Wild turkey convention packs Opryland Hotel again

Tuesday, February 28, 2017
Opryland’s Convention Center was packed with mor than 52,000 people last weekend.
Tribune photo by Jay Langston

More than 52,000 turkey hunters, wildlife conservationists and outdoor enthusiasts flocked to the Gaylord Opryland Resort and Convention Center for the National Wild Turkey Federation’s 41st annual Convention and Sport Show, Feb. 15-19.

This tops 2016’s previous record attendance, leading to a favorite among NWTF conventions for the nonprofit conservation organization based in Edgefield, South Carolina.

To give full disclosure, this writer and your newspaper’s editor, has a history with the NWTF. My family lived in Edgefield, and I spent nearly 11 years “working for the wild turkey.” I held several titles while working there, since my responsibilities grew with the organization. When I arrived in 1990, fewer than 53,000 NWTF members nationwide sent delegates to the national convention the following February in Little Rock, Ark. They did good to put 10,000 people through the doors of the convention center, even with then Governor Bill Clinton in attendance.

My first NWTF National Convention in Nashville was in 1995, and I was a one-man advance team to promote the convention. If you were driving around Nashville in January and February back then, you might remember some of the highway billboards with the flying wild turkey logo announcing the convention. I got to work with several interesting people in the country music scene, like Bud Wendell, Porter Wagoner and many more Grand Ole Opry members. To say that the NWTF likes coming to Nashville would be an understatement, since they’ve been back more than 10 times in the organization’s history. When I left the NWTF in 2001, the organization had bloomed to more than 330,000 members nationwide. It is interesting to note that last weekend, when the NWTF landed at Opryland Hotel, the number of people who walked through the doors to enjoy a wildlife weekend equaled or exceeded the entire nationwide NWTF membership back in 1990.

Last weekend, attendees participated in concerts by Gary Allan and members of The Peach Pickers, the Grand National Calling Championships, the Grand National Callmaking and Taxidermy competitions as well as numerous awards and recognition banquets, auctions and consumer show-floor shopping.

Highlighting its Turkey Town theme, the NWTF’s corporate and agency partners as well as dedicated volunteers united as one wild turkey conservation community to further the organization’s Save the Habitat. Save the Hunt. initiative and ensure the future of wildlife habitat and hunting for generations to come.

A concurrent Conservation Conference, hosted by the NWTF, agency and industry partners, brought together wildlife biologists, habitat experts and volunteers from across the country to share information, research data, conservation techniques and experiences and to secure efforts to improve wildlife habitat in the America’s Big Six of Wildlife Conservation focal regions as well as other parts of the country. While participants completed much work furthering conservation, they also were acknowledged for their outstanding efforts through numerous awards and special recognitions.

“Nowhere else has the wild turkey shined as it did in Nashville this year,” said NWTF CEO George Thornton. “Every aspect of our Turkey Town themed convention and sport show grew, and it was evident in the rising enthusiasm for the NWTF, wild turkeys, conservation and turkey hunting. Our volunteers showed up in record numbers, and I believe they left with a renewed passion to advance the NWTF’s mission and share our successes with others.”