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.

Oh. Deer.

I have always loved nature and animals. I spent most of the summers in my youth outdoors either weeding for my father or trying to avoid doing so by hiding from him in the woods behind our house. In all those formative years, I rarely, if ever saw a deer in our neighborhood, in the woods behind our house, in the Metroparks, which I would frequent as a teenager, or even on road trips to the West Virginia resort my family would visit every year. The closest I ever came to a deer was watching Bambi on the Wonderful World of Disney on Sunday nights after a bath.

Today, it is a different story. As anyone who lives in the suburbs – or even urban neighborhoods – will tell you, deer are omnipresent. They are as commonplace as squirrels and way, way more obnoxious. When I’m working in the garden in my suburban back yard, I will often scare one up, waking her from her comfortable nap in my hostas. She will slowly get up and stroll away, muttering obscenities to me under her breath. She and her deer buddies in our neighborhood are like a marauding gang, roaming around with impunity, thuggish and ballsy. They just don’t give a what. When they cross a street, they seem to purposely take their time doing so.

“Yeah, I’m strolling across this major thoroughfare, stopping traffic both ways. And you’re just going to sit there in your minivan and take it, lady.”

And they’re a randy bunch, procreating with abandon. Every time I turn around there’s another newborn fawn all curled up and cozy in someone’s front yard. Mrs. Deer, you really need to take up another hobby. Sure, those babies are precious … until they’re eating my landscaping.

When I’m cooking on the grill in my suburban back yard, a deer will stand there, chewing and staring at me blankly. “Um, Mar,” he seems to say. “Those burgers seem to be overdone. And while we’re talking about food … you really need to plant more pansies in the front yard. I started nibbling on them this morning and before I knew it, I had eaten the whole bed.  They are like potato chips … you can’t have just one. Anyway, you’re going to want to plant more pansies, Mar.”

I hate urban deer. And I hate the silly fools who feed them.

Last week on our annual family vacation in West Virginia I witnessed a flock of these fools (I am referring to people here) hand feeding a veritable herd of deer. It was like a Disney World character autograph scrum.

“Here, Bambi! Have some Cap’n Crunch.”

“Why, thank you kind, simple tourist. And for your troubles, I will in turn give you some ticks with Lyme disease.” Lyme Disease is real and not something to trifle with, people. That stuff will mess you up.

The sad truth is that these suburban deer are eating everything in their path because they’re starving. The combination of urban sprawl and deer’s propensity to reproduce faster than post war Catholics is giving us deer that are too skinny and unhealthy. Those deer on the resort hilltop were like ghostly apparitions. Honestly, there are just too damned many deer for urban environments to sustain. Or West Virginia resorts, for that matter.

Out in the country around our farm, however, deer are deer. They are muscular and majestic because they are fit and living like wild animals, not pathetic circus sideshow acts. They are beautiful, really, just like The Great Prince of the Forest, Bambi’s father.  They are appropriately skittish and mostly keep away from humans because they have gotten the message that humans out there in the country are often packing heat and they and their deer friends just might end up on someone’s wall or dinner plate. But the result is that the deer population is under control, they are not overrunning the area and there is enough vegetation for them to live healthy, happy lives. Out there, I don’t hate deer.

My husband, The Deer Hunter, loves deer. In fact, he went so far as to plant apple trees on our farm so that they could treat themselves as they pass through our property. “Oh, that’s so sweet!” I exclaimed.  “What a nice thing to do for them.”

“Yeah,” he nodded.  “It’s going to make for a great deer hunting season.”

Wait. What? He is planning on getting them fat and happy only to shoot them some time in the future? It made me sad.

But then I thought of those ghostly deer on the hilltop or the Sharks and Jets deer gangs in our neighborhood back home.  I’m no hunter, have no interest personally in killing deer and am not fond of venison. But seeing firsthand the difference between healthy deer and sickly deer, I’ve come to the realization that hunting deer is a necessary part of keeping nature natural and the deer population as a whole healthy.  I know Bambi’s mother was taken out by a deer hunter (don’t all Disney mothers find tragic, untimely ends?), and that broke my little heart. But isn’t it also heartbreaking to see a once majestic beast reduced to eating boxed cereal or anything out of a human's hand?

Please stop the madness!  Postscript: THE HOUR I posted this blog, my dog was attacked by a deer on the back steps of our suburban home. They are not cute, people! 

Please stop the madness!

Postscript: THE HOUR I posted this blog, my dog was attacked by a deer on the back steps of our suburban home. They are not cute, people!