Al Campbell, Field Editor

November 25th, 2002

Great Thanksgiving Turkey Hunt
By Al Campbell

Growing up in Montana presented my childhood buddies and me with some incredible outdoor opportunities. Deer and elk tags were sold over the counter. None of us had ever heard of a lottery system for tags or waiting several years in a row to hunt our favorite big game animals. We lived in a place that was rich in wildlife, and we didn't know that people in other states were often deprived of the same opportunities we had.


Unfortunately, there was one game animal we had never hunted. In fact, none of us could ever remember seeing one. Sure, we had looked at pictures and drawings of this mythical creature, but for all our observations of nature, not one of us could remember ever seeing one in the wild. Observation is proof of existence as far as I'm concerned. Each of us had observed jackalopes mounted on the walls of restaurants and gas stations, so even though we had never observed such a beast in the wild, there was solid evidence of jackalopes to be observed. Yup, stuffed and mounted on a wall is evidence enough to proclaim that jackalopes exist.

However, we had never observed any concrete evidence of the existence of wild turkeys. As far as we were concerned, the wild turkey was a myth dreamed up by creative teachers to give us something to draw and talk about around the end of November. For that matter, we couldn't remember seeing a pilgrim either, so maybe that was a myth too. Just to be sure, the only scientific way to prove our theory was to try to bag one of those mythical birds for the Thanksgiving dinner.

Darnit Stammer was the first to suggest the great turkey hunt. Hic Belcher and I were pretty sure it was a waste of time, but you can't let a friend chase mythical creatures alone, so we grabbed our pellet guns and headed for Farmer Jones' hay field down by the river. If anybody could catch a mythical creature, we could. We had watched Daniel Boone and The American Sportsman on TV, so we were educated in the art of hunting. Could it be much harder to hunt mythical creatures?

The first thing we had to do was establish what a real wild turkey looked like; that is, if such a thing really exists. We all agreed that they were bigger than crows. Supposedly they have big tails, but we all doubted they were as big as the tails we were forced to draw on the turkeys we created in school. We finally decided the main thing to look for was a bright red head. If it was big, dark, had a fairly long tail, and had a red head, it was a turkey.

As luck would have it, an old cow had recently died down by the river. To our surprise, there were about a dozen big, dark birds with bright red heads standing on the cow. Maybe we had been a little hasty in our belief that turkeys were a myth. Our next problem was finding a way to sneak close enough to get a shot.

As we were crawling across the rough hay field, Darnit decided the birds looked more like vultures than turkeys. Hic and I knew better. Vultures live in Africa and eat dead elephants and zebras. Those birds were pecking at a dead cow, not a dead elephant, and we had never heard any myths about vultures in Montana, so they couldn't be vultures. Nope, they were big, had fairly long tails even if they weren't all spread out, and they had the convincing red heads. If they were anything, they had to be turkeys. That's what we were hunting, so that's what they were.

Funny, our turkeys didn't seem very scared of us. They let us crawl within fifteen feet of them before they started flapping their wings and screeching at us. I thought turkeys were supposed to gobble. Maybe they just gobble when they spread their tails out? It didn't matter. We each picked out a bird, aimed at the head and fired. We nearly had to fight the other turkeys to claim our birds.

Wild turkeys must be a lot smaller than butterball turkeys. Our birds looked pretty small, and they had real long wings; but they had red heads, so they were turkeys, just small turkeys. When I walked through the door my mother looked surprised. As I told her about our turkey hunt, she covered her mouth and turned her back a couple of times to hide her amazement.

My mother had to admit that she didn't know how to pluck a wild turkey, so she called Hic's mother and then Darnit's mother to see if they knew how to prepare such a wild bird. They finally agreed that the best way to get the job done right was to take the birds to the local butcher and let him do it.

That was one good butcher. In less than an hour he had plucked and frozen all three birds. To top it off, he somehow had managed to make our birds look and feel about twice as big as they were with their feathers on. My mother said it cost nearly as much to have the butcher prepare the wild birds as it would have cost for her to just buy one, so she didn't think we needed to hunt turkeys anymore.

That turkey sure tasted great on Thanksgiving Day. I swear; it was as good as a store bought bird. My dad and mom smiled a lot during the dinner as I told them again about the great hunt. I think they were trying to hide how proud they were of their hunter son. Hic and Darnit said their parents acted the same way.

We didn't hunt wild turkeys after that. We had proved our point. As I grew older and saw more wild turkeys, my memories of those first turkeys seemed to fade. In fact, as I remember them now, they looked a lot more like buzzards than the turkeys that grow here in South Dakota. Maybe Montana turkeys look different? We'll never know for sure, will we? ~ AC

Previous Al Campell Columns

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