THE BOOK CLIFFS, Uintah County — The state's wild turkey population just increased by more than 100 birds thanks to the efforts of the Utah Division of Wildlife Resources and two sportsmen's groups.
"We picked up 118 birds and brought them back from the Black Hills, South Dakota, and they've been released in four sites," DWR outreach manager Ron Stewart said Friday. "The first ones went out yesterday evening when we first got the notice that they had passed all their disease testing."
The birds released Thursday were turned loose in Whiterocks Canyon in Uintah County, Avintaquin Canyon in Duchesne County and Joe's Valley in Emery County. The final batch of 30 turkeys was set free Friday in the Book Cliffs of Uintah County.
"We brought some food, actually some corn and oats, that was provided by Sportsman for Fish and Wildlife and also got some donations for food from the (National) Wild Turkey Federation," DWR biologist Alex Hansen said.
Members of both organizations have volunteered to maintain the feed levels during the coming weeks to "make sure we can get these birds up and going," Hansen said.
The DWR has been successfully transplanting turkeys since the 1950s, bringing the population up from "next to nothing" to "tens of thousands" of birds, Hansen said. And while the Rio Grande turkey is the primary species in Utah, the birds released this week were Merriam's turkeys.
"We're excited to have them because they're harder to get," Hansen said. "And from what I understand, they're a little bit heartier, so they can take these harder winters."
Kevin Richens, head of the Uintah Basin Chapter of the National Wild Turkey Federation, was one of a handful of volunteers who helped with the Book Cliffs release.
"I think anytime we can get more birds in the state, the better we're going to be, you know, for future generations, to get the kids involved and make sure there's something for them when they grow up and want to hunt them," he said.
Like many turkey hunters in Utah, Richens is a former pheasant hunter who made the switch when pheasant numbers in the state began to decline.
"(Turkeys) are a real challenge to hunt," he said. "They've got some of the best eyes that I've seen. You make one little twitch from 100 yards and they'll see you and spook."
Dennis Jensen with Sportsman for Fish and Wildlife also switched from pheasants to turkeys and said he'd consider returning to the Book Cliffs to hunt one of the birds he helped release Friday.
"I might, I don't know," he said. "A Merriam's turkey's a pretty, pretty good turkey."
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