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Wild turkeys doing well in Utah

Birds provide a unique viewing and hunting opportunity

Many Utahns don't know Utah has a thriving population of wild turkeys.

A total of 118 turkeys from South Dakota were released in eastern Utah last winter.

A total of 118 turkeys from South Dakota were released in eastern Utah last winter.

Photo by Ron Stewart

Among those who do know about the population, Thanksgiving isn't the only reason they'll be thinking about turkeys later this month: One of the best times of the year to see turkeys is almost here. And so is a chance to apply for a turkey hunting permit for spring 2014.

Jason Robinson, upland game coordinator for the Division of Wildlife Resources, says more than 20,000 turkeys live in the state. "It's tough to get a solid estimate," he says. "But based on the number of male turkeys hunters took this past spring, we estimate the state's population at more than 20,000 birds."

Winter is a great time to see them

If you'd like to see one or more of those turkeys, Thanksgiving marks the start of the best time of the year to give it a try. "Every year," Robinson says, "right around the Thanksgiving holiday, turkeys start congregating at lower elevations. Agricultural areas, areas near rivers and streams, and slopes that face south are all good areas to look for them."

Turkeys usually stay at lower elevations until March. Then, as the snow melts and the temperature climbs, the birds travel to higher elevations to breed and nest.

Robinson says April is the most exciting time of the year to watch them. "The males are in their bright, colorful breeding plumage," he says. "Watching them strut and gobble, as they try to draw the attention of the females, is one of the most exciting and interesting things you'll see in nature."

Turkeys are a little more difficult to find in April, though. To find them, travel to higher elevations, and then look for three things: Large cottonwood or Ponderosa pine trees the birds can roost in, thick brush the birds can feed and hide in, and water.

"Sometimes," he says, "you might even see them from the road. It's a matter of being in the right place at the right time."

Moving birds

Despite its thriving population, Utah still has room for more turkeys. And DWR biologists are working hard to fill the available space.

In winter 2012–2013, biologists moved 670 turkeys from Cache Valley, and other areas where the birds are doing well, to areas in Utah that have room for more birds.

A total of 118 turkeys were also brought to the state from South Dakota. Biologists released the birds in eastern Utah.

Turkey hunting permits

If you'd like to hunt wild turkeys next spring, it's time to start preparing for the hunts. Applications for limited-entry hunting permits will be accepted online starting Dec. 4.

If you apply for a limited-entry permit, but don't draw one, you can still hunt turkeys next spring. Permits for Utah's general turkey hunt go on sale Feb. 20.

For the 2013 hunts, Robinson says 9,033 hunters applied for the 2,500 limited-entry permits that were available. In addition, a total of 6,588 hunters bought an over-the-counter permit for the general turkey hunt. The general hunt started just a few days after the limited-entry hunt ended.

Robinson says 41 percent of those who drew a limited-entry permit took a turkey. The success rate among general season hunters was 21 percent. "Both of those success rates are really good," he says.

More information

If you have questions about hunting or viewing turkeys in Utah, call the nearest Division of Wildlife Resources office or the DWR's Salt Lake City office at 801-538-4700.

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