As we covered earlier this week, the new sponsor of the Turkey Trot has barred the practice of flinging live turkeys out of airplanes. The U.S. Congress, meanwhile, may also look in to new federal regulations to put a stop to the turkey drop once and for all.

Gene Baur, president and co-founder of the Farm Sanctuary, the national farm animal protection organization headquartered in the Finger Lakes region of upstate New York, applauded the news that the festival’s new sponsor is aiming to impose limits. Baur issued the following statement:


I was happy to learn that the Mid-Marion County Rotary Club will only sponsor the Yellville Turkey Trot only if live turkeys are not abused by being dropped out of a plane. Animal cruelty should not be condoned in a society that values compassion, and we commend the Rotary Club for speaking out against a heartless tradition that has marred the Yellville event for years. Kindness to animals is good for animals, and it’s also good for our humanity.

Farm Sanctuary, which has been vocal in its opposition to the practice of throwing live turkeys out of planes or off of tall buildings, has previously rescued survivors of the Turkey Drop in Yellville. In 2017, they brought four turkeys who survived the drop in 2017 to their shelter in Watkins Glen, New York, where medical care was needed. One had a large chest wound after a drop from a building into the scrum of people trying to capture the birds. Two of the turkeys — named John and Ringo — were shipped to a “forever home” in Southport, Connecticut.

The Yellville Chamber of Commerce threw the future of the festival into doubt earlier this month when it withdrew as sponsor “[a]fter much consideration, discussion, and soul-searching…with a heavy heart.” The annual fall festival, which has taken place for 72 years, also features a parade, food, a Miss Drumsticks beauty pageant, and so on — but it has drawn massive controversy in recent years for the practice of tossing turkeys out of planes from altitudes of 500 feet of higher. Some of these domesticated birds (not in fact wild turkeys, though they are a breed resembling wild turkeys) survive the disorienting fall; some meet gruesome ends.


A “phantom pilot” did the dirty work. The turkey drop was not officially part of the festival, although it was the main event and seemed to have continued with the acquiescence of local officials and the festival sponsor. The new sponsor, the Mid-Marion Rotary Club, has put an end to the winking charade, stepping up to organize the event but on the condition that no turkeys are on the premises or dropped from planes. If a turkey is tossed from a plane, the Rotary Club stated clearly, there will be no more Turkey Trot. The Northwest Arkansas Democrat-Gazette asked how they would enforce the rules on local pilots, who are regulated by the Federal Aviation Administration, not the Mid-Marion Rotary Club. “We know ’em all,” responded Stan Duffy, president-elect of the Rotary Club. “That’s not going to be a big deal.”

In 2016, various media outlets revealed the identity of the “phantom pilot” who has done the drops in recent years: Dana Woods, a Mountain View pharmacist who runs Woods Pharmacy and serves on the Mountain View City Council. Woods told the Democrat-Gazette in 2016, “We treat the turkeys right. … We’re good to them.” The Phantom Pilot Facebook page was defiant when news first broke that the Yellville Chamber was dropping sponsorship, stating, “It’s my understanding that though the chamber will no longer be involved, there are plans in the works to continue the festival. I wouldn’t revise my October schedule just yet.” Thus far the page has been silent since the news that the festival would indeed continue, just without the phantom menace or turkey terror.


Meanwhile, a Nevada congresswoman has taken note of the practice and is planning to push congressional action to change the FAA regulations. Under current law, the FAA has deemed the practice legal as long as the plane has an altitude of at least 500 feet and the birds aren’t dropped directly over the crowd. The Northwest Arkansas Democrat-Gazette reports that U.S. Rep. Dina Titus, D-Nev., plans to file a bill to ban the turkey drop. The law would make it illegal to drop live animals out of civilian planes in flight (sanctioned activities such as wildlife managers stocking lakes with fish from low-flying planes would still be allowed). Titus has been in active communication with the FAA and has concluded that congressional action is needed to authorize the agency to make rules regarding throwing live animals out of planes.