Straight Talk – Rob Keck, Pres. NWTF

 

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By Frank Addington, Jr.
Jan 13, 2008 – 1:38:54 PM

 

Rob Keck, President of the National Wild Turkey Federation
 FA:  To start the questions Rob, where you born and raised?

Born in Columbia, PA raised in Mountville, PA – Both in Lancaster County, PA.  Spent a lot of time and taught 6 ½ years in Perry County, PA – Long know as the turkey calling capitol of the world.

FA:  Tell us a little about your childhood and your relationship with the outdoors.

Grew up on the edge of a small town, where I could explore and hunt walking right out my front door, hunt & trap all day and almost any where.  Trapping gave me a strong tie to the outdoors and got to learn a great deal walking streams, fields & woods.  Killed my first pheasant with a bow at age 8 behind our corn crib after a deep snow.  This before I fully understood that I couldn’t legally hunt.  Not proud of this fact, but it spoke to the need many kids have in restrictive states. 

FA:  Did you come from a hunting family?

 Yes – Dad, Grandfathers, Uncles, cousins – all hunted and hunting camps in Perry, Lycoming & Potter Counties.

FA:  Did you hunt when you were a child or young adult and if so, who got you started?

Hunted from when I could hold a B.B. gun.  Dad and Grandfather.

FA:  What species did you hunt?

In PA one could not legally hunt until 12 years of age.  Till then I shot pigeons, rats, blackbirds and trapped muskrats, coons, possums, skunks, and weasels.  After 12, pheasants, rabbits, squirrels, doves, ducks, deer and turkeys.


FA:  When was your first turkey hunt?

First was in 1962.  First kill was the day after John F. Kennedy was assassinated.  November 1963 – a Saturday afternoon 3:00 p.m. on Sullivan mountain, Lycoming Co., PA

FA:  What did you do after High School?

Attended and Graduated from Millersville State College, now Millersville University.  

FA:  Can you tell us a bit about your current family life?  Married, children and if so, do they share your enthusiasm and love for the outdoors?

Married to Susan Morgan Keck – 27 years. Two daughters, Carolyn & Heather – they’ve taken turkeys with me.  Heather has taken the grand slam of turkeys including 5 long beards this past spring.  They’ve attended almost every NWTF convention since birth.  Heather’s wedding is next month and she called me right after her fiancé proposed and said “Dad we’re not going to marry next spring cause that will mess up spring gobbler season, and when’s peak of the rut?  We want to marry before the rut”.  That’s my girl! 

Rob with the immortal Fred Bear.

FA:  Everyone knows you as Mr. Turkey and the President of the National Wild Turkey Federation.  Why the Wild Turkey?  What was it about this particular game animal that fascinated you so much that you’d decided to dedicate most of your adult life to promoting and perpetuating this bird, it’s habitat and turkey hunting?

I grew up during the hey-day of the ring-necked pheasant in Pennsylvania during the 50’s and 60’s and hunted them religiously along with rabbits and squirrels and deer, but when it came to the subject of the wild turkey it was on a pedestal above all else.  I couldn’t get enough of the turkey stories – for my eighth Christmas, all I wanted was a Stevenson box call, which I got.  I was hooked and the passion grew as other turkey events cemented my interest and direction.  

FA:  Explain how you joined in the NWTF and came to hold the leadership position you now hold.

I joined as a member in 1974 shortly after it formed. During that time I was a high school teacher and track coach and worked also with Penns Woods products, the largest turkey call manufacturer.  At that time I had won the PA State, US Open & World Calling Championships – helped get chapters started.  1977 a position opened on staff and I began with NWTF professionally February 1, 1978.

Artists rendition of the NWTF Headquarters

FA:  What exactly are the main objectives of the NWTF?

  • Mission – Conservation of the Wild Turkey and the preservation of the hunting tradition.  
  • Vision – More turkeys, more places to hunt, preserving the hunt.

 FA:  How important is your membership to your overall success?

 Membership is the lifeblood of NWTF.  Absolutely essential – without members we would not have the political clout in the “politics” of conservation. This membership and its size gives us a seat at “the right hand” side of the president and allows us a spot on the Sporting Conservation Council to be advisors to the Sec. of Interior and Agriculture.  

FA:  How is your membership doing these days and are women joining?

Continues to grow – 584,000 members overall.  Women in the Outdoors has 47,000 members – and has a larger member base bigger than a half dozen other national conservation organizations.


FA:  What are you the most proud of accomplishing thus far with the NWTF?

  • The near completion of restoration of the wild turkey across North America.
  • Finding a place for people from all walks of life to plug into conservation.
  • Moving the needle of our Families Afield program to reduce or eliminate the minimum age for kids to legally hunt.  PA is the greatest.
  • The completion of phase IV of the Wild Turkey Center and it being debt free.

A nice buck for bowhunter Keck.
FA:  What are some of your future plans?

Hunt more?and eventually move on to take advantage of some other wonderful talents that the good Lord has blessed me with.

Rob meets President Bush

FA:  What do you feel are the major threats to the hunting and conservation areas concerning the wild turkey?

The major threats to hunting, not just turkey hunting, are: 1. Reduced access; 2. Barriers to recruitment; 3. Not being politically relevant,
#1- Access, having a place to hunt, #2 – Removing barriers so kids can legally hunt. #3 – We must be politically active at all levels – if not, these issues will erode both recruitment and retention of hunters.

FA:  The current state of the Wild Turkey is one of today’s real success stories. Can you give us some idea how this story has progressed from where it was before the NWTF and where it is now?

