Nevada Wild Turkeys Thriving

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It is one thing to hear a barnyard turkey gobble, but hearing one of Nevada's wild turkeys gobble in the woods is a completely different experience. One that some outdoor enthusiasts rank up there with that of hearing the bugle of a big bull elk as it wafts through the pinyon pines and juniper trees. This is especially true for those who get to watch a big Tom turkey strut his stuff while gobbling sweet nothings to a nearby hen.

Perhaps the only thing better than hearing a wild gobbler is eating one. "These wild turkeys are definitely not your run of the mill Butterball variety you find in the grocery store, but they do provide excellent table faire," said Martin Olson, hunter education coordinator for the Nevada Department of Wildlife (NDOW). "Though they are generally smaller than commercially raised birds, they are very tasty and leftovers make excellent soup."

But hearing or seeing a gobbler in Nevada hasn't always been possible. The first attempt to establish a viable population of wild turkeys in the Silver State took place in 1954 when a sportsmen's group released birds near Lovelock, but this proved unsuccessful. Their attempt was followed up in the early 1960s when the Nevada Fish & Game Commission, predecessor to NDOW, liberated Merriam's turkeys in the Spring Mountain Range near Las Vegas and in the Carson Range near Reno.

Although limited hunting seasons were held in the Carson Range during the fall of 1965, 1966 and 1967, a lack of hunter success brought and end to the fish and game agency's attempts to establish a wild turkey population in Nevada. However, when surrounding states began having success in establishing populations of the Rio Grande subspecies of turkey in the late 1980's, biologists' interests in establishing a turkey program were rekindled. Efforts by the National Wild Turkey Federation to distribute wild turkeys in as much of the available habitat as possible also helped.

In 1987, NDOW obtained wild Rio Grande turkeys from California and released them at the Mason Valley Wildlife Management Area near Yerington. This effort was successful as the Rio Grande turkeys seemed to adapt easily to Nevada's arid climate. Since then populations of Rio Grande turkeys have been established in Churchill, Clark, Elko, Humboldt, Lander, Lincoln, Lyon and Pershing counties. Each of these counties now host annual spring turkey hunting seasons, which are growing in popularity among Nevada's hunters.

"The Department is continuing its effort to place turkeys within suitable habitat in the state. There are plans to augment existing populations and introduce birds into habitat in White Pine County. NDOW also has plans to try to place Merriam's turkeys in the more forested habitat of the Bruneau River area," said Craig Mortimore, staff upland game and waterfowl biologist for NDOW.

The Nevada Department of Wildlife (NDOW) protects, restores and manages fish and wildlife, promotes fishing, hunting, and boating safety. NDOW's wildlife and habitat conservation efforts are primarily funded by sportsmen's license and conservation fees and a federal surcharge on hunting and fishing gear. Support wildlife and habitat conservation in Nevada by purchasing a hunting, fishing, or combination license. For more information, visit www.ndow.org.