As I was reading my morning devotionals this week, I ran across a phrase from the New Testament, Mark 6:4 in the Living Bible and I thought of my friend, Dr. James Dickson. The passage reads…”A prophet is honored everywhere except in his own home town…”
While Dr. Dickson is known nationwide for his lifelong work promoting the conservation and management of wild turkeys, many of his Ruston neighbors and fellow citizens who see him at the grocery store or at the post office are not aware of what a powerful figure he is among the wildlife community and how well Dickson is known around the country and what he has done for decades to promote the wild turkey.
Outdoor Life magazine recently recognized his work and chose to share it with the nation in an article in the February-March issue. Written by nationally known outdoor writer, Jim Casada, the article, entitled “The Gob-father” opens the door for readers from Maine to Montana to look into the life of Dickson and all he has done to enhance the well-being of the wariest of game birds, the wild turkey.
Dickson taught at Louisiana Tech in the 1970s before moving on to other opportunities. He returned to Tech in 1999 serving as Merritt Professor of Forestry and Coordinator of the Wildlife Program until his retirement two years ago.
Dickson recalls the first wild turkey he bagged that took place during his earlier teaching days at Tech.
“After getting my hands on a copy of Roger Latham’s ‘The Complete Book of the Wild Turkey’, I became intrigued with the thought that you could actually interact with a wild creature in the way Latham described. I knew right then that was something I wanted to learn how to do,” Dickson said.
“One morning I slipped out to the woods west of Ruston to give it a try. I’d gotten a couple of calls and had practiced using them but the test would be to see if it would work on a real bird. I set up and began calling and, to my surprise, I heard a single short gobble. I continued to call and was startled to hear a ‘cluck’ behind me; the bird had apparently slipped by without my knowledge. I eased around and saw the gobbler looking for me. He stepped behind a tree and I got my gun up. When he stepped out, I shot him. It was a jake but the fact that I’d called him up myself was particularly satisfying,” he added.
The walls in Dickson’s office are adorned with taxidermy mounts of gobblers along with numerous beards and spurs from gobblers he has taken. He is reluctant to say how many gobblers he has taken from all across the country as well as Mexico.
“I’d rather not say how many I’ve been able to take because it’s not a competition, not how many you can bring to gun. It’s just going out, having fun because they’re the ultimate challenge in hunting. You can enjoy it on its own merits,” Dickson said.
“The new turkey hunter needs to know that most of us grew up hunting squirrels and rabbits and ducks on the creeks but we didn’t hunt deer or turkeys because we didn’t have any. There weren’t any videos, calling contests and very few old turkey hunters to learn from. We learned by trial and error.”
Dickson praised the work of the National Wild Turkey Federation for the return of the wild turkey but is quick to point out this organization didn’t do it in isolation.
“Before this organization came into being, each state was trying to go it alone but once the NWTF and states got together, we have learned from each other by sharing information, all of which was very helpful in the return of the wild turkey,” said Dickson.
Writer Jim Casada’s foreword to his Outdoor Life story highlights the importance of the man he wrote about….”The wild turkey’s future may just lie with a man who has witnessed its past.”