Kentucky Loses George Wright
Henry Mosby Award Winner
News Release from Kentucky Commerce Commission
The KY Department of Fish and Wildlife Resources
Frankfort, KY – Stunned sportsmen and conservationists across
Kentucky and the nation are remembering George Wright today as a hero, an icon,
a top wildlife biologist, a fine country gentleman, and a friend.
Wright, the undisputed architect of Kentucky’s wild turkey restoration program
who retired from the Kentucky Department of Fish and Wildlife Resources in 2002
after 27 years, suffered a massive heart attack while turkey hunting with his
wife in Mexico last week and died Wednesday in a Nashville hospital. He was 62.
“We’ve lost a true friend and strong ambassador for the wild turkey,” said David
Hale of Knight & Hale Game Calls. “And the wild turkey has lost its best
“But he beat the system,” said Hale. “He loved his work and not many people get
to do that. He’s a legend and he lived a dream come true.”
“He and I shot the first net over the first bunch of turkeys that came to
Kentucky,” remembered former First District Fish and Wildlife Commission Member
Mike Boatwright. “We were in Greenville, Mississippi and we had turkeys coming
to bait. We thought it was going to rain and Dale Perry dropped us off in there
a little late.
“The turkeys showed up before we could get in there and I thought we were
busted,” continued Boatwright. “George was laying there in the mud and leaves
and I asked him what I was going to do. He said, ‘You’re going to catch them,
that’s what. Touch that wire to that battery and let’s get this thing going.’”
The rest is history. Kentucky’s tremendously successful wild turkey restoration
program became a national model in the next two decades. In 2002, the National
Wild Turkey Federation presented George Wright with its highest professional
award, the Henry Mosby Award, given to only one person annually judged to have
made the most significant contribution to wild turkey restoration and research
“George is an icon in the eyes of the NWTF when they look at the success of the
wild turkey flock in Kentucky,” said Joe Bland, NWTF national board member and
former State Chapter President. “You simply cannot think of Kentucky’s wild
turkey program and not think of George Wright.”
George was born in Pensacola, FL, and later graduated from Treadwell High School
in Memphis in 1961. After eight years in the U.S. Navy, he returned to Tennessee
and earned a Bachelor of Science Degree in wildlife management from Tennessee
Technical University in 1972. He then added a Masters Degree from Auburn
University in 1974.
He joined the department in September 1974 to conduct a raccoon study in East
Kentucky. But a contingent of west Kentucky wild turkey enthusiasts that
included Hale, Harold Knight, Jim Williams and others petitioned the Fish and
Wildlife Commission to commit Wright’s efforts toward bringing turkeys back to
“There are a lot of tales out there,” agreed Hale, “but that one is true. We
were struggling in the state and about 30 of us signed a petition to get
Retired KDFWR Deputy Commissioner Tom Young says it was tough going in those
early years. “We took a bunch of old vehicles, boxes, and a lot of junk down
there to get those turkeys. George set it all up.”
And set it up he did. All marvel at the grass roots level deals he worked with
persons in other states.
“We got a lot of turkeys from Mississippi,” said Young. “They wanted big deer –
170 pound bucks – and they had plenty of turkeys. So we traded them deer for
But it was his river otter swap deal with Missouri the proved to be the
program’s major catalyst.
“He pulled off some pretty good coups there in the early days,” laughed
Boatwright. “When he locked up that river otter swap with those Louisiana
trappers, that made the program. Everybody else tried to slip in there
afterward, be he had them locked up. He just gelled with those trappers.”
With strong backing from the Commission, Wright bought river otters from
Louisiana trappers who had mastered the difficult task of keeping the captured
critters alive until they could be transported and delivered. He then traded the
otters to Missouri for wild turkeys. This relationship continued for years.
Wright used the Mississippi and Missouri turkeys to build his own supply source,
transplanting them into prime locations with good natural habitat and with
landowners who promised to protect them. The transplants took root and soon he
was trapping turkeys in state and transplanting them all over Kentucky.
“He was so strong-willed about it,” said Young. “He had a strong enough
personality to get things done. He would not back down. He would always fight
for it. He had the total respect of turkey hunters, and the Commission trusted
him. He pursued it with a vengeance and a passion.
“He was ‘Top Gobbler,’ and he stayed with it,” said Young.
Ron Schureman, retired KDFWR Wildlife Division assistant director and close
friend, was succinct. “He’s Mr. Turkey, no doubt about it. Kentucky wouldn’t
have any turkeys if wasn’t for George.”
Again, the rest is history.
Today, every county in Kentucky is open to wild turkey hunting and the state’s
flock is more than 230,000 strong.
“We were great buddies,” said WHAS Radio Hunting and Fishing talk show host Jim
Strader, a lifelong hunter and fisherman. “I talked to him just before he left
for Mexico. We were planning to go bluegill fishing…
“I’ve been very fortunate to have known a lot of very fine wildlife biologists
in many states,” said Strader. “But I’d have to say our turkey biologist, George
Wright, was definitely the cream of the crop.
“He was a unique individual who cared passionately about the resource,” said
Strader. “The legacy of the wild turkey in the state of Kentucky will forever be
linked with this fine country gentleman’s name.
“He was my friend. He was my mentor. And I’m going to miss him sorely.”
“His relentless hours spent on Kentucky’s Wild Turkey restoration program paid
great dividends in restoring the wild turkey to all parts of the state,” said
Harold Knight and David Hale. “His devotion to the Kentucky Fish and Wildlife as
well as his loyalty to the National Wild Turkey Federation makes George Wright a
Who’s Who to all turkey hunters.
“His passing leaves a void in each of our hearts to be filled only by countless
hours spent hearing the thundering gobbles of the wild turkey for generations to
come,” they said. “He led by example and we thank him for it.
“We salute George Wright as a true friend, a great sportsman, and his efforts to
restore the wild turkey to the state of Kentucky.”
KDFWR Commissioner Tom Bennett summed things up. “George used good science,
passion and salesmanship to make the Kentucky wild turkey restoration
successful. He had guts, grit, and the glory for getting this program going.
“We’ll miss him.”