The number of wild turkeys in East Texas is growing, thanks to the efforts of a group intent on preserving their habitat here and around the nation.
The annual National Wild Turkey Federation Henderson County Chapter Hunting Heritage Banquet opens at 6 p.m., on Thursday, with dinner at 7:30 p.m. There will be a presentation, auction and prizes.
NWTF Regional Director Jackson Harris said the organization’s motto is “Save the habitat, save the hunt.”
“Our organization has been around since ’73,” Harris said. “At that time, there were low turkey populations around the country. You still have a low turkey population here in East Texas.”
The organization began catching turkeys in areas where they were common, and transporting them to areas where they were sparse. East Texas is one of the few places where the organization is doing “super-stocking,” releasing large numbers of the birds into the area.
Taking care of the habitat that is ideal for wild turkeys also benefits other types of fowl, Harris said.
“A lot of times, what is good for wild turkeys is good for other wildlife species,” Harris said. “That means clean water, clear air and open lands.”
Across Texas, there is not much public land, Harris said, relative to the size of the state. NTWF partners with Texas Parks and Wildlife on a program which incentivizes private land owners to open up their properties similar to how public lands are used, including hunting, fishing and hiking.
NWTF has a JAKES program, aimed at young people with an interest in turkeys and their habitat. Jake is a term for an immature turkey. JAKES stands for Juniors Acquiring Knowledge, Ethics and Sportsmanship. Another program is called “Women in the Outdoors.”
“What we’re doing here in Henderson County on Thursday is not only raising the funds, but auctioning off wildlife-related prints, raffling off sporting arms, giving some stuff away and having people come together for a meal, fun and fellowship,” Harris said.
Local chapter volunteers prepare the banquet.
Funds raised will help bring in turkeys for restocking in East Texas. It also helps the Federation with its presentation at the Henderson County Rendezvous, where elementary school students from local schools are brought to the Henderson County Fair Park Complex for a series of demonstrations on wildlife.
“I came down, and worked with a local volunteer to tell the students about wild turkeys, and what they can do to make sure they’ve got places around them that are protected,” Harris said.
According to NWTF Texas, they and their partners have identified the most critical areas of habitat in the state. They are actively managing that land for the future of the wild turkey.
The NWTF is active in the area. About 80 turkeys were introduced to the area by the NWTF last year as part of its ongoing effort to replenish their population in the area.
Tickets are available by visiting NWTF.com, or at the door of the event. Tickets are $40 each, or $55 for a couple. You can go online to the NWTF website under events to purchase tickets. You can contact Jack Bennett at 903-286-0974 for more information.