For 66 years in Yellville, Arkansas, a Turkey Trot Festival has been held on the first weekend in October. It’s not difficult to understand considering Arkansas is third among U.S. states in turkey production behind Minnesota and North Carolina. Turkey Trot festivities include a turkey calling contest, turkey dinner, a Miss Drumsticks Beauty Contest — where contestants are judged without seeing their faces or upper bodies — and a Turkey Drop.
The Turkey Drop consists of live wild turkeys being thrown out of a low flying airplane. With an altitude of around 1,000 feet and a speed of 70 mph, not all turkeys survive the drop. The ones who make it to the ground in one piece are then chased by children.
If caught, the turkey may become a pet – or dinner, depending on the whim of the child and presumably his or her parents. It was justified by assuming the turkeys who managed to scurry out of town would be increasing the wild turkey population for the next year.
Actually, the Turkey Drop started out as a Turkey Toss. The toss occurred from the County Courthouse roof. Sometime in the 1960s, the toss became the drop. In the 1970s and 1980s, animal activists protested the practice as inhumane and by 1990 no one officially supported the Turkey Drop.
The problem, though, was that Yellville natives did not agree. Private citizens continued the Turkey Drop on their own. It was considered a tradition that deserved to be carried on.
The fact remains that while wild turkeys can fly, they do it close to the ground and usually for no more than a quarter mile. Apparently the townsfolk believe turkeys can glide if they spread their wings. The reality, however, is that not all turkeys do that by instinct when thrown out of an airplane. This is evidenced by a video of last year’s event.
This year, for the 66th Annual Turkey Trot Festival, PETA (People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals) offered up to a $5,000 reward “for information leading to the arrest and conviction of anyone directly involved in this activity.”
Townspeople aren’t interested in the reward money; most want the tradition to continue as evidenced by a quote by the Yellville Chamber of Commerce President, Travis Doshier “We’d kind of like to see it happen, it’s a tradition, we’d like to see it continue.”
Dan Melton, a 54 time attendee at the Turkey Trot Festival said — referring to the $5,000 reward — “That ‘aint enough money to get him turned in. I don’t think he will get turned in for $5 million!”
The FAA (Federal Flight Administration) also got involved this year. Without condoning or condemning the Turkey Drop, the FAA does not allow anything to be dropped out of a moving plane. “If pilots are caught throwing turkeys, they can face fines or lose their license” stated KSPR News. “Potential pilots who have participated in the drop in the past took the threat seriously and didn’t fly over the festival.”
So, the good news is no turkeys were dropped from airplanes at the Yellville, Arkansas Turkey Trot Festival this year. I guess next year will need some supervision as well…
Photo of wild turkey by Bob Gutowski via Flickr