Jensen Afield

Stu Bristol, a former game warden for Vermont, holds up his plaque after he was entered into the New England Hunting Hall of Fame by the National Wild Turkey Federation last weekend in Concord, N.H.

So here’s the scoop on Stu Bristol. You probably haven’t heard of Stu unless you go way back — back before the wild turkey walked and flew among us.

That’s right. There was a time when Vermont had no turkeys, zip, nada, were not here.

The wild turkey was once native to Vermont, hunted by Native Americans before written time, before the white man arrived on our shores and forever altered the landscape, for both the good and the bad.

White settlers cleared the forest and, as that practice progressed, along with over-hunting, this wild, wonderful bird was gone in New England, extirpated by the mid-1800s.

According to the New England Historical Society, “Connecticut saw its last wild turkey in 1813. Vermont had none by 1842 and they disappeared from Massachusetts in 1851. Three years later, New Hampshire’s last wild turkey was spotted in Weare.”

But back to Stu Bristol. Thanks to men of vision, like Stu, 31 wild turkeys that were trapped in New York were released in Pawlet and Hubbardton in 1969 and ’70. The birds went on to populate the state of Vermont beyond the wildest dreams of any wildlife biologist.

Today, according to Mark Scott, wild turkeys can be found from the border of Massachusetts right up to the border of Canada. Biologists estimate the population of wild turkeys in Vermont at between 45,000 and 50,000 birds.

Stu was right in the thick of things when those birds were stocked, working as a Vermont game warden. He was also instrumental in reintroducing the wild turkey back into Maine.

A native of Brattleboro and the youngest of 17 siblings, Stu moved to Maine in 1979 and began a career as a hunting and fishing guide and a freelance writer.

Because of his work in helping re-introduce the wild turkey back into Vermont and in Maine and because of his tireless efforts to spread the word about the wonders of turkey hunting, Stu was entered into the New England Hunting Hall of Fame by the National Wild Turkey Federation last weekend in Concord, New Hampshire.

And, if all of that wasn’t enough, on May 7, 2018, Stu shot the all-time record tom turkey for the state of Maine. The record tom weighed 21 pounds, 4 ounces, had spurs that measured 1 and 3/4 inches and sported a 9 5/16-inch beard. The big bird had a total score of 74.25.

When I got the invitation to attend the ceremonies in Concord, I assumed it was for this record gobbler that Stu had tagged. But, interestingly enough, not a word about that accomplishment was mentioned. And Stu never mentioned that fact, either. It was clear that Stu’s dedication to the sport of turkey hunting and his reverence for the wild turkey were far more important than any record-book turkey.

Before accepting a very large, impressive plaque, Stu spoke about his passion for hunting and fishing. He said that, when he goes into the woods or on the waters, there is no pressure to be the top dog of the woods.

“I hunt and fish for me,” he told the crowd of about 70 people in attendance. “I don’t yield to peer pressure. It’s my choice if I want to shoot a spikehorn (buck) or a jake (a young male turkey).”

Since we are both longtime members of the New England Outdoor Writers Association, Stu and I have been friends for well over 20 years. In addition to being an outdoor writer, hunting and fishing guide and outstanding turkey call maker, Stu is a student of the woods and the waters.

Stu said the award was more than a recognition of him, that how significantly wild turkeys have rebounded in New England and elsewhere across the country is a result of the far-reaching cooperation of sportsmen, fish and wildlife agencies, sportsmen’s clubs, writers who got the word out, and the NWTF.

Perhaps the most impressive thing about Stu is that he is a giver. He is always willing to take people, old and young, out into the woods and help them bag that first buck or tom turkey. And this is often not about paying a fee to a guide; Stu simply loves to take people out to the right place, at the right time, free of charge, for the pure enjoyment of seeing the joy on their faces as they pose next to their first deer or turkey.

An invitation from Stu to hunt near his home in Lyman, Maine, was a hunt to remember, and one I wrote about back in 2002. To make a long story short, I wasn’t in the woods for two hours, in a place where Stu put me, when I shot a spectacular 9-point buck. I should also make it clear that that was the only time I was guided in a hunt.

Anyway, since then we have spent hours in Maine, fishing from his small boat or from the surf.

By the way, Stu has a great sense of humor. While in Maine back at that memorable hunt, he went so far as to make up a calling card for me, photograph and all. Here is what it said: In large letters, VOTE (Vehemently Opposed to Everything), Dennis Jensen, president.

In any event, it was an honor to be there, to see a really good man honored by his peers. Stu Bristol deserved that award and, come May, there is a good chance that I’ll be up there in Maine, with Stu, working to get some big tom turkey, up on a ridge, gobbling its heart out.

Contact Dennis Jensen at d.jensen62@yahoo.com.

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