CASPER, Wyo. — With Thanksgiving Day upon us, the Wyoming Game and Fish Department noted on Monday that hunters harvested 1,193 wild turkeys wild turkeys in the state in fall 2019.
“It wasn’t until 1955 when hunters could harvest the historic wild turkey in Wyoming,” Game and Fish added. “Hunters’ interest has continued to gain momentum since. With both fall and spring seasons to chase gobblers, hunters’ stealthy pursuits provide excellent food for their families and mementos of feathers, beards and spurs to commemorate the hunt long after.”
Game and Fish add that in 1935, the department swapped sage grouse from Wyoming for 15 Merriam’s turkeys from New Mexico including “nine hens and six toms.”
Article continues below...
“The imports were released on the George Waln Ranch on Cottonwood Creek in Platte County that spring and were reported to lure some of the ranch’s domestic turkeys with them into the Laramie Mountains,” Game and Fish said. “The turkeys thrived in these hills west of Wheatland under the auspices of ranchers and the Game and Fish and were estimated to number over 1,000 by 1947.”
The turkeys released near Laramie Peak “served as seed stock for several futile reintroduction attempts across the state until birds were sowed into the fertile habitat of the Black Hills in 1951-52.”
33 turkeys from Platte County and 15 more from New Mexico were transplanted to the Redwater Creek area in the Black Hills.
“They probably combined forces with some transplants that strayed over from South Dakota releases, and the introduction served as the foundation for Wyoming’s most recognized turkey hunt area,” Game and Fish said.
Wyoming offers turkey hunting in the spring and fall.
“Fall turkey hunting is a different ballgame than the camouflaged calling of the spring,” Game and Fish said. “Although turkeys can spot hunter orange, and with corresponding big game seasons still underway, fall turkey hunters may consider wearing orange or pink for safety.”
Newcastle Area Wildlife Biologist Joe Sandrini, who researches wild turkey gave some advice to hunters pursuing turkey this fall.
“When flocks are startled and busted up, the birds can often be called back as they seek to reunite,” Sandrini said. “Doing this from a concealed location is an effective fall hunting technique that is used in many parts of the country.”
Game and Fish note that wild turkeys have less fat than domestic turkeys and offered some cooking tips.
“A ‘cooking bag’ can help the fowl retain its natural moisture,” the department said. “Or place bacon strips across the breast, covering with foil and then removing the foil a few minutes before serving to brown the bird.”
“Another technique is brining and then smoking the bird; this will help retain moisture and compliment the wild flavor. When cooking, understand wild turkeys won’t stay on their backs like domestic birds, and may need to be propped up.”
Game and Fish add that wild turkeys have longer legs and a “proportionally smaller, more angular breast” than domestic turkeys. The department said many people enjoy “the fuller flavor” offered by wild turkeys.
“The taste is primarily the result of the birds’ forest buffet,” Game and Fish said. “Traditionally ‘mast’ or hardwood nut eaters, Wyoming turkeys seek hawthorne and scrub oak nuts plus chokecherry, plums, currants and buffalo berry. Seasonally the birds will also pluck tender grass shoots and buds.”
Juvenile wild turkeys tend to eat grasshoppers “almost exclusively” during their first summer.
“Adults snare hoppers, too, when the insects are abundant,” Game and Fish said. ‘Ranchers often return the favor by letting the birds use their yards as winter refuge from deep snow.”
“As spring approaches, birds start inching up elevation and flocks of gobblers or adult males start disbanding. Come March, gobblers start establishing areas or ‘strutting grounds’ along the edge of creek bottoms or forests. With loud gobbles and strutting posture, males amass a several-hen harem and drive smaller rivals off.”
Wild turkey hens lay about two eggs every three days “until a clutch of 10 to 13 is produced,” Game and Fish said.
“After about 28 days of incubation, with no help from the gobblers, the chicks meet the world,” the department added. “Within a week the chicks start flying and roost in trees thereafter. Hens and their brood, often joined by like combos, stay together until the next breeding season.”