Hunting > Turkeys

For the Good of the Group

For NRA President Jim Porter, it is rewarding to help wield the tremendous influence of our 5-million-plus membership’s united voice as a faithful servant of American hunters and shooters. Stopping to hunt the occasional wild turkey and maybe even earn a grand slam along the way is a bonus.

Whoever said busy people get things done was talking about NRA President Jim Porter. I know this after spending time with him in turkey camp in April. Driving to the lodge, I think about how this esteemed Alabama attorney, with a peer rating of 5 out of 5, litigates multiple trial and appellate cases—representing cities, counties, gun manufacturers, public entities and NRA-member gun owners—for his law firm, Porter, Porter & Hassinger in Birmingham. He just returned from the funeral of Otis McDonald, the plaintiff in the landmark 2010 U.S. Supreme Court case McDonald vs. City of Chicago, ending the city’s near-30-year handgun ban. He is actively working with NRA leadership to prepare for the upcoming NRA Annual Meetings & Exhibits in Indianapolis, April 25-27. His son and daughter-in-law just gave him and wife Kathryn their second grandchild. And in his spare time, he is meeting me to hunt up a Merriam’s gobbler, the last of the four subspecies he needs to complete his prestigious grand slam. Clearly this man is efficient. Let the gobbler games begin.

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Technically the games began March 15, the opening day of the Florida season, as Porter kicked off his quest with the Osceola—and my series of “Porter’s Pursuit” blogs tracking his progress on AmericanHunter.org. The Osceola only inhabits Florida, and while I admit it took me two trips to get mine, Porter and his 12-gauge Remington Versamax dropped one that day then headed straight for Alabama and subspecies No. 2—the Eastern. After two days of thunderstorms, Porter bagged his bird as I blogged about how we turkey hunters typically consider the wily Eastern to be the most challenging subspecies of all. Hours later, he was in Texas for subspecies No. 3—the Rio—tumbling it the next day. That’s three birds, one shot each, over five days of hunting. Who gets that? I wondered. Now one bird away from the slam, responsibilities forced Porter to call it quits until April, returning home to address other pressing matters. Not even the NRA president can hunt full-time.

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Looking forward to chronicling the last leg of Porter’s quest in person, I enter New Mexico’s Vermejo Park Ranch (VPR) dining room at 4:30 a.m. on April 15 to meet Porter for the first morning hunt. It’ll be fitting if Porter gets his Merriam’s today—exactly one month since he began his quest on March 15, I think. But with turkey hunting, is Porter’s luck too good to be true? Will No. 4 be as easy?

We meet guide Dave Winebark and pile into his truck—he and Porter in the front and me, my notepad and camera in the back. Heading up the mountain, Winebark stops and calls, we listen. Finally—a gobble. Winebark, Porter and I go set up but never hear another peep. The rest of the day proves uneventful—odd for a place full of gobblers; not odd considering their stereotypical unpredictability.

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Word gets out when the NRA president is on hand. At the lodge we chat with the other hunters before dinner. Porter talks with everyone in the room—drawing them out, making them feel special. He is open to their viewpoints, genuinely interested in what they have to say. And he has something interesting to say in return. But this is our NRA family—who we are, the way we do things—supporting each other and working for the common good. So as Porter would ask, if you’re reading this and you are a gun owner and hunter but not an NRA member, why not?

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At 4:30 a.m. we meet for breakfast. Our guide is ready to go—so is Porter—as they ponder gobbler-ambush plans.

This morning we strike out again. We see birds—just no gobblers. We grab a quick lunch at the lodge. Even there we have no cell service so Porter borrows the front office’s phone to conduct business. Back in the truck, Winebark’s phone at least has intermittent service so Porter makes use of one last opportunity for communication before heading up the mountain.

“…We want to give the governor special recognition for support on our legislation and for helping Remington to move to Alabama,” he says to the person on the other end. “I want to make a presentation at the NRA show’s Board meetings. …”

Seconds later he is on the phone again. Winebark parks the Chevy, gets out and scans the area. Porter is talking with staff, keeping tabs on his caseload. Time is of the essence—and there is so little of it for an attorney with cases in multiple states.

Dave hurries back—a gobbler. I stay behind this time. They return five minutes later after a hen foils the attempt. Porter just looks at me and smiles. “How come you girls are always causing trouble?”

“It’s just a reminder we play by their rules,” says Winebark.

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Later I ask Porter what made him run for an officer position on the NRA Board he has served on since 1989. “I don’t know if I thought about it that much,” he says, in between jarring bumps along our road less traveled. “I just wanted to serve. It’s something I always thought I would do.”

Before that, Porter served on the Board’s Legal Affairs and Nominating committees. The NRA is in Porter’s blood—literally—considering his father, Irvine Porter, served as president from 1959 to 1960. Also a lawyer, the senior Porter founded the family law firm in 1931 and, as an avid target shooter and hunter, introduced his son to outdoor family traditions. As I picture all the 8x10 portraits of NRA past presidents at headquarters in Fairfax, Va., I recall Irvine Porter, in particular, the only one of the group who sidestepped a business suit for shooting attire—fitting considering the many summers father and son spent at Camp Perry as Dad competed in NRA’s annual National Matches. Jim Porter would one day pass along his shooting sports, hunting and wildlife conservation heritage to his own children, son Jay, who is also an attorney, and daughter Katie, who teaches gifted children.

“Dad also loved to bird hunt, and I followed him around like a puppy,” Porter recalls. This led to talk of hunting and his quest for a grand slam. “I have a number of Eastern birds, but I only have Easterns, and thought hunting all four subspecies would resonate with our members,” he adds.

As Porter recounts his first three whirlwind grand-slam adventures, it’s obvious they occurred on good friends’ properties and that those friends, like Porter, are leaders in wildlife conservation (see sidebar). When I ask Porter about his own conservation work, he is uncomfortable talking about himself. For now I acknowledge his commitment to hunting and public access to the outdoors and to his accomplishments as an attorney and a trustee of NRA’s Civil Rights Legal Defense Fund as he continues challenging the courts to undo restrictions on our firearm rights.

“Being a membership organization is different because we serve and work for our members,” he explains, adding, “All we have to sell is service. It tickles me when we’re called a gun lobby because we’re just speaking for the little people. Our strength comes from the bottom up—not the top down. You can’t ever forget it’s the guy paying $35 a year for a membership who is making this organization a success, but we’ve also got to have the big money to do what we do.” This is why Porter worked hard to create The NRA Foundation in 1990 and its essential donor programs. “We’re doing a better job …,” he says, trailing off, likely pondering another to-do list as past president of The NRA Foundation’s Board of Trustees.

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We round the corner, Winebark hits the brakes. Along the dirt road is our mark—a strutter with a hen, and from the looks of things he’s quite hefty, prancing in the open. “Busted—the Santa Fe bird,” Dave says. “Big bird. The guides have tried to ambush him for two years.”

We head to a spot where Winebark gets cell service so Porter can make a call. “I’m hunting in New Mexico—it’s like work,” he says to the person on the other end before launching into details about a lawsuit in New York’s Second Circuit Court on behalf of a firearm manufacturer. Effortlessly, he switches from one role to the other—from hunter and pal to high-profile attorney and even higher-profile NRA president.

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