About midway during last spring gobbler season, I had a surprise visitor who I am always glad to see and talk with. It was Don Heckman, who had come to Blair County to hunt and dropped by to visit.
Whenever Heckman and I happen to meet, our conversation always turns in one particular direction: we were both among the first members of the National Wild Turkey Federation and its Pennsylvania Chapter. We always reminisce about how several of us met around a card table back in the 1970s, wondering what in the world we should do next to get the organization going to help the wild turkey resource in Pennsylvania.
When we look at the great conservation voice the NWTF has become, we laugh at ourselves as we remember our feeble efforts of days past. Heckman has worked tirelessly through the ensuing years, has won many awards for his various activities and offices he has held. I venture to say that no one has done more for the wild turkey in Pennsylvania than Don Heckman.
Among other things, he is the historian of the Pennsylvania Chapter. His latest communication reminded all of us that from its humble beginnings, the Pennsylvania Chapter of NWTF has passed the $5 million mark in money raised that has been used for habitat improvement projects all over the state, research, education programs and so on. Only one state - Texas - has raised money than has Pennsylvania. But not much more.
That brings me to the reminder that the Allegheny Mountain Chapter of the NWTF is holding its annual fundraising banquet on Saturday, Aug. 21, at the Bavarian Hall in Altoona. A glitch has occurred regarding this event. Many of the invitation letters that were mailed to folks who have attended past year's banquet have been devoured by the postal system this year. So if you did not get your invitation letter - and I was one who did not receive mine - please call chapter president Kevin Kunsman (317-7535) for information and to make your reservation. Doors will open at 5 p.m. for happy hour. Dinner will be at 7 p.m.
These banquets are vital to the continuing progress of habitat improvement projects within our state, education for young hunters and research. Let me say that the Pennsylvania Chapter has opposed the new regulations and season changes that have been foisted upon us this year. Be sure to read your regulations digest for where you can hunt and on what days this fall.
Summertime excursions to the woods just to watch and look for deer and turkey sign can really tell you a lot. Last week, I spent an evening on some local state game lands and saw a magnificent 8-point buck just meandering around, casually feeding and paying no attention to the vehicle full of squealing people who were watching him. My son and his family from Missouri were visiting me so we spent an evening in the woods. My granddaughter and her boyfriend have not been exposed much to the outdoors, so they didn't know that being quiet at such times was vital.
I walked them into the spot where earlier this spring a black bear had wandered within a few yards of my blind. Of course, as per the common reaction, they were sure there was a bear behind every bush, and they rattled off all the things they were going to do if they saw one. It was somewhat funny to me: there was Grandma in the lead, thinking what a thrill it would be if we sighted a bear and the two teenagers thinking it would be their worst nightmare.
Of course, I gave them the standard lecture: black bears are not grizzlies; black bears seldom attack unless they are seriously provoked. They had nothing to worry about, I assured them and we did not see a bear. But the very next morning, the news media was full of the story of the grizzly bear that attacked some campers in Montana, killing one of them.
As I walked around in the woods that summer evening, I came onto a dusting spot that turkeys had been using heavily, judging by the number of feathers and droppings I found. I've filed that in my memory bank, but if all goes well, I won't be able to remember where it was by the time the season arrives. But I will keep my eye on that spot and see if it is still in use closer to season.