Sunday, September 21, 2014

Wild Turkey Museum

The Good Girls have been known to run around like wild turkeys, chasing down a flight or a story. But, the National WildTurkey Federation's (NWTF) Museum, officially the Winchester Museum, is a place worth tracking down. We consider it one of those hidden gems, a small interactive museum with world class exhibits. The center is located in the NWTF's national headquarters, in Edgefield, South Carolina.

The Good Girls visit the Winchester Museum

The Winchester Museum is the only museum in the world dedicated to wild turkey restoration, management and hunting. It tells the amazing comeback story of the wild turkey. In the 1930s the population of wild turkeys was down to 20,000-30,000. By the early 1940s they were almost extinct. Then, work began to restore them using the capture and relocate method. By 1973 the population was back to nearly a million. Since then, the population has risen to full capacity at 7 million; however, wildlife management is still important or the turkey population could dwindle again. 

A museum tour begins with 3-D dioramas of the five wild turkey subspecies. It is interesting to note the colorful feathers of a male versus a female. Then, we came upon a Disney quality animated Cherokee Indian who shares legends about wild turkeys. I swear the movement of his hands is absolutely real. Around the corner, another incredibly life-like character sits in a rocking chair and tells more stories about the history of turkey hunting, conservation and the NWTF.

Native American Storyteller

The Good Girls entered a virtual reality theater that put them deep in a forest at the break of dawn. As light began to appear, we heard the sounds of nature mixing with early morning calls of wild turkeys as they flew down from their roosts. Did you know turkeys sleep in trees?

It's a lot easier to hit a wild turkey on the fly with a laser than in the wild.
One of my favorite parts of the museum was the interactive activity of shooting a  laser-like gun at a video of turkeys and a center for learning turkey calls. First of all, I had to learn what one was, as I am not a hunter. A turkey call mimics the sound of the bird and is used to entice them in your direction.

Here's a sample (Sadly, my video failed to record sound!)

Historic turkey calls donated by master turkey call makers Neil Cost and M.L. Lynch are some of the museum's most treasured collections. These items are pieces of art, exquisite works from extraordinary craftsmen. Through these exhibits, visitors can easily view the evolution of turkey calls spanning over the past one hundred years.

I climbed into a retired USDA Forest Service helicopter and watched as movie, much like an IMAX film, had me "flying," looking down on rangers tracking a controlled burn in a forest.

Turkey moms look after their young.
This museum was a significant eye-opener for me. I had no knowledge of wild turkeys before I visited, other than how to cook the domestic version for Thanksgiving. I learned that female turkeys are very good mothers who teach their offspring how to survive. Turkey males, on the other hand, are absentee fathers and in surplus, so hunters are allowed to shoot males. 

Statue outside the Museum in Edgefield
The biggest revelation, and this is actually a new scientific discovery, turkeys are descendants of dinosaurs.  Researchers compared turkey skeletons to dinosaur bones and found the similarities were astounding.  How cool is that?  

The NWTF recently acquired hundreds of acres surrounding their center. They are already developing them for various outdoor uses: camping, scouting, nature trails, skeet shooting and an amphitheater for presentations. In the future many more people will be drawn to the area. That's a good thing because this museum should not be missed.   


We couldn't leave Edgefield without visiting a pottery. After all, this is the locale of Old Edgefield Pottery and the style made famous by Dave the Slave Potter. His huge pots and poetic markings are even more desirable now than they were in the early 1800s. That style with its alkaline glaze is carried on today by Old Edgefield Pottery, but it was closed the day we arrived.

Jane Bess in front of her store.
Jane Bess Pottery Shop
Lucky for us we found potter Jane Bess opening up her lovely store. She showed us samples of her nature-inspired work but it was her most recent volunteer project that drew me in. 

Jane works with active military soldiers who have suffered a Traumatic Brain Injury. She is involved with a program that helps them overcome neurological, physical and emotional challenges. She makes pottery slabs containing an inspiration word like "Trust" and the soldiers break the slab. They then turn those sharp-edged, broken pieces into a resilient mosaic stepping stone. The soldiers put the pieces and their lives back together.

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