Bass Pro Shops Invests $500,000 in Critical Wild Turkey Research

Wild Turkey

Major Bass Pro Shops investment creates groundswell of support for critical wild turkey research and conservation.

In June Bass Pro Shops and Big Cedar Lodge hosted the National Wild Turkey Federation’s 2023 National Leadership Conference. A gathering of organizational and chapter leadership, scientists, volunteers and others passionate about wild turkey conservation, the conference provided the occasion to announce NWTF’s 2023 line up of wild turkey research initiatives.

While the research is timely, critical and targeted, the story of how it came to be possible is interesting. It showcases the power of the passion of sportsmen and women and the dedication of Bass Pro Shops—America’s Great Outdoor Store and leader of the largest conservation movement in North America.

Pair of Hunters
The wild turkey inspires passion among sportsmen and women across North America.

In many respects, the story starts at NWTF’s 2023 National Convention in Nashville. As part of the celebration of its 50th anniversary, the National Wild Turkey Federation issued a challenge to its membership. To mark 50 years, the group challenged its sponsors and supporters to raise $500,000 to empower priority research initiatives. The prospect of raising a half a million dollars can be a daunting one… no matter how pressing the motivation.


Like it is every year, the 2023 National Convention was headlined by an opening ceremony. In attendance are leaders in turkey conservation, industry partners, NWTF supporters and hunting personalities from a variety of backgrounds. The ceremony provides the occasion for a point in time, a celebration and a state of the organization.

This particular evening NWTF played a video sent in by Johnny Morris, noted conservationist and founder of Bass Pro Shops. Johnny had an idea. He wanted to make a difference…

Bass Pro Shops is NWTF’s largest lifetime industry donor (read a profile of our relationship). Johnny, Bass Pro Shops and Cabela’s unite the millions of sportsmen and women who shop with us to lead the largest conservation movement in North America. Each year this movement conserves millions of acres, introduces thousands of families and millions of kids to the outdoors and invests millions of dollars in support of conservation groups across North America—including the National Wild Turkey Federation.

Within the video, Johnny had an announcement. Bass Pro Shops would cover the entire $500,000 challenge grant-- spearheading the research needed to address critical and pressing conservation priorities for wild turkeys across their range.

A Critical Time for the Wild Turkey

Bass Pro Shops’ major infusion of support comes at a critical time for wild turkey populations across North America. After rebounding from a historic low of around 1 million birds in the early 1970s, turkey populations plateaued around six million. In spite of the conservation success the birds have experienced, recent years have brought instability and variability in populations in many regions.

Wild Turkey Habitat Projects

As NWTF Co-CEO Kurt Dyroff explains, “Wild turkey populations are experiencing declines and have become unstable in some states, varying significantly from year to year. How we collectively manage them over the next decade will determine whether future generations experience this tremendous resource as we do today.”

Wild turkey conservation and management are subject to a variety of complex issues. From a macrogeographic perspective, their range extends beyond the boundaries of state jurisdictions and includes an incredible diversity of habitat types. There are large scale interconnectivities that affect wild turkeys and the habitats they depend on.

Hunters in a river

When considering individual turkey populations within states and regions, their management is no less complicated. Understanding turkey population dynamics involves accounting for such things as predation rates, interaction with herbicides and pesticides, determining sources of disease and disease transmission rates, habitat utilization across age and landscape and much more. Given the complexity and scale of wild turkey conservation, targeted research holds the key to ensuring a bright future for the wild turkey across North America.

There is, however, another facet to just how impactful Bass Pro Shops’ investment in funding wild turkey research really is. Not only does the investment come at a critical time, but it builds a network of support that magnifies and compounds its effect.

Cracked ground

Setting Into Motion a Groundswell of Support for Wild Turkey Conservation

Private support is incredibly important to research and conservation. Many federal and state research and conservation programs include provisions that require matching funds. The processes can be complicated, but they basically require investments of outside funds to unlock state and federal money.

Because of these provisions, private investments in conservation (like grants from the Bass Pro Shops and Cabela’s Outdoor Fund) are able to set into motion chain reactions that make sources of federal and state funding available to conservation.

Wild turkeys in a field

It was through this process that the $500,000 grant turned into something more…. Something much more. It created necessary momentum for wild turkey research, providing state agencies and others the latitude to pursue their highest priority, highest impact research goals.

The National Wild Turkey Federation was able to leverage Bass Pro Shops’ investment into an incredible match rate of nearly 15:1—resulting in nearly $9 million to fund dedicated wild turkey research. The investment not only freed researchers to synthesize an incredibly powerful lineup of projects but opened coffers of state and federal funds to magnify, compound and expand its impact.

The result is a lineup of targeted research designed to specifically address the highest priority conservation needs. The 2023 projects include:

  • Identification of Mammalian Predators of Wild Turkey Nests and Females Using Genetic Techniques: Iowa
  • A Distribution Level Health Assessment of Rio Grande Wild Turkeys: Kansas, Nebraska, Oklahoma and Texas.
  • Wild Turkey Poult Foraging Ecology and Nutrient Availability: Kansas
  • Reproduction and Gobbling Chronology of Osceola Wild Turkeys: Florida
  • Novel Approaches to Estimating Wild Turkey Populations Parameters: Mississippi
  • Wild Turkey Population Ecology and Disease Monitoring: Oklahoma
  • Integrating Data Sources to Quantify Wild Turkey Abundance Now and In the Future: Florida
  • Evaluating the Spatial Distribution of Potential Wild Turkey Nest Predators in Western Nebraska.
  • Investigating Fertility Rates and Causes of Early Embryonic Death in Wild Turkey Eggs Throughout the U.S. (findings will benefit all states the Eastern wild turkey inhabits)
  • Eastern Wild Turkey Recruitment Metrics, Poult Survival and Population Trends from Trail Cameras and Movement Data of Marked Birds: Wisconsin

Each of these projects is profound in its own right. When viewed cumulatively, their impact is that much more. What researchers learn in one region, in one project, can be applied to other subspecies and other jurisdictions. The ability to synthesize need-based research objectives—and apply their findings in a coordinated fashion—is perfectly tailored to wild turkey populations that exist at a landscape scale across North America.

Turkey footprint

Kurt Dyroff provides context, “Our 2023 investment supports many important projects that will address declines and push the broader understanding of the wild turkey and its life history, having applications across state lines and effectively guiding future management of this bird we love.”

Forging a Bright Future for the Wild Turkey

When it comes to wild turkey conservation we’ve experienced incredible success. The bird’s range expansion and population growth in the past half century have written one of the greatest success stories in the history of conservation.

Father and kids release a turkey

Now is not the time to stop. Johnny, Bass Pro Shops and Cabela’s are proud to stand beside sportsmen and women in support of conservation, hunting, fishing and the future of the great outdoors. In this case, our passion and dedication makes possible targeted priority research on wild turkey species.

Together we are making an incredible difference.