What we learned from Louisville locals at last week’s Deer & Turkey Expo
Everyone likes a day out of the office, but we really cherish opportunities to be in the field, chatting one-on-one with sportsmen and women who have deep personal connections to the conservation issues we work so hard to drive, fund, or promote.
Late last week, we got the chance to do that in Louisville, Ky., at the Field & Stream/Outdoor Life Deer & Turkey Expo. This was the first of five regional expos this year and our very first time participating in one, and we were blown away by the people we met—hunters from the Upper South and Midwest, representatives from 150 exhibitors, and experts running workshops on everything from calling and decoying gobblers to hunting for shed antlers with dogs.
We were thrilled (but not surprised) to find that so many sportsmen in the region share our feelings about access, habitat, and quality days afield. Here’s what was important to the folks we talked to:
- Access: Kentucky—and much of the region—is mostly locked up in private lands, so it’s fairly obvious that sportsmen do much of their hunting on private property. But we kept hearing that even private land access is disappearing as landowners face down liability issues and encroaching development. This raises the stakes for the few public lands, like wildlife management areas, available to local hunters. Although these local WMAs can’t hold a candle to the vast public lands out West, they are in some cases the only viable option, especially for budding outdoorsmen who aren’t ready or able to invest in a lot of travel to hunt or fish. We talked with one ten-year-old boy, already an avid hunter, who called himself “privileged” and “blessed” to have access to public lands in his home state. At that moment we couldn’t have been more proud of the work we do to ensure all sportsmen have quality places to hunt and fish.
Healthy habitat: Access means nothing without decent cover or a hardy food source for the game we pursue. We traded tips and tricks for turning private lands habitat into a honey hole—everything from planting quality food plots to taking advantage of state and national programs that can cover the cost of attracting game. For instance, many landowners that we spoke with didn’t know that CRP works for sportsmen and for wildlife by paying cost-share for food plots, tree plantings, or field and stream buffers—all things that make whitetails and wild turkeys fat and happy.
- Quality days afield: Everyone loves a “big fish” story, and we heard many deer-woods equivalents as we swapped hunting stories from the past season with expo attendees. Even when hunters told us about going home empty-handed, they still told a terrific tale. As our partners at the Quality Deer Management Association say: “We measure success in memories made, not inches of antler.” That said, there were many inches of antler on display, too! The trophy deer contest was one of the highlights of the event, and we gladly congratulated hunters on their trophy mounts—another reminder that solid resource management on public and private lands means bigger, better harvests for sportsmen.
All in all, it was a fantastic event, and we’re looking forward to swapping more tips and tales later this year. We’ll be at the Deer & Turkey Expos in Madison, Wis., from April 1 to 3 and in Bloomington, Ill., from August 12 to 14. If you’re in the area, we hope you’ll stop by our deer camp and talk conservation with us. See you there!