By DAVID RAINER
Alabama Department of Conservation and Natural Resources
If you’ve been lucky enough to take a wild turkey in Alabama in the last 40 years or so, you might want to thank Fred Pringle. In some areas, successful deer hunters should thank Fred Pringle as well.
The reason Pringle deserves appreciation is that he may have interacted with the ancestors of those turkeys and deer.
As manager of the Fred T. Stimpson Wildlife Sanctuary on the Tombigbee River south of Jackson, Ala., for the last 40-something years, Pringle has almost certainly been
Pringle’s first stint at the sanctuary started Feb. 2, 1965. He worked there for five years before being lured into the paperwood business.
“Biggest mistake I ever made in my life,” Pringle said of leaving the sanctuary. “I was working at the store down by the railroad tracks on the weekends, and Mr. (Huey) Dykes came in and said one of his guys was leaving and wanted to know if we knew of anybody that was interested.”
Pringle talked to his wife, Faye, and they came to the decision that he should try to go back to the sanctuary.
“That was Feb. 2, 1972, and I’ve been here ever since,” he said. “Through years of working, I worked my way up to manager.”
Because the sanctuary was teeming with wildlife back then, most of the turkeys and many of the deer that were used for restocking efforts came from southwest Alabama and the sanctuary in particular.
“I’ve had my hands on most of the turkeys that we relocated to different areas,” Pringle said. “I’ve probably had my hands on 4,000 head of turkeys. On the deer, when I started in ’65, that program was about over. We trapped deer for two more years. Then we would trap them, tag the bucks and turn them loose.
“Then in 1982, they wanted some deer at Black Warrior Wildlife Management Area, and we moved 500 head up there. We also put some, about 50 head each, at Cahaba, Mulberry Fork and Escambia.”
Pringle credits his namesake for the resurgence of the deer and turkey populations in Alabama.
“Back then Mr. Stimpson had the foresight to see the State of Alabama needed a place to trap and relocate deer and turkeys,” he said.
The Stimpsons didn’t own the land, but they started putting the pieces of the sanctuary together from individuals in the late 1930s and early ’40s.
“My father worked for Mr. Stimpson for 38 years in the logging business,” he said. “When the school bus passed the sanctuary each day, I would always see deer and turkeys and knew that would be the place to spend a lot of time.”
While he was at the sanctuary, he said his job entailed being a carpenter, farmer, timber marker, prescribed burner, heavy equipment operator, law enforcement officer and trapper of turkeys, deer, wild hogs, coons and possums. He also coordinated youth hunts, the only hunts allowed on the Stimpson Sanctuary.
“The most interesting part of my job was trapping and relocating the turkeys and the deer,” he said. “There’s not a county north of Montgomery that I hadn’t been in to relocate one or the other. And we put deer and turkeys in Mobile and Baldwin counties. That’s what I enjoyed the most.”
Pringle said the trick to trapping turkeys is finding a good open spot and then getting the turkeys accustomed to coming to the area to feed on the grain used for bait. A 40-foot cannon net was then set up to shoot the net over the unsuspecting turkeys. Each of the three cannons on the net is loaded with 180 grains of black powder. Electrical cord runs to a blind where the igniters in the cannons are set off with a battery.
“You sit in a blind and wait on the turkeys to come in,” he said. “You want the turkeys facing the net. When they get right, you touch it off and it shoots the net over them. The most I ever got at one time was 27. And it was all hens. Most of the time, you’d catch 8, 10 or 15. We wouldn’t shoot it unless we had 8 to 10 hens. Now gobblers, we’d shoot it if we had three or four gobblers, because we would put 10 hens and three to five gobblers in a stocking.
“The most turkeys I’ve ever seen at one time was 96. I had the net ready and I saw five fans coming up the road. They came up and started mingling around with the hens. The gobblers went to the grain. When the hens would start to the net, the gobblers would run them off. By now, there were 40 hens and 20 old gobblers for a total of 60. Then 20 more old gobblers came in to make 80. Then 16 young gobblers came in. I sat in that blind for five and a half hours. I called my brother (Ben) to come pick me up. He said, ‘What’s wrong?’ I said, ‘I watched 96 head of turkeys. I could have caught 20 gobblers, but I needed hens.’ The next day we went back and caught 20 hens.”
For deer, Pringle and his crew had box traps that were 8 feet long, 42 inches high and 32 inches wide with drop doors on each end. The traps were baited, and the deer would trigger the trap doors.
“One night we had 28 traps out,” he said. “The next morning when we checked them we had 28 deer, a fox and a bobcat. Most nights we’d catch from 10 to 18 deer. There were plenty of deer back then.”
Pringle said the greatest satisfaction from his job is to witness the positive results of the restocking efforts on deer and turkey populations all over Alabama, not just in the southwest part of the state.
“When I started, there weren’t hardly any deer and turkeys north of Birmingham,” he said. “Back in the ’60s they didn’t have a spring season for turkeys because they didn’t
“My hands have been on a lot of wild turkeys. I’ve been scratched, pooped on, pecked, wing-whipped and spurred. I’ve been spurred several times. If you’re not careful, a gobbler can hurt you.”
Pringle was chosen for the prestigious Joe Kurz Wildlife Manager of the Year Award by the NWTF in 2002.
In the last 50 years, Pringle said he’s seen a lot of changes in wildlife management, especially in the lengths of the hunting seasons.
“Back when I was growing up, hunting season didn’t come in until the week before Thanksgiving and went out on January 1,” he said. “I guess going into February with the deer season has its good points and bad points. Back then, you couldn’t shoot a spike buck. It had to be a long cowhorn or a forked horn.”
After 43 years of being in charge of most of the activities at the sanctuaries, Pringle finally decided to trim his responsibilities and retire to spend a little time traveling. Although he doesn’t have to show up at the sanctuary every day, Pringle is still probably in the outdoors.
“I’m going to fish (crappie mainly), and I’ll do a little turkey hunting,” said Pringle, who survived a bout with cancer in 2007. “I’m going to fish more than anything. I’m 75 years old, and I figure that if me and my wife are going to do anything, now is the time to do it.”
PHOTOS: (By David Rainer) Fred Pringle sits in his small office at the Fred T. Stimpson Wildlife Sanctuary near Jackson, Ala., and counts the number of governors (eight) he’s worked for during his 40-plus-year career with the Alabama Wildlife and Freshwater Fisheries Division. Despite being 75 years old, Pringle is still able to crawl into one of the deer traps to demonstrate how it was used on the sanctuary. Pringle said his main achievement during his long career was using a cannon net to catch more than 4,000 wild turkeys that were used in restocking efforts across Alabama.