Wild Turkeys

We are officially at the beginning of turkey hunting season and my husband, The Turkey Slayer was super excited. He’d never been turkey hunting and our farm neighbor, Johnny Cash was stoked to show him the ropes. Turkey Slayer was eager because, besides the new challenge of shooting a wild turkey, he would get to wear as much camo as he wanted. It seems that, unlike deer, who are a bit dim and don’t really take notice of hunters in their bright orange gear, wild turkeys are pretty wily, have great eyesight and are hard to fool. So, turkey hunters get all dressed up like Viet Cong and stalk down the enemy: Tom Turkey.

Wild turkeys used to be an interesting novelty. When our daughters were little, Turkey Slayer would take the girls on hikes in the woods or in the country. On one of those hikes, they all came across a flock of wild turkeys. “Girls look, those are wild turkeys,” he whispered to them. Our youngest, Meriwether, was about three years old and was fascinated by these strange, dark, prehistoric looking creatures. On the car ride home later, she took a swig from her sippy cup and whispered, “Dad … those turkeys were wild!” as if to say they were crazy, off the hook, unhinged.

In the years since I’ve been noticing turkeys all over the suburbs: walking past strip malls, hanging out in backyards, outside the doctor’s office. Much like suburban deer, wild turkeys are very incongruous in civilization and frankly, they’re a bit surly. Out in the country, they nibble their way across cornfields and woodlands. They stick close to the ground. They have wings but don’t use them much, kind of like tonsils or apendix. They do jump/fly up into trees to roost at night and over fences when need be, but mostly they just grouse around, hunting and pecking for food on the ground.

I was invited to go along on the turkey hunt this week but sadly could not make it. Besides, I’ve got no beef with turkeys. The closest I’ve come to one is, like most of America, on Thanksgiving Day. I’ll never forget my first turkey roasting experience. I was a young mother, about to host roughly 50 family members for Thanksgiving Dinner. The fact that I’d never roasted a turkey didn’t dissuade me. How hard could it be, right?

That day, I was up early, had already set the tables and was ready to tackle the bird. I washed him in the kitchen sink, like a chubby, slippery newborn baby, and then dried him thoroughly. My sister-in-law down the street was doing the same thing for her family and we kept calling each other for reassurance on what the hell we were doing.

“Ok, I’ve washed him and dried him. Now … where are the damned giblets?” I asked her. 

“I don’t know. I’ve been looking for them too,” she said.

“Wait … I think I found them,” I cried. “They’re in the cavity. Just reach in and grab them.”

“Ewe ... Ok, got ‘em,” she said with victory in her voice. 

“Wait … I thought there were more. This is just his neck,” I said, confused. “I guess maybe they just throw that other stuff away.”

“Yeah, that’s probably right. They’re gross anyways,” she said. “Gotta go.”

We each proceeded merrily along, basting, rubbing, stuffing and roasting our respective birds. All of the sudden, about two hours into the process, there was a commotion in my mudroom hallway.

“Stop!” someone screamed. I turned around to see my sister-in-law and her sister, falling down, laughing hysterically. “We found them!”

“What the …?”

“The giblets! They’re in the butt!” they screamed.

I gingerly opened the oven, pulled the big tom out and checked my turkey. Sure enough, there they were, giblets steaming in a paper bag shoved up his arse. I quickly extracted them and threw them in with the neck parts I had simmering on the stove and then returned my turkey to the oven.

“Good Lord,” I thought. “What a humiliation for Mr. Turkey.” This was a bird that Benjamin Franklin lobbied to make our national bird, so impressed was he by the turkey’s intelligence and stature (take that, Bald Eagle). Now, the poor species have been domesticated and humiliated with his kibbles and bits shoved up his downside. Quite a fall from grace, I would say.

But he is tasty.

The Turkey Slayer sadly returned from his hunt empty-handed. “I got close to a couple of hens. We kept calling back and forth to a tom, but … nothing …” he sighed, plopping down on the couch. “Turns out the darned guy was toying with us all along, strutting around in a field of horses the whole time. Bastard …”

“Too bad, sweetie,” I said, rubbing his head. “But, you’re a mild-mannered guy. I don't think you stood a chance against them. You know … those turkeys are wild.”

He could have been our national bird, but he was too wild.

He could have been our national bird, but he was too wild.