When long-time friend Chuck Sykes, Director of the Alabama Department of Conservation and Natural Resources’ (ADCNR) Wildlife and Freshwater Fisheries Director, invited me to hunt the Alabama Governor’s One-Shot Turkey Hunt in 2014, I jumped at the chance. What serious gobbler chaser would turn down the opportunity to hunt some of the state’s finest private lands? But it was what I learned about the hunt’s real purpose – raising money for scholarships at both Auburn University and University of Alabama, among other worthwhile projects – that drew me back again March 16-18 of this year.
Once again I was hosted by long-time wildlife advocate H.E. “Sonny” Cauthen, his wife, Florence, and guided by his son, Preston. My short 1 ½-day hunt on their splendiferous 1800-plus south Alabama acres was typical of mid-March turkey hunting – lots of roost gobbling but little ground talking, and a test of patience and persistence. Still, thanks to the assistance of Preston and their friend, DeWitt Cowles, I managed a 23-pound bird the last morning that ended up taking second place in the competition.
The real purpose of the event is two-fold – raise money for charity, and a way for the state of Alabama to showcase itself to industry leaders and potential businesses looking to relocate. Two examples sent hunters this year – the Remington Arms Company and Polaris, both of which announced that they will build locations in Alabama. “We do this really to host people in Alabama, our business leaders,” Alabama Governor Robert Bentley, host of the hunt, told Grand View Outdoors. “During this hunt we try to showcase the state of Alabama, and we try to encourage people to come and visit our state, and we are also encouraging business and industries to be a part of this program that we have.” No tax dollars are used on the hunt, as it is conducted by the Alabama Conservation and Natural Resources Foundation, a tax exempt organization founded in 1999 to enhance the enjoyment of the outdoors. Corporate sponsorships and donations cover the tab, said N. Gunter Guy, commissioner for the Alabama Department of Conservation and Natural Resources. “Everybody has a great time, and they enjoy themselves whether they kill a turkey or not,” Guy said. “We are fortunate to have local landowners allowing us to use their land. We have some very good spots to hunt, and very good local guides.”
When the hunt began in 2002, proceeds established the Lynn Dent Boykin Youth Wildlife Endowment for Scholarships at Auburn University. Since then more than $500,000 has been allocated to the fund. In 2014 the Dan Moultrie Fund for Excellence was established for students in the Auburn University School of Forestry and Wildlife Sciences and the Larry Drummond Scholarship was established for students at the University of Alabama College of Arts and Sciences. “In the last two years we have been able to contribute more than $220,000 each year to the scholarship funds,” WFF Director Chuck Sykes said. In addition to the scholarships, the non-profit ACNRF sponsors projects that promote wise use and stewardship of Alabama’s natural resources. For example, in addition to the Governor's Hunt, other projects include Alabama's Youth Dove Hunts, Hunters Helping the Hungry, National Archery in Public Schools program, Becoming an Outdoors-Woman program and the North Alabama Birding Trail.
This year 60 hunters hit the woods, with 21 checking in big gobblers. As has been the case many times, Dan Moultrie, founder of Moultrie Game Feeders and Trail Cameras and Chairman of the State of Alabama Department of Conservation Advisory Board, guided his hunter to the contest’s highest-scoring gobbler. Birds are scored using the National Wild Turkey Federation’s scoring system. In this system you take the bird’s spur length and multiply it by 10, take the beard length and multiply it by 2, and the bird’s body weight, then add those three numbers together to reach the official score. The winning bird scored over 70 points, while my number two bird (23 lbs., 1 oz., 9 13/16-inch beard, and spurs measuring 1 3/16- and 1 ¼-inches) tallied 67.06 points.
Does it get any better than helping raise money for charity and college scholarships while spending time in the beautiful Alabama turkey woods when the dogwoods are beginning to bloom? Hardly! Hopefully I will be invited back again next year!