Mike McKernan, best known for his 20-year term as the Grant County Sheriff, knows how to talk turkey! McKernan was elected to the National Wild Turkey Federation Board of Directors in Nashville. McKernan is the first person from South Dakota to hold this position.
McKernan became a NWTF member in 1999, and has held a place on the South Dakota NWTF Board of Directors since 2004. He acted as its president for six years. In addition, he functions as the district director for eastern South Dakota. He helped found the local Whetstone Gobblers chapter in 2004, which is considered one of the top chapters in the state, and served as its president in 2005. McKernan was chosen as the 2004 South Dakota NWTF Volunteer of the Year and was inducted into the South Dakota NWTF Hall of Fame in 2013.
Although hunters across the nation recognize South Dakota as a prime pheasant hunting state, McKernan says, “South Dakota has become known as a sleeper state for turkey hunting. Its notoriety is increasing, he says, “but it is far more popular with out-of-state hunters trying to get their Grand Slam.” A Grand Slam requires four specific species of turkey and South Dakota boasts three of the four – the Merriam, the Eastern, and the Rio Grande. The fourth species, the Osceola, is found only on one peninsula of Florida.
The NWTF was formed in 1973 in response to studies initiated in the 1940’s to determine the cause of the decline in the turkey population and to work to reverse it. Part of the remedy was to release chicks into the wild, but McKernan says,” It later became apparent releasing hens and toms works better. During 1999 and 2000, the Eastern variety was “planted” in South Dakota.”
If you talk with McKernan a while, you’ll realize he is passionate about the slogan Save the Habitat, Save the Hunt. He explains it refers to the NWTF’s 10-year initiative started in 2012. The plan was created to address the loss of turkey habitat due to the growth of towns and agriculture as well as a drop in the number of hunters in the last ten years. McKernan says,”Its goal is to conserve four million acres of wildlife habitat and recruit 1.5 million hunters, as well as increase access to an additional 500,000 acres for hunting.”
He says, “Hunters pay 95 percent of conservation costs through excise taxes on guns, ammo, supplies, and archery equipment. In the 1930’s and 40’s hunters came up with the idea of paying for conservation efforts in order to preserve their ability to hunt.” That method seems to be working. In 1900, only 100,000 wild turkeys remained; in 1973 there were 1.7 million; and today, there are over seven million.
Although McKernan didn’t reveal his secret recipe for turkey fricassee, he says, “Wild turkeys can be prepared the same way as a turkey from the store. It’s a moister meat. A lot of people like to breast out the bird, but I prefer to roast it conventionally.”
Turkey hunting opened for archers Saturday, April 7. Shotgun season opens April 14, and runs until May 20.