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If You Didn’t Hunt Your Own Thanksgiving Turkey, You’re Doing It Wrong

In honor of Thanksgiving, let’s all remember where our fine food comes from––starting with the turkey that adorns our tables.


I spent my young adulthood at East Coast ivy leagues. Unfortunately, my grandmother Bookie was somewhat disturbed by this. As part of her campaign to remind me of my Southern roots, Bookie called every fall to announce that hunting season had officially opened.

Now, when my Alabama relatives talk about hunting, they don’t mean rooting through the freezer case at the Winn-Dixie, looking for a Butterball big enough to feed Uncle Jimmy (itself a daunting task). No, they’re talking about the real deal, where you get up before the crack of dawn, dress in several layers of camouflage, hop in the bed of the old pickup truck, bump along country back roads, tromp through the forest, climb up into the tree stand, and sit. And sit. And sit. And sit.

Eventually, your butt falls asleep and you have to adjust your position slightly. At that point Cousin Bubba jabs you and says, “Shh! You’re scaring away the deer!” Scaring away what deer?

Now, if Bubba had ever let me hold the gun, I might have enjoyed hunting more. As it was, the best part for me was afterwards, sitting around the kitchen table, listening to my grandfather Bobo’s stories, which were always about hunting turkey.

In case you aren’t familiar, there are five subspecies of wild turkey in North America: the Eastern wild turkey, the Osceola wild turkey, the Rio Grande wild turkey, Merriam’s wild turkey, and Gould’s wild turkey. If you bag four out of the five subspecies of wild turkey in one season, it’s called a Grand Slam. If you bag all five of the subspecies in one season, it’s called a Royal Slam.

To Bobo and his compatriots, the pursuit of the Grand Slam was a noble endeavor. None of this sitting around in tree stands business––no, turkeys are too smart for that. To catch a wild turkey, you must become a master of disguise: you must become a wild turkey.

Becoming A Wild Turkey

At this point in the story, Bobo would bring out his collection of gobbling devices––mouthpieces, called diaphragms, that look like retainers. Unlike retainers, however, upon insertion these diaphragms allow you to make authentic wild turkey noises. Bobo described creeping through the woods, using his gobbling devices to call a turkey closer, closer…

One time Bobo got the crazies after a long hunting trip. Bobo’s doctor, who must have been a hunter, made the diagnosis: poisoning. Turns out Bobo’s favorite diaphragms were made out of lead. Bobo switched to plastic after that.

While he never quite achieved a Grand Slam, Bobo and his gobbling devices brought home some trophy birds. Nothing was wasted. Bookie cooked a wonderful turkey feast, complete with giblet gravy. Meanwhile, Bobo’s taxidermist mounted the turkey fans on wall plaques, kind of like Thanksgiving arts and crafts for adults, and we grandchildren got to play with the turkey feet and beard.

Maybe you have never played with a turkey beard before. Let me tell you, those birds can grow some serious facial hair. Thick, black, and about nine inches long––talk about No Shave November. Most impressively, 10 to 20 percent of female turkeys also grow beards, which makes me thankful for tweezers.

In my middle age, I returned to the South. My husband and I have a hobby farm, and somehow we acquired an Eastern wild turkey. “Creepy Stalker” prowls the property on tall, skinny legs, ignoring both fences and predators. In the springtime, when love fills the air, Creepy follows me a little too close for comfort (thus the name), so I give him a few good squirts with the garden hose, to remind him that no means no.

We also keep a flock of domesticated turkeys, a heritage breed called Bourbon Reds. As you would expect from the name, they are delicious. My husband and I have talked about inviting Creepy Stalker for Thanksgiving dinner, but Creepy seems to read our minds.  In the fall, he is always on his best behavior.

As we enjoy food and family this season, let’s raise a glass to the bird of honor. From the Butterball in the freezer case to the Eastern roaming the wild––or the homestead––this song is for all you turkeys:

A turkey sat on a backyard fence, and he sang this sad, sad tune,

‘Thanksgiving Day is coming, gobble-gobble, gobble-gobble,

And I know I’ll be eaten soon!

Gobble-gobble, gobble-gobble, gobble-gobble, gobble,

I would like to run away.

Gobble-gobble, gobble-gobble, gobble-gobble, gobble,

I don’t like Thanksgiving Day!