On the Ridge: Honoring a pioneer

Published: 2/1/2023 5:57:58 PM
Modified: 2/1/2023 5:57:46 PM

The pleasure of attending the New England Turkey Hunting Hall of Fame Banquet in Concord, N.H, this past weekend was all mine, as one of this year’s inductees hails from Ashfield. A great friend of mine, this individual has a long and distinguished career as a pioneer in the Massachusetts Chapter of the National Wild Turkey Federation, which has made him a legend of sorts, in both Franklin County and beyond. And his abilities as a deer and turkey hunter are as accomplished as any I’ve ever seen during my years of running ridges in New England.

So, we traveled to Concord, N.H., that night, to celebrate Bobby’s induction, along with other worthy recipients from New England. And to celebrate their dedication and commitment to New England turkey hunting and for their vision, and “Pioneering Spirit,” in those incredibly early years when only a handful of people knew anything about the NWTF, or what wild turkey hunting was all about. No one in Massachusetts was more influential during those years than Robert Phillips, and no one worked harder to keep the state chapter, the only chapter in the state in the early 1980s, viable, alive, and working, than Bobby.

As I was preparing the presentation for Bobby, I was reminded that the first time we met was in a bank, the old United Bank in Shelburne Falls to be exact. I was there because I needed a loan, and Bobby was a loan officer. I recall vividly that we spent all of about 15 minutes getting my loan approved, and the next 45 minutes discussing hunting. That first meeting was over 40 years ago now, right after the first turkey hunting season had started in Massachusetts. We were both deer hunters, and had both started hunting turkeys in the late 1970s in Vermont, so that conversation came very easily. Little did we know that this conversation would be the first of so many that would take place in Bobby’s office over the next 25 plus years.

Honestly for a very long time I thought Bobby owned the bank, mainly because he had his own office and went to work every day wearing a suit and tie, so I figured he had to own something big. But what I eventually understood about Bobby was that he was a young sportsman, just like me, trying to find his way while learning a sport that was foreign to both of us, at a time when there was no one around to teach us anything.

It was 1980 that wild turkey hunting began in Massachusetts, and on that first opening day, Bob Phillips and Gary Miller, another Hall of Famer from Massachusetts from the Class of 2020, entered the woods together in the predawn darkness. Both had drawn a permit, of only 67 permits handed out that year, and I would wager on that first morning of turkey hunting in Massachusetts that neither one of them had any idea that 43 years later they would both be members of the New England Turkey Hunting Hall of Fame. And this past weekend in Concord, N.H. it all came full circle for a man who has always been an avid sportsman and supported sportsmen clubs and organizations throughout the Commonwealth, and beyond, his entire adult life — someone who has supported the NWTF in both Massachusetts and beyond since the state chapter originated in 1983.

And with that slow but steady expansion came more opportunities for hunters. It also allowed non-hunters to observe something so many had never seen before, wild turkeys in Massachusetts, and Bobby took all of this to heart and supported it completely. Soon after, Bobby’s skills as a turkey hunter began to soar, and he started working with anyone who would ask him about turkey hunting – assisting at sportsmen’s shows, or with a kid who just wanted to know how to use a turkey call — all in the spirit of working in whatever capacity the chapter asked of him. And I can attest to the fact that Bobby has probably judged in more turkey calling contests in Massachusetts than any other person I know.

Through all of this, and more, Bobby has been the epitome of what a volunteer and a leader should be. And it’s these leadership skills, sense of fairness, and overall caring for sportsmen and women in Massachusetts that brought so many of us to Concord, N.H. that night, to honor this individual who has contributed greatly to the storied history of the NWTF and wild turkey hunting in Massachusetts. And I was deeply honored to escort my friend, Bobby Phillips, into the New England Turkey Hunting Hall of Fame as the newest member from Massachusetts.

Joe Judd is a lifelong hunter and sportsman. He is an outdoor writer, seminar speaker, member of the New England Outdoor Writers Association, and a 2019 inductee into the N.E. Turkey Hunting Hall of Fame. Joe is also on the Quaker Boy Game Calls and Bass Pro Shops/Cabela’s Pro-Staff.


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