As Thanksgiving approaches, turkey hunters — both literal and figurative — seek out birds for the holiday table.

Turkeys aren’t native to Wyoming, but are well-established in much of the eastern half of the state and popular to hunt.

Young hunters Everett Copeland, Oliver Frank and Cy Wilzbacher proudly display turkeys in the Bighorn Basin. (Jeremy Wilzbacher)

Wild turkeys were originally introduced to Wyoming in 1935 when New Mexico traded nine hens and six toms to the state in exchange for sage grouse, according to the Wyoming Game and Fish Department. The initial release site was in Platte County; people then moved the birds to the Black Hills area.

Today two kinds of wild turkeys, the Rio Grande and Merriam’s, can be found across the state. Hunters can pursue turkeys — the largest game bird in North America — in fall and spring.

A child’s hand rests next to a turkey track in central Wyoming. (Christine Peterson)

Of course, many “hunters” stalk their birds from store aisles and as farm customers. Second Street Farm of Lander raised about 120 birds for the holiday. The farm sold out of its pasture-raised birds in about a week, farmer Pat Brennan said.

Iridescent turkey feathers from a bird shot in eastern Wyoming mountains shine in the early-morning sun. (Christine Peterson)

Aside from being “amazing” for Second Street Farm’s pastures, Brennan said turkeys are fun to raise.

“They have big personalities,” he said.

Katie Klingsporn reports on outdoor recreation, public lands, education and general news for WyoFile. She’s been a journalist and editor covering the American West for 20 years. Her freelance work has...

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  1. It would be a very lucky hunter who found a wild turkey to shoot in my neighborhood this year. In the years I’ve lived here, there has been at least one flock of 30 to 40+ birds who visit my yard. This year my total turkey sightings have been 3 occasions of only 1 bird. Anecdotally, G&F does an annual count and banding on a large ranch to the south of, and capture birds to release for genetic diversity to other. This year, the G&F count was less than 25% of the number for prior years–turkeys get and die from avian flu just as do domesticated poultry. A sad fall.

  2. Benjamin Franklin wanted the turkey to be the national bird–until he was told that they are as dumb as fence posts. The eagle soared. True story?