When Lauren Winters takes aim at a project, she's liable to succeed, whether it's at her job or out in the field, where she excels as a hunter.
When Lauren Winters takes aim at a project, she's liable to succeed, whether it's at her job or out in the field, where she excels as a hunter.
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Front and Center: Lauren Winters

Published on Monday, August 21, 2023

By: Gary Pettus,

Photos By: Jay Ferchaud/ UMMC Communications

To Lauren Winters, he’s “the Old Man of the Woods,” a creature of cautious habits who lurks near the Amite River.

One day last year, she and her father explored a scoop of land in the woods below a ridge along the river, and heard the Old Man gobble; she readied her 20-gauge shotgun.

And then – nothing. “We could never set eyes on him,” Winters recalled. “That was one turkey that was just smarter than us.”

There are at least three things to know about Lauren Winters: She enjoys testing herself, doesn’t like to sit still, but does like working with others.

Lauren Winters and her dad, Dalton Williams, score another success on a 2021 hunt in Custer, South Dakota. (Photo courtesy of Lauren Winters)
Winters and her dad, Dalton Williams, score another success on a 2021 hunt in Custer, South Dakota. (Photo courtesy of Lauren Winters)

All those traits are among the reasons the 25-year-old excels at the University of Mississippi Medical Center as a project manager in the Office of Well-being – and, no less so, as a turkey hunter.

If the Old Man lived to gobble another day, many more of these wild birds have surrendered their tail fans to Winters. This year, teaming up in turns with her father and one of her brothers, she entered a popular competition recognized by the National Wild Turkey Federation: the Grand Slam.

From March to May, on a journey from Florida to Colorado, Winters strived to collect the four most common subspecies of wild turkey. The timetable is “very tight,” Winters said, “and it’s very exhausting.” Which is why she took it on.

Winters, who lives in Jackson with her husband, Bailey Winters, and their three-legged rescue dog, Lefty, savors challenges. She’s in the midst of one now – involving not a timbered swamp or hickory forest, but instead a place where turkeys don’t trot: the OR.

Working with Dr. Chris Anderson, the James D. Hardy Professor and Chair of the Department of Surgery, Winters is part of a group striving to reduce hospital operating room costs, one of her many projects.

Two years ago, fortified with a bachelor’s degree in business administration and a masters’ in higher education from the University of Mississippi, she joined the Office of Well-being and enlisted her talents in the Everyday Wellness Program which spreads the gospel of healthy eating, physical exercise and more to students and employees.

“I always knew, growing up, that I wanted to work with people, help people,” she said. At Ole Miss she provided well-being education for students and ran a drug/alcohol recovery program.

Sondra Redmont

She brought that resume to UMMC and, in December 2021, she was hired by Sondra Redmont, who has found her to be effective, efficient, insightful and engaged. That is, “perfect,” said Redmont, administrator in the Office of Well-being.

“And it’s been fascinating to watch her take her skills from turkey hunting and translate them here: thinking strategically about the best places to go and making the best use of your time. And I don’t know where she gets all of her energy.”

Sadara Evans

Since May of 2022, Winters has energized Sadara Evans, another project manager. “Lauren was born to be a leader,” Evans said.

“She has a natural, leading energy that just makes you want to listen to her and trust her guidance. One of the things I really admire about Lauren is that she can stay level-headed even in the stress of emergencies.

“And she’s adventurous. We like to explore the hospital together, just being curious about what else there is to learn about the Medical Center. Lauren’s like that in life, too.”

Winters has marshalled her curiosity and drive to help set up UMMC Farmer’s Market events, arrange for physicians to give educational talks to the community, and help safeguard patient satisfaction in their interactions with therapy dogs.

“My favorite part of the job is anything that gets me out from behind my desk,” she said.

While hunting is not part of her job, it does get her out. The allure of the turkey first called to her a few years ago, when she spotted one prowling in her parents’ yard in Gillsburg: That’s the Pike County community where, in October 1977, a plane dropped from a darkening sky.

Winters’ father, Dalton Williams, was 7 when he saw it go down in the woods near the Louisiana state line. It carried members of the rock group, Lynyrd Skynyrd. Winters’ grandfather helped rescue survivors.

If you grow up near Gillsburg, you are as sure to hear the Lynyrd Skynyrd story as you are to spend a childhood surrounded by wildlife. In the forests of Pike and Amite counties, and beyond, Winters came of age hunting deer and dove, but eventually discovered what she considers the superior thrills of turkey pursuit.

On May 6, Lauren Winters finished off her Grand Slam quest during her hunt for the Merriam's in New Castle, Colorado. (Photo courtesy of Lauren Winters)
On May 6, Winters finished off her Grand Slam quest during her hunt for the Merriam's in New Castle, Colorado. (Photo courtesy of Lauren Winters)

“Unlike deer hunting, you don’t sit and wait for something to come by,” she said. “It’s very active; it’s strategy and there’s a lot more room for things to go wrong.” A case in point: the Old Man of the Woods.

“Wild turkeys are very smart and extremely unpredictable,” she said. “They’re also beautiful – that’s a given.”

To conquer one requires teamwork, she said. “It’s not solitary. You hunt with somebody else and you rely on each other.”

For about “98 percent” of the time, Winters has a mutual reliance pact with her father. She has hunted, too, with her brother, also named Dalton, who was with her when she vanquished the Eastern.

The Eastern turkey subspecies fell second on an itinerary that resolved into a Grand Slam quest, which went like this:

  • March 3, Naples, Florida: the Osceola
  • March 16, Oxford: the Eastern
  • April 16, Uvalde, Texas: the Rio Grande
  • May 6, New Castle, Colorado: the Merriam’s

“When Lauren was in Colorado for the last one, we waited with bated breath,” Redmont said. “‘Did she get it? Did she get it?’”

She did. She got them all. But the Osceola, a real homebody, was the most difficult: It’s found only on the Florida peninsula. Winters and her father tried for three years to slip into the Sunshine State for a go. They did, after winning a draw for the privilege.

Still, they had not sought a Grand Slam until after the Rio, she said. Then, with only one more to go, it was: why not?

She won’t stop there. Winters has hunted turkeys in Kansas and South Dakota as well – six states total. She wants to harvest a bird in every state that has them. Only Alaska is bereft.

Forty-three to go.

It must be said that, despite their prey’s shrewdness, turkey hunters have one advantage, other than the shotgun: the call. On their hunts, Dalton Williams brings a handmade ML Lynch Deluxe Fool Proof Box Turkey Call his father gave him 37 years ago. He’s also a “mouth call” wizard, Winters said, as he mimics the yelps of a turkey hen – a deadly lure for the male.

Best of all, he brings himself, she said. The celebration after a successful hunt “is better when you have someone to share it with.”

That sentiment is revealing, Redmont said. “For Lauren, it’s all about dedication. With hunting, it’s a dedication to her family. Here, at the Medical Center, it’s a dedication to her team. She doesn’t want to let any of us down.

“The fact that she is able to do it all, it’s amazing.”

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