When Bob Jepsen was first elected to Mendon’s City Council, turkeys only crossed his mind around Thanksgiving. Now, he said, they are a constant worry.
“It seems like every year the turkey population increases,” Jepsen said.
Wild turkeys, driven by deep snow and lack of food, have become a typical sight in cities like Mendon over the winter months, he said.
In response to complaints from citizens and city officials, the Utah Division of Wildlife Resources increased available turkey hunting permits from around 500 to 2,500 in 2018. The permits sold out.
“They are smart birds; they will move when their friends get shot,” wildlife biologist Jim Christensen said. “Turkeys are very responsive to hunting pressures.”
Christensen said managing populations is the key to keeping turkeys out of the city.
Turkey hunter and Wellsville native Kaden McArthur disagrees.
“You can increase the permits by 1,000 percent, but it just chases them out of the mountains,” he said.
McArthur said while turkeys may be responsive to the hunting, their response is moving into the cities for protection.
In 2013, the Division of Wildlife Resources opened up a second turkey hunt each year, in the fall. McArthur said this fall hunt is what really seems to cause problems.
“Unless you are taking out enough turkeys to counteract the push,” he said, “you are probably just bringing more turkeys into the city.”
The division also expanded the types of guns allowed in the hunt and allowed three turkeys per hunter.
Jason Robinson, the upland game coordinator for the Division of Wildlife Resources, said this “will give avid turkey hunters more chances to go hunt.”
McArthur said the three-turkey availability limits the hunt to only those with enough prowess to successfully bag turkeys.
Turkeys may be chased out of the mountains by gunfire or snow, but Lynn Worwood, the Utah Save the Hunt coordinator for the National Wild Turkey Federation, said one thing is definitely pulling them in.
“Some people who complain about turkeys have neighbors with 150-gallon feeders,” Worwood said. “The problem is some people hate them, and others are trying to attract them.”
While the hunt is controversial, officials and hunters agree that trapping and removing nuisance turkeys is the best solution.
“Trapping is a benefit to both the consumptive and non-consumptive user,” Worwood said.
He said consumptive users, like hunters, still get to hunt turkey when they are removed, and the non-consumptive users, like those who feed turkeys, do not have to see turkeys killed and can still find an abundance in the mountains.
The Division of Wildlife Resources has already received multiple complaints of turkeys in residential areas in Mendon and Wellsville, Christensen said.
“But we are not going to wait as long; we are going to start trapping sooner,” he said.
When turkeys are trapped from Cache Valley, they are taken to the Book Cliffs, south of the Uinta mountain range, Christensen said.
“There is plenty of habitat up there, tons of open space,” he said.
There are also no towns within 50 miles, and thus no bird feeders, Worwood said.