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Turkey federation director brings birds of a feather together.

Byline: INSIDE THE OUTDOORS By Mike Stahlberg The Register-Guard

Jeff Johnson was talking turkey every which way. Using no less than six different calls at various times throughout the morning, Johnson emitted "yelps," "clucks" and "purrs" that, to the untrained ear, certainly sounded like a lonesome hen.

But the gobbler that had first answered Johnson's hoot-owl "shock call" as the skyline east of Sutherlin began to turn pink was not coming any closer. Indeed, judging by the sound of his gobbling, the male turkey was moving farther down and around the hill from our hiding spot.

"Probably already with a hen," Johnson lamented.

It's difficult enough to get a solitary tom turkey to come looking for female companionship. He's accustomed to having the ladies at his beck and call. But leave a hen in hand to check out one in the bush?

Not likely, no matter how seductive the "purr."

While Johnson was unable to lure a bird within sight of his decoy on this May morning, he will get plenty of other opportunities to "talk turkey" this year - even though only a dozen days remain in Oregon's spring gobbler season.

About a year ago, you see, Johnson set aside his career in the construction industry to become the National Wild Turkey Federation's regional director.

His energetic track record as president of the McKenzie Long Toms, the NWTF's Eugene-Springfield chapter, followed by two years as state chapter president made Johnson a logical choice when the federation needed to fill its field staff position for Oregon and Hawaii.

So now Johnson, who lives in Santa Clara, spends most of the year talking turkey - with turkey hunters, national NWTF officials, biologists, government bureaucrats and landowners more often than to birds.

His primary responsibility is servicing the 20 NWTF chapters in Oregon (plus two in Hawaii) and helping develop new ones.

"Last week, I drove 1,479 miles" on NWTF business, Johnson said. That was on a swing through Eastern Oregon that ended up in Enterprise-Joseph area, where he help local chapter volunteers put on their annual fund-raising banquet.

"Mainly, my job is to help the chapters put on the best banquets we can so we can put the maximum number of dollars on the ground for the birds and other wildlife," he said. "That and chapter development - getting new chapters started and maintaining existing chapters."

The NWTF continues to grow in Oregon, with somewhere between 1,600 and 1,700 adult members, Johnson said. Plus, the future looks bright with another 1,200 or so junior members (called JAKES - for Juniors Acquiring Knowledge, Ethics and Sportsmanship) on the membership rolls.

The Turkey Federation, of course, footed much of the bill for the trap-and-transplant program responsible for introducing wild turkeys throughout much of Oregon over the past 20 years.

With most of the suitable habitat already "seeded," however, that program is winding down.

So the local share of money raised by the NWTF is going to installation of wildlife "guzzlers" and other habitat improvement programs, to support 4-H and Olympic shooting programs, to scholarships for young hunters and to the Hunting Heritage Fund (which works to protect hunters' rights).

Meanwhile, the seeds the Turkey Federation helped plant in the 1980s and '90s continue to bear more and more fruit each year.

Last spring, the wild turkey harvest in Oregon topped 4,000 birds for the first time.

It was just five years earlier (1998) that hunters first took home more than 2,000 toms.

And, as recently as 1992, the harvest was just 841 birds for 6,248 hunters.

Last year, according to a Oregon Department of Fish and Wildlife telephone survey of tag-holders, 14,170 people spent 63,866 days in the field hunting wild gobblers.

That's a whole lot of turkey talkin' going on.

Mike Stahlberg can be reached at mstahlberg@guardnet.com.
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Title Annotation:Columns
Publication:The Register-Guard (Eugene, OR)
Article Type:Column
Date:May 20, 2004
Words:642
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