Wild Turkey Federation’s Miss-Lou Chapter holds fundraising banquet

Published 12:00 am Friday, February 13, 2009

Vidalia — It may have been a fundraiser to support wild turkeys, but 16-ounce ribeye steaks were on the menu Thursday night.

The Miss-Lou Chapter of the National Wild Turkey Federation held the 17th annual Hunting Heritage Banquet at 6 p.m. at the Vidalia Conference and Convention Center.

Steaks were served with baked potatoes, salad and rolls, and the drinks flowed for both new and established members of the chapter.

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“This banquet is larger than most,” said Regional Director Joe Wood, who oversees 37 chapters in southern Mississippi. “The Miss-Lou Chapter won an award at our recent state awards banquet for having the most members of any chapter in the entire state of Mississippi — about 200 people.”

Wood said fundraisers are the main source of funding for the NWTF, which was started in 1973 to conserve the wild turkey population and the hunting tradition.

The wild turkey population was down significantly at that time, due in part to growth and progress in the South.

“Louisiana is a perfect example 100 years ago when they cut all the timber down along the river,” Woods said. “It destroyed the turkey habitat.”

The banquet featured raffles and silent and live auctions for art, guns and many goods imprinted with the NWTF logo.

Almost $1.5 million received by the NWTF comes back to programs in Mississippi, Woods said.

“It goes to youth programs, schools, handicapped hunts, women in the outdoors, education and safety, research, habitat enhancement and working with the Department of Wildlife,” he said. ‘There are a lot of avid hunters here and people that are interested in conservation, in putting something back for future generations.”

Larry Ozburn, of Vidalia, said he is a regular attendee of the banquet, and he said he enjoys hanging out with friends there.

“I’ve been coming at least five years now,” he said. “It’s just fun. Mostly I just do the raffles.”

Yates McGraw helped organize the event and said it usually takes about six months to get the banquet together.

Mostly, he said, he just calls all the members and ask if they want the same number of $50 tickets as last year.

And even with a struggling economy, McGraw said Thursday’s event was a huge success.

“We pre-sold more tickets than ever,” he said. “I don’t know why, unless everybody wants to go drown their sorrows (in the open bar).

“Normally we pre-sell about 260-270 tickets. This year we pre-sold 340. I think we have the biggest crowd we’ve ever had.”