The first banquet, held Jan. 29, 2004, was an award-winning event for the chapter. "We got a plaque from the NWTF for the best new chapter in the four-state region," said Bud Morton, president of the Sand Burr Strutters.
"We fed 168 people and raised over $20,000 for the NWTF," said Tony Beeson, Sand Burr Strutters' vice president and banquet chairman.
Additionally, there were 20 sponsors for last year's banquet, according to Morton. Sponsors are "businesses and individuals in Scott County that supported the NWTF and local chapter at the level above a normal membership," he explained.
Morton and Beeson have both been members of the national organization for about 20 years but were happy to see a local chapter established.
"All it took was a few people with an interest," said Morton. "We formed the chapter around October 2003 because there was a lot of interest in habitat improvement and wild turkeys in general."
Doors will open for this year's banquet at 5:30 p.m. and dinner will start at 7:30 p.m. The cost is $55 per couple or $45 for an individual. For those under the age of 18, a JAKES ticket to the banquet is $10.
Beeson explained $30 of the money for the ticket goes toward national membership dues. Those who attend this banquet can then attend NWTF banquets at other chapters for just the price of the meal.
The banquet will include a live auction with items such as box calls, paintings, sculptures and watches donated to the organization to help it raise money.
The National Wild Turkey Federation, formed in 1973 at Edgefield, S.C., has 96 chapters in Missouri and 2,100 chapters across United States.
"Our mission statement says we are for the wise conservation of the wild turkey and the preservation of our hunting heritage," said Larry Neal, regional director for the NWTF.
Wild turkeys were nearly wiped out in the early part of the century, Neal said. "There were still birds in about seven counties in Missouri. In the '60s, '70s, '80s they started trapping and transferring these birds in small groups to other regions of the state to repopulate. Missouri probably had as few as 1,000 birds at one time. These counties in the Bootheel are some of the last to be stocked. If landowners allow turkey habitats to develop they can watch their turkey numbers increase."
Neal said the Missouri Department of Conservation is presently engaged in turkey releases in southeast Missouri from the Bootheel to Poplar Bluff that will bring in around 150 turkeys from three other trapping sites. "Possibly more depending on how many they catch," he said.
Beeson noted the Sand Burr Strutters chapter ranked second in the nation for money spent on habitat projects and increasing the local turkey population.
"We're also improving the habitat for rabbits, quail, squirrel, deer," Beeson said. "When you improve the habitat for turkeys, you improve it for all the other wildlife that are ground feeders as well."
Morton said all the open farmland in this area provides turkeys with plenty of food to flourish, "but if you don't have a lot of timber, you don't have a lot of roosting sites." Lacking roosting sites, turkey are easy marks for predators such as coyotes and foxes.
Cooperating with the NWTF and assisting with habitat projects are, among others, MeadWestvaco and the Missouri Department of Conservation.
It is not just turkeys and turkey enthusiasts that benefit from the organization, however, as NWTF chapters are active in community service as well.
For example, each of the chapters has an annual scholarship program.
"We gave a $500 college scholarship to Christine Tew who was a senior at Kelly High School," Morton said. "She's now at the University of Missouri-Columbia. She was our first recipient."
The Sand Burr Strutters held their first "Women in the Outdoors" event in September which featured a silent auction, dove hunting, outdoor cooking workshop and other related events.
Also in September, the Chapter held their first Juniors Acquiring Knowledge Ethics Sportsmanship (JAKES) event for youth.
Both are intended to become annual events for the local chapter.