The painting for the 2023 Mossy Oak Wild Turkey Stamp, "Cap'n Hook's Gobbler," hanging above Mr. Fox's mantle, where it has been enjoyed for decades.
Written by Daniel Haas
There’s a lot that makes this year’s artwork for the Wild Turkey Stamp special. For the inaugural stamp in 2022, there was no doubt what painting we had to use. “A Mossy Oak Moment’ was perfect. It had hung above Dad’s desk and the fireplace at our turkey camp Shumulla since I was a kid.
For this year’s stamp, the decision was just as easy.
There’s been a turkey painting hanging above my grandparents’ (Fox and Evelyn) fireplace since 1986 that I’ve never asked about. Sometime last year, my brother Neill and I were flipping through The Flaming Turkey, a classic book by Robert Hitt Neill from the golden age of turkey literature. Its back cover reviews were written by two legendary Alabama/Mississippi authors, Tom Kelly and Gene Nunnery. Robert Hitt Neill happens to be related to us on our mom’s side of the family. The “Neill” is where my brother’s name and the unique spelling with the second “l” of his name originates.
The second half of what makes The Flaming Turkey special is the artist who shares the space on the cover - Bob Tompkins. Bob’s 50 original sketches and paintings printed on the cover and throughout the pages of the book tie everything together. The spine reads Neill/Tompkins, displaying the shared authorship of the book.
The painting was also featured as the cover of this year's spring edition of the Gamekeeper Magazine.
We noticed a few of the paintings looked familiar. A photo of an 8–point with two does called “Detection” has been hanging at Shumulla for years. A painting of two hens and a gobbler called “Ashbrook Trio” hangs on the opposite wall of “A Mossy Oak Moment” in Dad’s office. And most significantly, a lone longbeard walking through the turkey woods called “Cap’n Hook’s Gobbler” stood out as the painting that’s been hanging above Gran and Papaw’s mantle since we were born.
The copyright page attributed a couple of these paintings to Bryan Foods, the West Point business where Papaw spent his career working and where Dad had his first and last job before starting Mossy Oak. Bob Tompkins had been a longtime friend of many of Mossy Oak’s original crew, and George Bryan commissioned years of paintings.
I immediately looked up Bob and found that he’d retired from his decades in the art department at Delta State and moved to Ridgeland, MS. It only took a few days for me to drive down to his studio and visit with him.
Pictured: Bob Tompkins, the artist behind the painting for the 2023 Mossy Oak Wild Turkey Stamp.
Bob is an old friend of Dad, Uncle Bill, George Bryan and Papaw, and he was an instant old friend to me. Bob was one of Mississippi’s foremost wildlife artists, and plenty of cool turkey history resides in his studio. Notably, he was commissioned to paint Mississippi’s first Wild Turkey Stamp in 1983.
Bob and his “Cap’n Hook’s Gobbler” were perfect for our turkey stamp. When he learned of the project, his response immediately confirmed that. “That painting is your grandad’s, and Mossy Oak has always been my friend. I’d be honored for it to help some raise money for turkeys.”
The most important aspect of what Mossy Oak stands for and what the Turkey Stamp represents is caring for wild turkeys in the same way that the generation before us did so that our future generations never have to wonder what a world without turkeys looks like. But another cool aspect of the stamp is having a platform to preserve hunting history and celebrate wildlife artists both past and present. Bob has a career worth celebrating.
As some of you may have seen in your mailbox, the artwork serves as the cover of the Spring Issue of Gamekeeper Magazine: The Journal for Wildlife Stewardship. After years of wildlife photos on the cover of each issue, this is the first piece of artwork on the cover.
The gobbler from the stamp is also the embroidery for our inaugural Companions “Wright Shirt,” or “the turkey shirt we didn’t bring enough of” as some people at the NWTF Convention might know it as. We planned to have this shirt at the launch of Companions, but it was sold out by the first afternoon of NWTF. We made a second batch to sell online, but they were embroidered by Friday of the Fox Vest weekend in West Point. So, we had to bring them to the store. They sold out again.
The turkey featured in the second Mossy Oak Wild Turkey Stamp was embroidered onto button-down Companions shirts.
Now, we have our inaugural Walking Turkey Wright Shirt available online celebrating the second Mossy Oak Wild Turkey Conservation Stamp.
Artwork for our future stamps will come from a variety of artists both past and present, but these first two stamps cement two deserving artists and paintings as part of Mossy Oak’s turkey history.
To purchase a 2023 Mossy Oak Wild Turkey Stamp, click here.
To purchase a Wright Shirt, click here.
To receive quarterly issues of Gamekeeper Magazine, click here.