Bailey, Fabled N.C. Turkey Biologist, Dies

In his later years, Wayne Bailey liked attending NCWTF banquets and mingling with admirers and looking at wildlife art.

Wayne Bailey of Milton, the first wild turkey project leader for the N.C. Wildlife Resources Commission and the man credited with beginning the resurgence of the bird in North Carolina, died at Danville, Va., Feb. 27, after a long battle with cancer.

Born in 1918 at Rock, West Virginia, Bailey was that state’s wild-turkey specialist for years until the WRC lured him to North Carolina in 1970. At that time, perhaps 5,000 Eastern birds were hiding out at N.C.’s swamps, river drainages, Fort Bragg and Caswell County.

Bailey quickly brought two important concepts to N.C. wild turkey restoration: live-trapping and a spring gobblers-only season.

His spring gobblers-only proposal (previously turkeys could be hunted in the fall and winter) at first met opposition from N.C. hunters. But they knew something had to be done or wild turkeys in this state soon would go the way of the passenger pigeon.

In 1980 he turned the reins over to Brian Hyder, who ran the program for five years, then Hyder resigned and Seamster began implementing Bailey’s live-trapping regime.

Today, because of Bailey’s vision, Seamster’s work and financial support from the NWTF and N.C. chapter banquets, N.C. has more than 100,000 wild turkeys. Last year, N.C. hunters bagged more than 11,000 birds — which in 1970 would have wiped out the total N.C. turkey population twice.

Eastern wild turkeys survive and thrive in North Carolina today because of Wayne Bailey.

He was a member of the first NWTF Advisory board in 1973, the first NWTF charter member, on the first NWTF Technical Committee in 1975 and was the first recipient of the NWTF Conservationist of the Year Award in 1978.

“Wayne Bailey was a pioneer in modern turkey restoration and thanks to his relentless efforts the successful comeback of the wild turkey was possible,” said Rob Keck, CEO of the National Wild Turkey Federation. “It wasn’t only his work in the field that aided in the restoration of the wild turkey, but his work with the NWTF during its early years was instrumental in the success of the organization today.”

Bailey wrote two books, “50 years Hunting Wild Turkeys” and  “Wayne’s Turkey World: 60 Years of Hunting.”

“We have lost a giant in the field of wildlife management,” said Dr. James Earl Kennamer, NWTF senior vice president of conservation programs.

“Never was a man more suited to be a turkey biologist,” said Cheryl Hardy, Bailey’s daughter. “And never was a man more happy at work, he loved every day of it.”

Bailey donated his body to be used in anatomy studies at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill. He is survived by two daughters, Hardy and Janice Nicowski, and a son, Emmett Bailey, and three grandchildren and five great grandchildren.

After his death, his family planned a celebration of  Bailey’s life six weeks later at the Stratford Conference Center in Danville, Va.

The celebration is scheduled just before the start of N.C.’s spring gobblers season.

About Craig Holt 1382 Articles
Craig Holt of Snow Camp has been an outdoor writer for almost 40 years, working for several newspapers, then serving as managing editor for North Carolina Sportsman and South Carolina Sportsman before becoming a full-time free-lancer in 2009.

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