The end is nigh… Spring is upon us. In my world there are two seasons: hunting season, and that garbage that most people call summer. But if I have to use your “standards” of the seasons, my list of favorites goes like this: Fall, Winter, Spring, and garbage (summer). Yes there is some summer fishing that can be done, but it is not enjoyable to me at all. I don’t like to be hot! I don’t mind sweating, (hell, I sweat all fall and winter, hiking into stands and hauling decoys all over in waist deep snow and muck) I just do not personally enjoy being super warm without refuge from it (probably not going to move to Arizona… ever!). With spring on its way, and the local reg’s matching the dates on our calendars, it is time to get back out to the woods and knock some of the dust off our boots. As of April 15, 2017 bear and turkey are officially open in Idaho, and depending on who you talk to, the pike bite is picking up pretty well also (maybe a blog for next week?) But for today I want to focus on turkey, the most expensive, least edible, and most frustrating game bird known to man…
“I am on this account not displeased that the Figure is not known as a Bald Eagle, but looks more like a Turkey. For the Truth the Turkey is in Comparison a much more respectable Bird, and withal a true original Native of America… He is besides, though a little vain & silly, a Bird of Courage, and would not hesitate to attack a Grenadier of the British Guards who should presume to invade his Farm Yard with a red Coat on.”
That is what Benjamin Franklin said about the wild turkey, in respects to the imagery that was picked for the seal of the United States in regards to the bald eagle. Given, I think people back in those days had a fair amount more dry humor then we give them credit for. The wild turkey (Meleagris gallopavo) is a hell of a bird, the males (tom’s) weigh around 17 pounds when mature (but can grow to a size of 24 pounds in some places), and the females (hen’s) tip the scale at somewhere between 5.5 and 11 pounds. They grow everywhere, according to Wikipedia the distribution is exclusive to the eastern part of the US and the far western coast. But we all know that’s wrong. When I have Fridays off, I pick my son up from school and he insists that we take a special loop on the way home. It isn’t far from town at all, but it loops up onto one of the most populated mountain terrains in Coeur d’Alene (Nettleton gulch) and it is not out of the ordinary to see in upwards of 30 turkeys on a trip. Turkey are everywhere, and ripe for the taking ( tags are only $19.75) I personally have shot quite a few turkeys, and as wild turkeys go, I much prefer the one in the bottle over the one in the woods, but a lot of that had to do with my misinformation of the breed. Wild turkey come in 6 varieties: Eastern, Osceola, Rio Grande, Merriam’s, Gould’s, and the South Mexican Wild turkey. Each having a different range, and a slightly different appearance according to the terrain in which they range. Notice nowhere in there did I mention a subspecies know as “butter ball”, The turkey that you get for free for buying $100 worth of groceries in November, has very little resemblance with the feathered velociraptor that stalks our back woods daily. Natural wild turkey is LEAN, unless you get the opportunity to harvest a bird that has been grazing on grain fields, chances are your bird will look about like a child-sized basketball made of liver once you get it plucked. This is where I made my first mistakes cooking wild turkey. I used a marinade injector, then brined the turkey. After 24 hours, I deep-fried it. It tasted like shoe leather. The fact is that the meat often times have little fat content in that, your chances of a moist bird are very limited. Unless you play to the favor of the meat. Let me introduce you to two of my friends: Barding, and Larding. Barding is a cooking process in which you cover a cut of meat with fat before it is roasted. (think “Epic meal time’s” bacon weave) The idea is simple, by adding fat to the outside of the meat you are lowering the chances of scorching the meat, while at the same time constantly basting the cut with rendered fat. Why? Because its delicious (and as a side note, as meat cooks it will expel juice, but adding fat back to lean cuts of meat, it will actually replace those lost fluids with the fat and salt, thus creating a more juicy and flavorful meal) larding, on the other hand is a little more involved. Larding is a process in which fat is actually injected into the meat as opposed to just being wrapped around it. Typically pork fat-back was chilled and cut into long shoelace shaped pieces. Once your meat is trimmed to size, the cook uses a long hallow needle with a wooden handle (or as I like to refer to it, “a pork sword”) to force the fat inside tough or lean cuts of meat, thus creating marbling. Both of these processes lend themselves well to wild turkey, as does a marinade of your bird in italian salad dressing. Cook Wild turkey as you please (most cooking methods work well) just remember that tougher meat fibers tend to break down better with a low and slow cooking process. I prefer to smoke wild turkeys, and finish them off with a glaze (olive oil, minced garlic, salt, pepper, green onion and apricot or orange marmalade).
