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
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
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
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?