburn-based NWTF Flatlanders chapter, said the organization is helping to support the RSO. He said he has been a chapter member for 12 years.
“We basically give them ideas on how to fundraise,” Garver said.
Smith said the group will help oversee the RSO until it establishes itself and can be self-sufficient.
Garver said the organization also offers students certain scholarships, including the Land of Lincoln scholarship, which can grant students up to $1,500 a year.
He said this is the first time the organization has worked with the university or its students.
Smith said the RSO plans to host a NWTF banquet and raise awareness of conservation programs planned in the next year.
Jon Dye, a junior from Redman studying forestry and vice president of the RSO, said he heard Smith talk about the group and decided to help out. Dye said the organization is not solely based on turkey hunting, but it encourages other outdoor activities such as camping.
“If you are an outdoorsman, (then) this is the RSO for you,” he said.
Dye said the RSO looks to help the NWTF in many ways, including helping with the programs the national organization assists.
He said anyone is welcome, even people with little-to-no hunting experience.
Wild turkeys were eliminated from Illinois by 1910, according to data provided by the Illinois Department of Natural Resources. The IDNR obtained wild-trapped turkeys from Mississippi, Arkansas and West Virginia between 1959 and 1967 and released them in five southern Illinois locations.
The reintroduced wild turkeys successfully established breeding populations and produced enough offspring that a trap-and-transfer program could be established. From 1970 to 2000, IDNR biologists relocated more than 4,700 turkeys to 99 Illinois counties.
Today, the wild turkey is a resident in every Illinois county with around 150,000 in the state, according to the University of Illinois Extension.
These numbers are higher than states such as Arkansas, which reported around 115,000 turkeys last year, and West Virginia, which reported 95,000. Even though Illinois now has a larger turkey population than 50 years ago, the number is still lower than the 155,000 in Virginia, 350,000 in Mississippi and around 610,000 in Texas. Wild turkeys are also indigenous to these areas.
Smith can be reached at smithrl@ siu.edu for information about ways to get involved with the new RSO. The group meets at 7:30 p.m. every other Wednesday.