 Low point of the wild turkey was early in the 20th century of less than 30,000 birds.  When NWTF began there were nearly a million wild turkeys and were being hunted in 30 states.  Today – hunted in 49 states, Canada, Mexico and numbers almost 8 million birds.

Two like minds on conservation, President Bush and Rob.

FA:  A few years ago in Wyoming you gave one of the finest, most eloquent talks on hunting I’ve ever heard.  You & I have been friends a long time but I gained an entirely new perspective on what a great spokesman for us all you are that night.  Have you always had this gift of gab and a passion for all things outdoors?

 You are most kind in saying this.  I’ve always had the passion for the broad scope of hunting, angling and the outdoors.  In college I got a “C” in public speaking.

Rob during a great hunt for Caribou.
FA:  Peterson’s Hunting Magazine named you as ‘One of Hunting’s 25 Most Influential Personalities of the 20th Century’.  That has to be a big honor Rob.  Can you tell us about that and some other highlights of your prestigious career?

I was truly honored and am not sure why I was selected, there are much more deserving people.  I think my Bio probably touches on that, but certainly the many fine people I’ve met all across North America.  The many mom & pops who build turkey calls in their basements, to so many folks who have given their time, which is part of their lives and give of their earnings to make conservation of great natural resources thrive.  The American hunter is the greatest model of wildlife restoration and conservation in the history of the world.

By the same token I’ve been able to interact with wildlife professionals from the State & Federal agencies partnering on fantastic habitat, educational, conservation and research projects. 

Politically, I’ve had the unique opportunity to interact and sell the conservation story to Governor’s and President’s, Premiers and heads of states.  So many stories there’s not enough space, or time to cover.

FA:  Anytime I know someone has crossed paths with my hero the legendary Fred Bear I always tie that in to these celebrity interviews.  Can you share any anecdotes or thoughts on Fred?

Between my sophomore and junior year in college on a trip to fish “Blue Ribbon” trout streams of the west, I spent two weeks camped on Fred’s original 20 acres he bought when he moved to Michigan from PA.  It was on the banks of the Ausable River and we fished nightly together sharing stories, often waiting for hatches to come off – his stories on filming episodes of ABC’s American Sportsmen were riveting.  He was from central PA, as was I and we hit it off from the start.  I had Fred give the keynote address at our national convention in 1981. 

I’ve got a box turkey call – custom long box he signed for me when we shared the stage at – the Florida State Convention of NWTF in 1980.  We discussed bow-hunting turkeys often.  When Fred died, there were just a small number of groups he willed money to.  NWTF was one of those beneficiaries and I feel our friendship has a lot to do with that.  Also, I attended his funeral.

FA:  While we’re on that subject, who else have you enjoyed getting to know and perhaps hunt with who you feel has contributed a great deal to perpetuating the outdoor/hunting lifestyle?

John L. Morris, founder of Bass Pro Shops.  His contributions to this are far more than his stores and donations to NWTF.  They are huge.  We’ve hunted together many times and he is passionate about passing on our rich hunting heritage to the next generation.  He’s absolutely inspirational and we were together above the Arctic Circle when he took a musk ox with his bow and I took two caribou with mine. 

FA:  A lot of folks may not know you are also a bowhunter.  Tell us when you picked up your first bow and what your most memorable bowhunt has been.
My Uncle Len was the archer/bow hunter mentor in our family.  At age 7, I would go with him to shoot at Fox Harbor Archery Club. 

A bow hunt that Wally Tabor filmed was a dandy. I was shooting a coon from a high perch in a black gum tree in Arkansas was one I remember most, in that the shot was tough and long. I was standing in water and when I knocked the coon from the tree it splashed in the flooded back water of the Mississippi River.  Wally just howled.  He didn’t think I’d make the shot.  The splash added to it.  Later I called a bird in, the turkey saw the cameraman move, the turkey hopped up on a limb, and I knocked him off the limb just like the coon.  It took 2 hours to blow dry the turkey so it looked presentable for still photos. 

FA:  I read recently that the overall hunting population has declined about 10% last year.   The sad fact is that we are not recruiting the next generation as well as we used to.  In your opinion what can we do to curb this trend and get more young people into the shooting and hunting sports?

The survey you refer to is accurate, but doesn’t refer to some important facts.   Most of that loss came in 6 states.  18 states remained the same or grew slightly.  It also doesn’t monitor license sales to people under 16 years of age, free licenses, license to seniors, landowner permits, etc.  We must focus on breaking down restrictive barriers like minimum hunting age limitations. We must continue to find means to greater access, which NWTF is very active in.  We must support financially programs like Archery in the Schools which NWTF has given now over $500,000 to , as well as Scholastic Shooting programs etc. 

FA:  You must know a thousand turkey jokes but do you have your funniest turkey hunt story?

Don’t know where to start!

FA:  We all have them, we all grow because of them so can you share with us your life’s biggest disappointment?

That my grandfathers, both on my mom & dad’s side, didn’t get to see my role with NWTF. 

FA:  Where do you see yourself in ten years?

Hunting more, sharing more with kids and grandkids.  Being better known than just a turkey person, but sharing my broader passion with white tails, waterfowl, art and calls, etc., etc., etc.  A new TV show and a few books completed.  HAVING FUN.

FA:  Any last words or final thoughts you care to share with our thousands of readers?

 I’ve been blessed beyond belief?and my hope is that I am giving far more back to hunting, conservation and my church than I’ve even taken.  I want to be cheering on the next generation of hunters as well as mentoring to them as a good example.

For more information or to join the NWTF please go to:   www.nwtf.org 

 

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