By BRADY McCOMBS | Associated Press
SALT LAKE CITY (AP) — It's turkey time in Utah, and not just for people getting ready to sit down for Thanksgiving feasts.
A wild turkey hunt is back on in Utah for the first time in three decades.
With the state's wild turkey population swelling to the healthy level of more than 20,000, the Utah Division of Wildlife Resources decided to allow the hunt again for the first since it was ceased in 1984.
Nearly 300 hunters have received permits for a hunt that started on Nov. 1, said Jason Robinson, the state's upland game coordinator. Hunters are drawn to the event not only for the sport of it, but by the allure of being able to bring home their own turkey for Thanksgiving, Robinson said.
But it's far from a guarantee everyone will get a bird. In the spring hunt that has been going on for years, only one out of three hunters kill a turkey, he said.
These are not lazy, butterballs waiting to be snatched, he said. Wild turkeys are smart and quick with great eyesight and hearing.
“The odds are actually stacked against you,” Robinson said. “It's a sport, it's challenging. But at the end of the day, if the hunter is successful, the hunter has a really big bird that can provide a good meal for the family.”
Hunters lucky enough to get a wild turkey may want to caution their Thanksgiving guests that their bird won't be like the one they're used to. Wild turkeys produce mostly dark meat and are about half the weight of turkeys people are used to eating, Robinson said.
“They are really, lean athletic birds. They have to be able to escape predators,” he said.
Permits are gone for this fall hunt, which goes through December in the northern part of the state and through Jan. 15 in the southern part of the state. But hunters can still apply for permits to hunt wild turkeys in the spring.
Wild turkeys live all over in Utah, including as high up as 10,000 feet elevation in the mountains. They need access to food, water and cover, and tall trees where they can sleep to avoid predators, Robinson said.
There's debate about whether turkeys are native to the state. Wildlife officials say it appears the Merriam's subspecies is native to southeastern Utah, based on turkey bones and turkey rock art found near ancient ruins.
Others believe turkeys might have been traded and weren't native. There isn't evidence of turkeys in the area when pioneers arrived in Utah.
The first turkey hunt in the state was held in 1967, but the fall hunt was eliminated in 1984.