Did you know that Utah is home to a thriving population of wild turkeys? And that Thanksgiving is one of the best times of the year to get out and see them in the wild?
Jason Robinson, upland game coordinator for the Division of Wildlife Resources, says Utah has a large population of wild turkeys. “It’s tough to get a solid estimate on the number of birds,” he says, “but based on the number of male turkeys hunters took this past spring, we estimate that about 25,000 turkeys live in Utah.”
Winter is a great time to see them
Thanksgiving is not only a great time to gather around the table and enjoy feasting on turkey — it also marks the start of the best time of the year to see turkeys in the wild.
“Right around the Thanksgiving holiday,” Robinson says, “turkeys start congregating at lower elevations. Agricultural fields, and areas near rivers and streams, are some of the best places to find them. Slopes that are on the south side of hills and mountains are also good places to look.”
Turkeys usually stay in these lower elevation areas 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 probably the most exciting time to watch turkeys. “During April,” he says, “the males are in their bright, colorful breeding plumage. Watching them strut and gobble, as they try to draw the attention of female turkeys, is one of the most interesting and exciting things you’ll see in nature.”
Robinson says 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’ll even see them as you’re driving along a road. It’s just a matter of being in the right place at the right time.”
Even though Utah’s turkey population is thriving, the state still has room for more birds. And DWR biologists are working hard to fill the available space. In winter 2015–2016, biologists moved 1,627 turkeys from areas in Utah where the birds are doing well to areas in the state that have room for more birds.
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 at wildlife.utah.gov starting Nov. 30.
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 spring turkey hunt go on sale Feb. 23.
For the 2016 hunts, Robinson says 11,489 hunters applied for the 4,190 limited-entry permits that were available. In addition, a total of 7,522 hunters bought an over-the-counter permit for the spring general turkey hunt. The general hunt started just a few days after the limited-entry hunt ended.
Robinson says 47 percent of those who drew a limited-entry permit took a turkey. The success rate among general season hunters was 26 percent. “Both of those success rates are really good,” he says.
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.
Information about turkey hunting is also available in the 2016–2017 Utah Upland Game & Turkey Guidebook.