Wild turkeys are relative newcomers to Wyoming, arriving here as recently as 1935 when New Mexico swapped 15 for a passel of sage grouse. A study of pre-Columbus North America shows the wild birds’ native range stopping short of the Equality State.
They were, however, one of the few species domesticated in the Americas before Columbus landed in the New World. Alpacas, llamas, guinea pigs and dogs were the other main ones.
Scientists believe Merriam’s turkeys were the only pre-Columbian turkeys domesticated in what is now the U.S. They were bred, in part, for ceremonial feathers.
Hunters shoot about 3,000 wild turkeys a year in Wyoming, according to Wyoming Game and Fish Department statistics. The agency sells about 7,000 licenses a year and hunters take about seven days to get a bird.
The Wyoming variety is named after C. Hart Merriam, the first chief biologist of the U.S. Biological Survey. They are known for the white tips on the tail feathers of male birds. They weigh from 14 to more than 22 pounds and are the largest game bird in North America.