Wild Turkey

With Thanksgiving just around the corner, one’s thoughts naturally turn to turkeys. And, no, I don’t mean Obamacare: I mean real turkeys, especially wild ones. Wild turkeys were just about extinct not many years ago–like Canada geese, amazingly enough–and until quite recently, hardly anyone had ever seen a wild turkey.

I first learned about a turkey resurgence when my older brother, at that time a near-professional hunter who lives in our ancestral home of South Dakota, regaled me with stories of wild turkey hunting in the Black Hills. This is when various agencies had supervised the planting of turkey populations in the wild and had concluded that the time was right to start hunting them. My brother told me stories about how much fun he and his friends had over the preceding several years, loading their shotguns into the back of a van along with numerous cases of beer, and trekking eight hours across the state to the Black Hills, where they had a fine time hunting wild turkeys.

“But Paul,” I said, “you keep telling me how much fun you have hunting wild turkeys, but you’ve never mentioned actually shooting one.”

Shoot one,” he answered, with a horrified look. “Hell, we’ve never even seen one!”

Heh. But that was then, and this is now. Today, wild turkeys have made a huge comeback and are everywhere, like in my yard:


The linked article suggests that there may be seven million wild turkeys in the U.S. That sounds low to me. Driving from Minneapolis to South Dakota a year or two ago, I glanced sideways into a shelter belt and saw twenty or thirty turkeys just sitting there–an impressive sight. Enough to make you wish you’d brought a shotgun or two.

Around the same time, there was a wild turkey in my home town in South Dakota that had a bad habit of attacking cars on the street. We were driving along one day when he dashed at us from the left. My oldest daughter captured this photo of the turkey on her phone:


We were sad to read a few weeks later in the local newspaper that the authorities had to put the turkey down: he wouldn’t stop attacking passers-by.

All of this is a far cry from the days, not many years ago, when wild turkeys had pretty much vanished from North America. Their comeback is one of many similar stories of resurgent wildlife. And unlike, say, coyotes and foxes, they are good to eat. One real delicacy is a half-wild turkey: the product of a wild tom turkey making its way into a domestic turkey barn. If you see a half-wild turkey between now and Thursday, buy it!