Although the quote “You can’t know where you’re going if you don’t know where you’ve been” was not written about the wild turkey, it could have been. And there is, perhaps, no one more qualified to know what lies ahead for America’s grandest gamebird than the person who has devoted his life to ensuring its future.
Both as a hunter and as a wildlife biologist, Dr. James Dickson was well in the forefront of turkey research during the golden era of restoration—the 1970s to the 1990s. But even before that, he had lost a small piece of his soul to the American bird.
“I was born a hunter,” Dickson says. A scholarship at the University of the South in Sewanee, Tennessee, following a boyhood spent hunting small game, provided a life-changing epiphany. One of his duties was to keep Sewanee’s Forestry Library open during evenings, and there he discovered Roger Latham’s Complete Book of the Wild Turkey. He read and re-read it, all the while thinking, “Wouldn’t it be great to just hear a gobble or, better still, see a wild turkey?”
Dickson, now 73, went on to be not just a wildlife biologist with a high level of expertise, but someone who savors every sunrise of spring turkey season. He is also a man well worth heeding when it comes to thoughts on the sport’s status today along with what the future holds for America’s big-game bird. Dickson abetted their meteoric rise and has remarkable insight into the current day’s challenges.
More than 60 years have passed since a 1948 agreement between the United States Forest Service and the South Carolina Wildlife Resources Department launched trapping and relocation of wild turkeys in the Carolina Low Country. And over the ensuing decades, the program has successfully helped restore the birds nationally. The emergence of the National Wild Turkey Federation (NWTF) in the early 1970s facilitated and expedited the process through provision of transport boxes and the creation of a Technical Committee, which provided input on other relocation sites. The end result of these interacting forces was, early in the 21st century, the completion of one of the greatest of all wildlife restoration success stories, putting turkey populations at an all-time high.
Along with Tom Rodgers, the NWTF’s visionary founder, and Dr. Lovett Williams, a Florida-based biologist whose endeavors bridged the yawning divide between science and the ordinary hunter, Dickson was on the front line of these efforts. Now retired, he spent more than two decades as a research biologist with the U.S. Forest Service before becoming Louisiana Tech University’s Merritt Professor of Forestry. He was always intimately involved in all things turkey.That included multiple terms on NWTF’s board and writing dozens of research papers on wild turkeys. Dickson was a primary contributor to the landmark book Wildlife…