Turkey Hunting and Conservation in the Shadow of Devils Tower

A sacred Cheyenne narrative tells the tale of Devils Tower rising from the ground after braves prayed to the Great Spirit to protect them from a giant bear. The Tower was first called “Bear’s Tipi” or “Bear Lodge” in these early Native American accounts.

Colonel Richard Irving Dodge led an expedition for the U.S. Geological Survey and translated the Tower’s name from the early Native American language as “The Bad God’s Tower” and “Devil’s Tower.” Controversy abounds to this day about whether Dodge mistranslated this name. His journals were accurate, however, when he described the Tower as “one of the most remarkable peaks in this or any country.”

Devils Tower became the official name of the landmark when Wyoming was granted statehood in 1890. The area’s inherent understanding of conservation was made evident when the Tower was honored with national recognition and protection as the nation’s first national monument. The first westward travelers through this area of Wyoming in the late 1800s used Devils Tower as a place of community, something that continues to this day.

In the shadow of Devils Tower lies the town of Hulett in Crook County, Wyo. This community of 400 on the edge of the Black Hills hosts the Old West Invitational Turkey Shoot (OWITS), a fundraising event meant to preserve the future of the Hulett community and wildlife in Wyoming. It is perhaps fitting that the spring tradition of hunting Merriam’s wild turkeys would be as important now to the community and to wildlife conservation efforts as they were when the first settlers arrived in the 1800s or when the Cheyenne named the Tower “Bear Lodge” long before.

The OWITS is a cooperative effort to raise funds for the Wyoming Wildlife Foundation (WWF), to implement wildlife habitat projects across the state, to maintain the Greater Hulett Community Center (GHHC) and to provide local community services. The exclusive OWITS is a one-shot turkey hunt on private lands hosting nearly 100 hunters, including youth. The hunt could not happen without the support of more than 40 landowners and guides who donate their land and time to support community and conservation.

“People from over 20 states participated in this year’s event in some way. Each one becomes an ambassador for the State of Wyoming,” said Tony O. Woodell, director of the Wyoming Wildlife Foundation. “The spirit of community involves efforts of all involved including sponsors, hunters, guides, landowners, staff, volunteers, committees . . . the list could go on,” he explained. “The Foundation funds a variety of wildlife projects each year (www.wyomingwildlifefoundation.org). A recent effort supported a Youth Outdoor Day in Hulett, an ongoing annual effort to expose youth to outside activities and wildlife.”

“The event brings a large boost to the economy of Hulett and is a great way to bring the community together,” observed Crystal Mayfield, coordinator of the Greater Hulett Community Center. “Many community members from all walks of life play an important role in the planning and execution of such a large-scale event that wouldn’t otherwise be possible.”

The OWITS has drawn national attention from hunters, conservation organizations and outdoors-related companies for support. Attendees have included players from the National Football League and Major League Baseball, Olympians and multiple television personalities.

Companies as nationally prominent as Vista Outdoor have understood the importance an event such as the OWITS brings for conservation in Wyoming. “The Old West Invitational Turkey Shoot is one way we have been able to express our support for those conservation leaders in Wyoming who have protected public lands and are supporting our hunting heritage,” said Ryan Bronson, Vista Outdoor director of conservation. “There are events all over the country that promote one aspect of hunting or another. We try to find events that help tell the conservation story because we think that hunting is getting the short shrift in most general media. Finding opportunities to remind politicians and the general public that hunters are stewards of the environment, are sustaining wildlife and wild places — and we are putting our money into conservation like no other outdoor interests.”

Vista Outdoor sponsored this year’s OWITS through its brands Federal Premium (www.federalpremium.com), Camp Chef (www.campchef.com) and Primos Hunting (www.primos.com).

Concerning the related issues of spring turkey hunting and making a difference for the future of wildlife and public lands, Bronson correctly observed, “Hulett is just a great place to be in May. The event helps bring political and business leaders to a rural place that embraces hunting as an economic and cultural value.

“When they go back to their day jobs, I hope they take actions that help keep habitat viable and accessible, and they do what they can to keep that part of Wyoming a booming wildlife and nature-tourism destination,” Bronson said. “If America has a lot of those kinds of places, it is a better world.”

**Devils Tower history was derived from the National Park Service www.nps.gov.

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Matt Soberg learned to hunt turkeys, deer and upland birds from his father and grandfather within an hour of both the Dakotas and the northwoods of Minnesota. He earned his J.D. from William Mitchell College of Law in 2005, is currently the Director of Communications for the Ruffed Grouse Society, and freelances for numerous hunt/fish publications. You can normally find him afield teaching his seven-year-old son the ways of the northwoods with his two English setters.

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