Wild Turkeys almost disappeared from North America, but they have since made an incredible comeback! Now they are almost everywhere except Alaska from what I hear. During the ten months I lived in the wilds of Louisiana in 2010, I only went into town every two weeks for supplies, but I was amazed how many times wild turkeys, or whole families of wild turkeys would cross the road as I patiently waited in my truck for them to safely get from field to forest.
Contrary to folklore, turkeys aren’t dumb; correction, wild turkeys aren’t dumb, though commercial turkeys may be. Wild turkeys are good at avoiding hunters, but unfortunately, they aren’t so good at avoiding vehicles on the road. One of my Cajun adopted families was enjoying my campsite one day, when a Ford Ranger pickup truck stopped at my site. A young family of five had been enjoying a drive through the forest on this beautiful afternoon, when they accidentally hit a Tom that had dashed in front of the truck. “He’s still alive, maybe we only stunned him. He’s in the truck bed, would you take care of him for us?” the father implored with his three young children listening from the back seat. “I’ll do what I can,” I replied. Being a Tree Hugging, Dirt Worshiper, my first wish was that the poor Tom really was just stunned, but after I removed him from the back of the truck it was apparent that like Humpty-Dumpty, the poor guy couldn’t be put back together again. His pelvis was broken and he barely had the strength to raise his head. The young mother of the family thanked me for helping out before they drove away. I suspect mom and dad weren’t ready to explain to the little ones where Thanksgiving dinner came from just yet.
Once they were out of sight, I put poor Tom out of his misery. I’d only cleaned a bird once before, but I had read that you needed to let them bleed out. Being in a wilderness area filled with predators such as gators, wild cats, wild boar, bobcats and if the locals were true, jaguars, and worst of all Federal Agents, it’s important to bleed the bird away from your camp, in the woods. So I tied Tom’s feet together, attached a weight to the other end of my paracord, tossed the weighted end over a limb about fifteen feet off the ground and raised Tom up. Not all the way, I didn’t want raccoons to have easy access, so I reckon ol’ Tom was about ten feet off the ground and five feet from the limb. It didn’t matter. Some wily coon during the night was able to jump from the limb above, latch on to ol’ Tom and make off with a wing before Max, New Moon and I rose at dawn.
Having only once dressed and cleaned fowl before (twenty years ago I answered a knock at my front door to find a boy of about five years old, standing next to my husky, Lobo. “Mr.? Will you make your dog let go of my chicken?”), and not having any containers large enough to scald the bird I was forced to go medieval, using just my hands, one of my great knives and pliers to remove all the feathers. I set ol’ Tom’s beard aside in remembrance of his sacrifice. It took hours. Do you know what a “gullet” is? I’d heard the term my entire life without understanding what one actually is. On a turkey, it’s a chamber above the breast that pre-digests grains before they reach the stomach for digestion. Tom had been eating well and this gullet was full of wild seeds from the forest and surrounding fields. Once the gullet was clean it was time for the serious gutting. Since I love to cook, especially preparing holiday feasts it was easy to identify the giblets, liver and heart and set them aside. Anything the dogs and I wouldn’t consume was shared with the creatures around us; ravens and crows, fish, turtles and gators in the lake and even some treats for the coons who had already helped themselves to our unscheduled Thanksgiving dinner.
Tom was big, even when dressed. My small smoker/grill couldn’t accommodate him whole, so I quartered him in a sense; I kept the breast whole and stuffed it, then cooked the legs, thighs and wings separately. I smoked ol’ Tom for two reasons; 1) I love smoked meats and slow cooking and 2) given the fines I had heard about, up to $1500 for taking fowl out of season, far more than I could afford at the time. There are a number of states and jurisdictions that now allow folks to take Road-Kill as food, after getting permission from the Police State, of course, but as far as I know Sportsman’s Paradise is unlikely to follow suit because locals pretty much hunt and fish whenever they feel like it anyway.
Ol’ Tom was delicious and kept Max, New Moon and I fed well for five days! And not a bit was wasted, whatever we didn’t eat was shared with our wild friends and neighbors in the forest.
The following pictures are not of Ol’ Tom. I’m not stupid enough to take photos of my crime, but they do represent the recovery of Wild Turkeys and approximate how I prepare turkey for a feast.
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