YELLVILLE, Ark.—It is October in the Ozarks. The grass has dried out and the trees have bronzed and browned. Deer lie glaze-eyed in the back of camouflaged pickup trucks. High-school football helmets crack every Friday night. And seven days a week, workers in processing plants are helping to kill, gut, pluck, and truss turkeys for Thanksgiving tables around the country.
Here in Yellville this cold and rainy weekend, there are turkeys everywhere—turkey shirts and turkey costumes and turkey paraphernalia. There is a raffle giving away birds for Thanksgiving dinner. There’s a brisk trade in turkey legs, too, pulled out of a barrel smoker. At the bandstand, a judge announces the winner of the “Miss Drumsticks” contest, who gleams and sparkles in her pageant finery. “It’s Miss Drumsticks because they’re judging who has the best thighs,” an older woman explained to me, matter-of-fact.
But—and this is unusual, and much to the dismay and consternation of many locals—there are no live turkeys. None in a cage towed behind a pickup. None thrown from the courthouse roof. None pitched off the bandstand and picked up by screaming teenagers. And none dropped out of an airplane. That is what the Yellville Turkey Trot festival is famous and infamous for, you see: living, breathing, squawking birds getting lobbed out of a low-flying aircraft.