By Debi Lander
Turkeys dominate holiday images, advertisements and dinner tables in November. We tend to forget that this symbol of Americana has an elusive cousin — the Wild Turkey. Ben Franklin preferred the turkey as the nation’s symbol over the eagle, considering the latter “of bad moral character.” He considered the turkey “a much more respectable bird” and an American original.
Today, the noble bird still has a promoter — the National Wild Turkey Federation (NWTF) and its museum. You’ll find this place in Edgefield, S.C. Sniffing out the Winchester Museum brings you to one of the South’s hidden gems: a small interactive museum with world-class exhibits. After a museum tour, filling as a Thanksgiving feast, you can head over to the Palmetto Center, on NWTF property, with two sporting clay courses, five trap and skeet overlays, and a 3D archery range.
The Winchester is the world’s only museum dedicated to wild turkey restoration, management and hunting. It tells the wild turkey’s amazing comeback story. An important source of food for the pioneers and the expanding country, their population by the 1930s had dwindled to about 200,000. Work to restore them began with the capture and relocate method. By 1973 the population of the native North American birds rose to nearly a million. Since then, it has grown to near full capacity around 6.5 to 7 million — still a tiny fraction of the country’s consumption of its cousins on a single Thanksgiving Day. Wildlife management remains key to maintaining a thriving population.
A tour of the museum begins with 3D dioramas of the five wild turkey subspecies. Despite Looney Tunes portrayals, the male struts with more glamor and colorful feathers than the dressed-down female.
Children are especially attracted to an exhibition featuring a Disney-quality animated Cherokee Indian who shares legends about wild turkeys. The mesmerizing movement of his hands is eerily real. Around the corner, another lifelike character sits in a rocking chair, telling stories about the history of turkey hunting, conservation and the NWTF. The aura of the place pays due homage to the turkey’s role in American history and culture.
Entering the virtual reality theater transports you deep into a forest at the break of dawn. As light begins to appear, the sounds of nature mixing with early morning calls of wild turkeys emerge. Hear wings flap as they fly from their roosts. Those who have had the delight of seeing wild turkeys probably recall them strutting on the ground, but they sleep in trees.
If the call of the wild moves you, take up a laser-like gun to bag a wild turkey on video. Newbie hunters find this interactive opportunity a terrific introduction and simulation of the sport. Meander over to the call center to learn how to make the sounds that hunters use to call turkeys, enticing them in a vulnerable direction. Use your phone’s video camera to capture the hilarious cacophony!
One of the museum’s most treasured collections features historic turkey calls donated by master makers Neil Cost and M.L. Lynch. These Smithsonian quality art pieces showcase the exquisite work of extraordinary craftsmen. The display cases provide compelling visual explanations of the evolution of turkey calls, spanning more than one hundred years.
Visitors may also climb into a retired USDA Forest Service helicopter to watch a movie, much like an IMAX film. The film makes guests feel like they’re in flight. Participants look down on rangers igniting and tracking a prescribed forest burn.
National Wild Turkey Federation Museum: www.nwtf.org
Visit www.bylandersea.com to read more of local travel writer Debi Lander’s stories and travel tips.
Photo courtesy Debi Lander
Wild Turkey hunters statue at the Winchester Museum.