WYOMING— Today wild turkeys are found in Wyoming but that wasn’t always the case. Turkey day is tomorrow, so Buckrail has pulled together a brief history of turkey hunting history, with information sourced from the Wyoming Game and Fish Department.
Back in 1935, the Wyoming Game and Fish Department swapped sage grouse with New Mexico for 15 Merriam’s turkeys, nine hens, and six toms. 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. 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 Wyomingites involved in the turkey restoration had nearly as much reverence for the bird as famous statesman and inventor Benjamin Franklin did by touting the turkey as our national bird. Those Laramie Peak birds 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. Thirty-three Platte County turkeys, along with 15 more New Mexico transplants, found new roosts near Redwater Creek in the northwest 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.
In 1955, hunters could begin harvesting wild turkeys in Wyoming. Wyoming has both fall and spring turkey hunting seasons
Fall turkey hunting is a different ballgame than the camouflaged calling of the spring. 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.
Joe Sandrini, Newcastle area wildlife biologist and wild turkey researcher suggests hunters work on a stealthy pursuit at middle to lower elevations as the season moves from fall to early winter. “When flocks are startled and busted up, the birds can often be called back as they seek to reunite. Doing this from a concealed location is an effective fall hunting technique that is used in many parts of the country,” Sandrini said.
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.
Hens nest in the strutting ground vicinity and close to reliable water. The females lay about two eggs every three days until a clutch of 10 to 13 is produced. After about 28 days of incubation, with no help from the gobblers, the chicks meet the world. 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.