Remembering Tink Smith's legacy
Before we all head off tomorrow to enjoy the opening day of West Virginia's spring gobbler season, let's pause to remember a man who dedicated a sizable chunk of his long life to turkey conservation.
Glenn "Tink" Smith, formerly of Piedmont, died last Sunday at the ripe old age of 101.
Tink was arguably the world's most prolific - and generous - photographer of wild turkeys.
He gave away literally thousands of his images, to the National Wild Turkey Federation, to newspapers (including the Gazette and Daily Mail), to the state Division of Natural Resources, and to just about any entity that furthered the cause of wildlife conservation.
It should surprise no one, then, to learn that Tink wasn't an ordinary fellow. Even his approach to turkey photography was a tad unconventional.
One, he didn't start photographing turkeys until after he retired from his job with the U.S. Postal Service; and two, he shot almost all his photos from a hole in the ground.
"I tried calling them up, but that didn't work," Smith told me during a 1998 interview. "I tried sitting in a tree stand and waiting for them to come by, but that didn't work. Then I remembered some of the basics of concealment and camouflage I used when I was a forward artillery observer during [World War II]. I decided to dig a hole and build a ground-level blind to shoot from."
Smith owned the perfect place for such a blind - a 258-acre piece of land located high on a ridge overlooking the Cacapon River.
"One small clearing seemed always to have some turkeys milling about in it," he said. "I figured that would be the place to put my blind."
"From the moment I completed my hole in the ground, it was heaven for me. Suddenly, I was getting birds walking up so close to me I could literally reach out and touch them," he recalled.
Using camera gear that was primitive by modern standards, and shooting mostly on super-slow Kodachrome film, Tink captured tens of thousands of turkey images. He filled notebook after notebook with slides, 20 to each page. He had pictures of turkeys strutting, turkeys gobbling, turkeys flapping their wings.
He could have sold any number of those images to outdoor magazines, but he didn't.
"I was retired, I didn't need the money, and I didn't want to keep records for the IRS," he said.
In 1971, Tink took a portfolio of his slides to the NWTF Convention in Richmond, Va. His work quickly drew a crowd.
"There must have been 50 people in there, all of them interrogating me as to how I managed to get those pictures," he recalled. "One man looked at the slides and said, 'You have a million dollars there!'"
Instead of selling his images, Tink donated them to the NWTF for use in its Turkey Call magazine, in greeting cards and in other promotional materials.
"I decided that if the Turkey Federation or the DNR wanted to use some of the images to further their causes, they could have them," he said.
I learned of Tink's passing earlier this week from one of his close friends, DNR wildlife chief Curtis Taylor.
We agreed that Tink had lived the sort of life any outdoorsman would like to live. He worked close to nature, he stayed active well into his 90s and he left a legacy that should last for generations.
Rest in peace, Tink. We'll miss you.