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Spacecoast Living

Hunter/Conservationist: Not an oxymoron

By Anne Straub

All Jamie Nance asks is that you hear him out before forming an opinion.

The avid hunter and activist for conservation admits that at first blush, those two interests could appear contradictory. But to him, they couldn’t be more complementary.

“Nobody enjoys the outdoors more than those who are participating in it,” said Nance, a Melbourne lawyer and head of the Brevard Osceolas chapter of the National Wild Turkey Federation. One of the group’s goals is to raise money to set aside land for wild turkeys, a practice that benefits more than turkey hunters. “You’re also setting aside land for all to enjoy and for all flora and fauna to flourish,” he said.

He and thousands more will have a chance to bag a bird this month, as wild turkey season kicks off March 17 in Northwest and Central Florida, continuing through April 22. A potential 1,000 Brevard County hunters could be among them. That’s how many members make up the county’s two NWTF chapters.

They’ll be hunting the Osceola, one of four subspecies of wild turkey in the United States. The Osceola is particular to Florida; it’s found throughout the state, south of Jacksonville. The gobblers, or males, are the target – females are off limits to hunters.

The bird is darker than other subspecies, and skinnier – from only 12 to 15 pounds on the Big Cypress, to 18 to 20 pounds in North Florida.

Nance’s enthusiasm for the sport could tempt a late-rising vegetarian to wake before dawn, get behind a blind and listen for gobbles. “There’s nothing more exciting to be out in the woods when the sun comes up, hearing the gobblers gobbling. It’s just an awesome sound. You hear a gobbler and you move from then on. It’s a chess game,” he said, “and usually, they win.”

Nance learned to hunt by the example of his father, who founded the Melbourne law firm where father and son practice. The elder Nance’s work space is part office and part trophy room, from the zebra skin on the floor to the antlers on the wall.

“Some of my earliest memories are of going out hunting with my dad and his buddies,” Jamie Nance said. He was probably 6 or 7 when he tagged along on hunting trips to the Mormon properties and Kempfer ranch in west Brevard. They also frequented the Duda land, which is now dwindling as a hunting option as the Viera Co. transforms the acreage into a city.

“I’m addicted,” said Nance. “I would hunt every day of the week if I could.”

He rarely uses the shotgun of his early years anymore, however. Nance prefers the challenge of bow hunting and uses the bow almost exclusively, with all the game he hunts. He likes the quiet of the bow, and gladly trades the increased productivity of a gun for the rigors of the bow. “It’s a very mental game with a bow that you don’t quite experience with a rifle,” he said.

To shoot with the bow, he has to get much closer to his quarry – about 20 to 25 yards. “I’m so close to the animals, I can hear them. Many times, I can smell them,” he said.

“You have to be patient. You have to revel more in your natural surroundings than the rifle hunter because your chance of success is much, much lower,” he said. On a three- or four-day hunt, he’ll be lucky to get one bird.

He won over his wife, Ann, to the sport. She started out in a tree stand as a spectator, with a radio and video camera. She’s now taken up bow hunting, as well. The couple’s two Rhodesian ridgebacks, Bwana and Tarzan, accompany them on hunting trips.

Work happens, so Nance can’t hunt every day. But he’s trying to hunt turkey in every state. He dismissed the idea when a friend first suggested it, but he came around to it. “It’s a neat way to see the country,” he said. At least one of the four subspecies of wild turkey is found in each of the continental United States. There are even imported birds in Hawaii.

Nance has checked off 15 states so far. This year, Iowa, Missouri, Virginia and possibly Illinois are on the itinerary.

He’s achieved his reached his grand slam, bagging each of the four types of wild turkey found in the United States. He’s still working on the royal slam, which would add two more found in Mexico.

Nance’s passion extends beyond turkeys. The 43-year-old Florida native has been to Africa nine times and taken close to 20 different species with a bow. His game room at home displays the head of a hippo – yes, a hippo – taken by bow from the Zambezi River in Zimbabwe. Next year, he’s planning a bow-hunting trip for Cape Buffalo and leopard.

His conservation activities extend to groups that work with safari animals, as well as Ducks Unlimited, another group that works to conserve animal populations for hunters. That group is credited with bringing several species of ducks back from near extinction to thriving populations, said Tracey Butcher, director of development for the Brevard Zoo.

The zoo has applied to the state NWTF chapter for a grant to help finance the renovation of its wild Florida loop at the zoo, which includes wild turkeys. The zoo hopes to include the endangered Key deer and add more turkey subspecies.

Butcher sees the NWTF as a natural source for funds. “They actually throw a ton of money back into conservation and natural resource management,” she said of such organizations.

Nance is encouraged by the increased cooperation he’s seen in recent years between conservation, education and hunting groups. It’s the way things should have been all along, in his view.

“Environmental groups and hunting organizations need to be on the same page. Together we can form a pretty strong alliance,” he said.