Members of TFT’s first chapter in West Virginia are already making a difference for turkeys. They recently joined forces with members of Backcountry Hunters and Anglers (BHA) and added their own sweat equity to a habitat improvement project the latter group had planned. Working together, they improved 12 acres on Stonewall Jackson Lake WMA, combatting invasive plant species and getting new sunlight to the ground.
Using chainsaws and hand tools, the hunting conservationists went to work, getting rid of autumn olive, spice bush and other non-native species to their home hills. They employed tree girdling to dispatch unwanted timber and open the canopy.
“That kills the tree so it doesn’t move water and nutrients anymore,” Chris Rogers, president of the West Virginia chapter of Turkeys For Tomorrow, said. “Opening the canopy and getting direct sunlight down to the forest floor provides awesome habitat, not only for turkeys, but for other animals as well. It lets the native grasses grow and gives turkeys great nesting and brooding habitat.”
The local partnership with BHA and a working relationship with the WMA’s management holds the potential for many more such combined projects soon.
Rogers’ desire to help turkeys is rooted in his own love of hunting the birds and his desire to make sure his children have a chance to love it, too.
“I wanted to be able to share it with my son and daughter,” he said. He and his wife have a 4-year-old boy and a baby girl just born in the last few days. “The thought of how awesome it will be to have one of them sitting between my legs when their first turkey comes in, it’s just too good not to share. It’s too important to leave to chance.”
Rogers got his start in the woods hunting squirrels, then deer.
“When I was 10 or 11, I started turkey hunting and instantly loved it,” he said. “Deer do vocalizations, but nothing like a turkey gobble. Depending on where you’re standing, you can hear them for miles. I instantly knew I loved it because of the vocalizations you hear. When a turkey is just over a ridge line 40 yards away and you know he’s there, the anticipation creates an adrenaline rush like nothing else in the world. I thought I was always going to enjoy being a deer hunter the most, but after I had one particularly awesome experience turkey hunting, with a picture-perfect moment when the sun was beating down on that tom and he was strutting, sunlight bouncing off his fan and feathers. It was a storybook moment. After I’d taken that one, I sat back and thought, ‘Man, this beats the pants off of sitting in a deer stand freezing your butt off.’ That was when turkey hunting overtook me. It just took control.
“That was 2018 and, ever since then I get more amped up for turkey season than I do anything else. I’m always going to hunt other game. Hunting is a huge part of my life, but I love talking about turkey hunting no matter what time of the year it is.”
Rogers works for a natural gas transmission company.
“If I’m out working and see a group of toms cross the road, I’ll snap a picture and pass it around to my friends,” he said. “Look at the beard on that one, look at the spurs. The comments are instant and the conversation never stops.
“That passion. This passion. I want to be able to pass it on to my son and daughter.”
Rogers was inspired to launch a TFT chapter when he heard Pete Daugherty, TFT’s Director of Outreach, talk about the group on a Primos podcast.
“I emailed Pete to see if a normal guy with a regular job and not a whole lot of time to spare could get a chapter off the ground,” Rogers said. “If it’s something I can do as an awesome hobby, I’ll be able to make a great go of it. I gathered a committee of five or six guys, and we got it lifted off.
“I’m just a regular guy with a family and a job. We’ve got a 40-acre plot we get to turkey hunt on. I wanted to do whatever I could, whatever it takes, to make sure my children have turkeys to hunt when it’s their time, too.”