Pro Staff Blog

Gobbles echo throughout spring in southern Arizona's Sky Islands region

PHOENIX – The Arizona Game and Fish Department and the National Wild Turkey Federation, along with sportsmen and private citizens, successfully captured and relocated 50 Gould’s wild turkeys from the Huachuca mountains in early March. The captured birds were relocated to the Santa Rita and Catalina Mountains to help supplement existing populations and continue to expand the range of this unique but once eradicated wild turkey subspecies. The Gould’s turkey is common in Mexico, but only Arizona and New Mexico support populations in the United States.

A total of 10 gobblers and 15 hens went to each mountain range. Birds taken to the Santa Ritas were released near Josephine Canyon. Birds taken to the Catalina Mountains were released near the Rose Canyon Lake area. This is the second year that Gould’s turkeys from the Huachuca Mountains have been released into these mountain ranges, although Gould’s turkeys from Mexico have also been released here. Relocation has been the cornerstone of this restoration success story.

“It took five captures, over three weeks of very cold early mornings, to meet our capture goal and gobbler-to-hen ratio. Approximately 12-14 volunteers were available each time to assist in any way necessary,” stated John Millican, wildlife manager with the Arizona Game and Fish Department’s Tucson office. “These captures take incredible amounts of planning, coordination and participation from outside resources. Without the assistance from department personnel, volunteer sportsmen, landowners, and conservation groups, these achievements would not be possible.”

Six mountain ranges throughout southeastern Arizona now support populations of the Gould’s turkey: the Chiricahua, Pinaleno, Galiuro, Santa Rita, Catalina, and Huachuca Mountains. All of these mountain ranges are part of the Sky Islands. This 70,000-square-mile region extends from southeastern Arizona, southwestern New Mexico and the northwestern part of Mexico. The name is due to the mosaic of forested mountaintops or “islands” that are isolated from each other by vast expanses of desert or grasslands referred to as “seas.” This region encompasses one of the most diverse ecosystems in North America.

“The National Wild Turkey Federation (NWTF) is proud to play a part in the return of this native game bird to the pine and oak filled canyons of the Sky Islands. Funding from the National Wild Turkey Federation has helped make the restoration of the Gould’s wild turkey possible in southeastern Arizona. New hunting and wildlife viewing opportunities are now available to the people of Arizona due to the cooperation of public and private groups and individuals,” says John Larsen, regional director from the organization’s Arizona chapter.

The Gould’s reintroduction project began as a joint international effort with Mexico, where the first populations of Gould’s subspecies came from to restore Arizona’s historic populations during the 1980s, 1990s and early 2000s. Today, Gould’s populations in the Huachuca’s are significant and capable of sustaining further range expansion from our own populations. This translocation marks the fourth time that in-state populations have been used to continue the repopulation effort, indicating that the reintroduced Gould’s turkeys to southern Arizona are healthy and adapting well.

Big Game Program Manager Brian Wakeling explains, “The money that the department receives from the sales of special turkey hunt permit-tags, over $91,500 since 1996, has been an integral part of the restoration of Gould’s turkey to southeastern Arizona. Funding from the turkey special license tag sales covers research, monitoring, prescribed burning, water development, and other management activities for both Gould’s and Merriam’s turkeys in Arizona, activities that could not have been done without this revenue source. The National Wild Turkey Federation and their Arizona Chapter are to be commended for their efforts in marketing these great hunting opportunities.”

Wakeling continues to add, “With the restoration of the Gould’s turkey, wildlife viewing opportunities have been expanded, and many people travel to the Huachuca and Chiricahua Mountains each year just to view the relatively rare Gould’s subspecies. This is yet another example of how hunting revenues and wildlife management based on the North American Model benefit all wildlife enthusiasts.”

Translocation programs are designed to increase diversity of wildlife populations throughout the state and beyond. Turkeys nationwide have expanded from a historic low of less than 100,000 to over 7.4 million birds today. Programs are possible by funding from license sales, concerned sportsmen groups, special auction tags and other concerned conservationists. To learn more about Gould’s turkeys, the department’s repopulation programs and the management of wildlife by the North American Model, come to the free Game and Fish Outdoor Expo, on March 29-30 at the Ben Avery Shooting Facility. Experts will be on hand to answer questions about wildlife, the outdoors and more. For more information, visit .

Kevin Paulson

Kevin Paulson is the Founder and CEO of His passion for Hunting began at the age of 5 hunting alongside of his father. Kevin has followed his dreams through outfitting, conservation work, videography and hunting trips around the world.

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