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Wild turkeys on display
The National Wild Turkey Federation’s Winchester Museum in Edgefield showcases wild turkeys in exhibits that depict their natural habitats.
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Hunting Heritage Center
The NWTF’s Hunting Heritage Center includes the Winchester Museum, the Palmetto Shooting Complex, and an open-air pavilion that features a massive stone fireplace and can accommodate 500 to 600 people.
If you were a hen turkey, do you think you’d have what it takes to attract a handsome tom? You can find out at the National Wild Turkey Federation’s (NWTF) Winchester Museum in Edgefield.
The only such facility in the country dedicated to the bird that almost ousted the eagle as our national symbol, this Smithsonian-quality gem will broaden your gobbler knowledge, especially if your only contact with turkeys has been savoring a hefty drumstick at Thanksgiving.
On a recent visit, I learned how hunters use turkey calls to lure the big birds into sight. An inclusive display features an impressive number of these calls throughout history, from simple, early Native American models to present-day-decorative calls made from turkey-wing bones. Here, I got to try to sound like part of a mating couple. I walked into the world’s largest turkey call—yes, it’s that big—and, using a handsized turkey box call, gently scraped a wooden arm against the box it was attached to and got a decent squeak. No toms came running, however.
“Turkeys become a lot more vocal during mating season,” says Pete Muller, NWTF public relations specialist. “There’s fighting among the males over who gets the hens. They drag their wing tips over the ground, strut around and put on a show.”
More turkey tidbits are showcased throughout the museum, where lifesized and lifelike three-dimensional exhibits show wild turkeys in their habitat. An animatronic Cherokee explains how his ancestors used every part of the turkey, while an animatronic grandpa-like character chats about the importance of conservation.
Conservation, along with helping to increase the numbers of wild turkeys and the numbers of new hunters, is the mission of the museum and the federation itself, which began in 1973 to help relocate and grow the wild turkey population up to seven million after its near extinction around the turn of the century due to overharvesting.
One detail came as a surprise. “Turkeys are living descendants of the dinosaurs you see in the movies, like T. Rex and velociraptors,” museum director P.J. Perea says. Who knew?
Kids love climbing aboard a retired Forest Service helicopter for a simulated ride. With helicopter background noise clattering, they strap in, wide-eyed, to watch a video of a live, prescribed-burn mission to clear out undergrowth for turkey habitat.
“The helicopter serves as part of our conservation message,” Muller explains.
Parents can take a quiet break in a virtual-reality theater to experience a spring forest. Scooting into a cushy seat, I relaxed into the pine-woods scent and sounds of crickets chirping and birds warbling. Early-morning air blew cool on my cheek. Suddenly, I heard a distinct gobble. Turns out turkeys can also purr, whine, cackle, yelp and kee-kee. I realized I’d been holding my breath, waiting. And here came the birds in their glory, feathers shining iridescent reds, coppers, bronzes, golds, greens and purples. I’d always thought turkeys were brown or black with pretty tails. The males in particular can be simply gorgeous.
The museum is all about having fun while learning.
“Our programming targets everyone from the novice who hasn’t been for more than a walk in the woods to the most seasoned outdoorsman who hunts and fishes every weekend,” says Perea. “The museum helps us do that.”
Offered alongside museum exhibits are more than 100 NWTF-sponsored programs that give hands-on learning opportunities. Included are programs for youth 17 and younger to safely try target shooting, clay-target shooting, shotgunning and archery and to explore the outdoors through local events and hunts. Wheelin’ Sportsmen provides disabled folks opportunities to hunt, fish and shoot, while Women in the Outdoors offers outdoor learning through activities such as archery, shotgunning and hunting.
And everyone—including museum visitors—gets to learn how to call a turkey.
NWTF’s Palmetto Shooting Complex and Outdoor Education Center
The National Wild Turkey Federation recently expanded its Edgefield site to become the Hunting Heritage Center, a state-of-the-art facility encompassing the museum; an Outdoor Education Center on 400 acres with forests, rolling hills, wetlands, observation decks, a stocked lake and lots of wildlife; and the Palmetto Shooting Complex on an adjoining 300 acres.
“There’s not many places where you can learn about conservation, then walk outside and see it in practice,” spokesman Pete Muller says. “That’s our goal for these 400 acres.”
Folks can enjoy guided nature tours, camping, hunting, wing shooting, sporting clays, trap shooting, primitive survival skills, fly fishing, landowner classes for managing wildlife, field-to-fork events, youth classes and a summer youth camp.
Built through private donations, grants and partnerships, the shooting complex features a 9,300-square-foot, open-air pavilion for large-group gatherings; five trap and skeet shooting overlays; two one-mile-long, conservation-themed sporting-clays courses—one with fun targets, the other with more difficult targets; and one overflow course.
“Anybody can come here and shoot or learn,” says Rhett Simmons, the manager of the Palmetto Shooting Complex.
“We’re here to ensure the future of shooting sports, and one of the easiest ways to get people hunting is to start them shooting first.”
The National Wild Turkey Federation is located at 770 Augusta Road in Edgefield.
HOURS: The Winchester Museum is open Monday through Friday, 9 a.m. to 4:30 p.m.; closed weekends, on Fridays from June through August and on national holidays. Tours are self-guided. Reserve ahead for a guided tour. The Palmetto Shooting Complex at 535 Gary Hill Road in Edgefield is open Wednesday through Sunday, 9 a.m. to 7 p.m. Winter hours (November–February) are 10 a.m. to 5 p.m.
ADMISSION: Winchester Museum is $5 for adults, $2 for youth ages 3–17, free for children under 2. The Palmetto Shooting Complex rates vary with activity; see website for specifics.
DETAILS: For more information, visit nwtf.org or call the Winchester Museum at (803) 637‑7639 and the Palmetto Shooting Complex at (803) 637‑7480.