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Advertisement Thanksgiving turkey not challenging enough? Try catching one from an airplane
by Dan Brawner Columnist · November 30th, 2017


This year, I ordered a fresh 22-pound turkey from the local grocery store. I didn't have to hunt it or shoot it or pluck its feathers or scoop out any unpleasant innards. The only hard part was lifting the darned thing. According to the National Turkey Federation, last Thanksgiving, Americans ate around 45 million turkeys. Turkey farming has made acquiring a Thanksgiving turkey pretty easy.

For some in Arkansas, though, maybe it's not challenging enough. For more or less the last 71 years, the town of Yellville, Arkansas, (population 1,204) has held its annual Turkey Trot Festival, drawing large crowds and bringing in much-needed revenue to the town. Lately, however, the festival has been drawing some unwanted attention from animal rights groups that object to the way the birds are treated. It's not that the fact that the folks of Yellville get to chase and catch the turkeys - which is probably somewhat frightening for the birds. It's that, first, the turkeys are thrown out of a plane at an altitude of 500 feet.

Of course, we're talking about wild variety turkeys, which can naturally sort of fly and glide. A domesticated turkey, however, is literally too fat to fly and, if thrown from a plane, would have the glide ratio of a bowling ball. No turkey can fly like an eagle or even sustain flight longer than about 100 yards. Their glycogen, the chemical that powers flying muscles, is used up in short bursts like nitro in a dragster. Domestic turkeys are bred to be so top-heavy that their breast muscles would literally rip out the ligaments and tendons of their wings if they tried to fly. Fortunately, because domestic turkeys are raised in pens with no predators around and are bred for tranquility, they don't feel much like flying anyway.

Last year at the Turkey Trot, out of the dozen turkeys that, um, participated, two died on impact, but the rest managed to flap their wings enough to survive. Theoretically, any turkey that isn't killed by the fall or captured (and presumably eaten) by a contestant, can escape to freedom, although the odds are against it. The whole involuntary skydiving thing sounds barbarous and creepy. Given a choice, why would any turkey want to jump out of a perfectly good airplane? In his online blog, Max Brantley, a senior editor for the Arkansas Times decried the turkey drop as "inhumane," writing, "They could probably get a good crowd in Yellville for a drawing and quartering, too." He added bitterly, "Here's an idea for sport: A drop of frozen Butterball turkeys from 500 feet over the cheering crowd." Sizing up my 22-pound turkey, I'm just as glad I didn't have to chase it down myself. And if these monsters could fly, for Thanksgiving, I think I would skip the turkey altogether and stick to the mashed potatoes and biscuits.
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