ST. GEORGE — While turkeys are more often associated with the dinner table this time of year, the Thanksgiving season is also an ideal time in Utah to see the waddled birds out in the wild.
As the snowfall of winter begins in the mountains, the state’s wild turkeys move from the high country into lower elevations, making them easier to find.
Some of the best places to see them are near agricultural fields, rivers and streams flowing from the high country and the slopes of hills and mountains that face south, Jason Robinson, upland game coordinator for the Division of Wildlife Resources, said in a news release.
Wild turkeys usually remain in lower elevations until March each year when they return to the mountains to breed and nest as temperatures begin to warm and the snow melts.
Seeing turkeys in the wild in Utah is a relatively new experience. There are no records of turkeys being in Utah at the time European colonists came to the area. However, evidence indicates turkeys did exist in the region before then, and the DWR reintroduced the bird to the state in the mid-20th century.
“Based on historical and archeological evidence, it’s clear Native Americans and turkeys coexisted in Utah,” Robinson said in the release. “That evidence includes pictographs, petroglyphs, blankets made from turkey feathers and turkey bones found at places Native Americans lived.”
Today, the DWR estimates the state’s wild turkey population to be close to 25,000 birds after they were reintroduced to the state in the 1952.
After the successful release of the Merriam’s subspecies of wild turkeys in Southern Utah in 1952, the DWR released more turkeys throughout the state over subsequent decades.
“As the years went by, houses and roads started eating up pheasant habitat in parts of the state. As a result, pheasant populations in those areas declined,” Robinson said. “We wanted to give the state’s upland game hunters another opportunity, and wild turkeys fit the bill perfectly.”
The turkey population eventually became so robust that it was no longer necessary to relocate birds from other states to keep the population growing.
Today, the DWR estimates the state’s wild turkey population to be close to 25,000 birds.
While permits for turkey hunting in the fall general season hunt are sold out in Southern Utah and the rest of the state, permits for the state’s April 2018 limited-entry turkey hunt will be offered on the DWR website beginning Nov. 29.
In the meantime, hunters and nonhunters alike may enjoy observing the birds undisturbed in ponderosa pine forests, oak tree forests, cottonwood tree bottoms and pinyon/juniper habitats throughout Southern Utah.
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