Growing wild turkeys in Wyoming
SHERIDAN, Wyo. — Wintertime can be tough on wild turkeys because they can only scratch about 4 to 6 inches of snow to find food. Deep and ice-crusted snow diverts turkeys to the next available food source, which can be in barn yards, feed yards and your backyard.
In addition, prolonged snow events, deep snows and extreme cold weather can lead to winter mortality, and cold, wet springs can lead to decreased nesting success, said Collin Smith, regional biologist for the National Wild Turkey Federation.
Riparian habitats found along streams and rivers are critical to wild turkeys because they provide Cottonwood trees, which are preferred roosting areas. Smith said many riparian areas have become degraded over the years through improper grazing methods, invasive tree species and dams in waterways.
According to Smith, the Wyoming Game and Fish Department, the U.S. Forest Service and the Bureau of Land Management apply for funding from the NWTF for projects that remove barriers preventing successful growth of wild turkey populations.
The projects are scattered across the state and include forest management work with the BLM north of Gillette; riparian enhancement work with the WGFD on the Thunder Basin Grasslands and the Platte River; forest management assistance to private landowners working with the Natural Resources Conservation Service in the Black Hills region by Newcastle; and riparian habitat enhancements with tree planting in the Bighorn Basin.
“When it comes to where we spend our money, a lot of that is determined by who applies for that money,” NWTF regional director Jason Tarwater said.
NWTF gives money every year to Wyoming’s Access Yes program, which works to open up private land for public hunting.
“Hunting access is an issue that is not just in Wyoming, but in multiple states across the West,” Smith said. “We are seeing a lot of outfitters starting to lease up more and more acreage; a lot of places are being posted closed to hunting; and landowners aren’t as willing to allow hunting as they once were. Public hunting is a tool. It is needed to help keep populations in check.”
NWTF funds a WGFD program called “Forever Wild Families,” which is dedicated to introducing families to hunting, fishing and the outdoors. The program exposes families that are not familiar with hunting and fishing to the process — from shooting to processing and consuming what they harvest.
NWTF also helps get kids involved with shooting sports by contributing to 4-H and Boy Scout programs. In addition, the NWTF has a Juniors Acquiring Knowledge, Ethics and Sportsmanship (JAKES) youth membership.
“We’ve done it two years now at Rocky Mountain Discount Sports where we bring in an inflatable bb gun range for kids to shoot, we have archery instruction and fly casting instruction and the WGFD puts up a furs and skulls display,” Tarwater said. “A JAKES membership is $10. Instead of charging the kids, we find locals in the community to sponsor them.”
“Around the late ’90s, we came up with a program called Target 2000 and our goal was to put turkeys in everywhere where there is suitable habitat,” Tarwater added. “The Black Hills and the Yellowtail area are two places in Wyoming where that took place. Numbers where the habitat was good are still there and are doing great. A lot of people don’t realize wild turkeys and turkey hunting wouldn’t exist in Wyoming if it wasn’t for the work that we did in the past.”
The goals of the NWTF in Wyoming include restoring and improving the quality of 15,000 forest acres and 5,000 riparian acres, to increase winter food availability for all wildlife, and increase the number of hunter safety classes, acres of hunting access and new hunters.
“We have a lot that we want to do and a lot that we can do,” Tarwater said. “It takes volunteers for us to accomplish goals, and to help us raise money to do the outreach events with the JAKES, the women and the disabled. The more volunteers we have, the bigger the impact across the state and the local area we could make.”