Now you know how to cook one, all you have to do is kill one right? Turkey hunting can be frustrating and expensive if you are not careful. The flip side to that coin is that it can actually be a relatively inexpensive pursuit if you know what you are looking for, and what you trying to get out of it.
Most turkey hunters will rant and rave about their vest, and rightfully so. A well planned out turkey vest puts all of the hunters most needed items at their finger tips. The problem is, to a new hunter, you don’t know exactly what you will need. A quick glance at Cabela’s website will give you quite an idea of what you are looking at in different price ranges. $29.99 wll get you into a H.S. Strut Men’s strut turkey vest, all the way up to $149.99 for the Cabelas mens tactical tat’r II. What you gain with the much more expensive vest is way more pockets, and a much more comfortable seat (yes the seat is actually an integrated part of the vest) The problem with a bulkier vest (besides the size alone) is the fact that if you have more pockets, you will want to carry more stuff. More stuff equates to more money spent just filling those pockets up, and more weight. I personally don’t hunt with a vest (I am not against them, I just don’t have one, and I don’t really want to spend the money for one) I prefer to use a backpack. Any old camo backpack will do. It can hold all of your regular gear, as well as your lunch and water bottle. As for calls, I prefer box and pot style calls.
Box calls are pretty much exactly what they sound like. It is a box with a conditioned paddle that when slid across the top of the box with mimic turkey sounds (cuts, click, clucks, yelps, and purrs) all while amplifying the sound with the tuned sound board. Box calls tend to be pretty user-friendly, and are reasonably affordable ($15 on the low side and in upwards of $150 on the high side) with a little practice at your home, you can be sounding like a turkey in no time.
Pot calls, (often refered to as slate or glass calls) work a little different, you actually use the striker to drag across the surface of the call to emulate the sounds of turkeys. The surface of the call must be maintained (glass and crystal faces are “prepped” or sanded with 60 grit sandpaper, aluminum or slate faces with no heavier the 220 grit (I actually prefer scotch bright pads)) and every attempt must be made to keep finger oils of the surface of the call. A pot style call, and a little practice can go along way towards putting a tom in your freezer, it does take a little more practice, but its more versatile. prices are about the same as box calls, ranging from $15 to well over $150.
Turkey gun’s and ammo are where a lot of hunter start piling up the bills. While you can spend several thousand dollars on a short-barreled shotgun for shooting turkeys, you can also just use whatever shotgun you already own and call it a day (that’s what I do). Yes I own a 3 1/2″ magnum 12 gauge shotgun, but I didn’t buy it for turkey hunting, I bought it for hunting ducks and geese, and it will kill turkey like nobodies business. Do you need a 3 1/2″ to kill turkeys? I killed all of my turkeys with 3″ and they never knew the difference. The biggest thing is to buy decent ammo, and sight in your shotgun. Some hunters prefer reflex sights like the Burris Fastfire but I tend to be a little more of a traditionalist, and just run beads. As for ammo, normal turkey loads come in box’s of 10 rounds and range in cost from $10-$29.99 a box. I recommend buying a couple of boxes and patterning your gun to see what shoots best. My personal favorite is Winchester Double X 3 1/2″ 12 gauge shells, shooting 2 1/4 ounce of #5 shot at about 1150 fps. Be warned though, turkey loads have a lot more recoil then your run of the mill trap loads, and you might have a little armpit hickey to prove to your friends what a turkey hunting fool you are.
In spite of making it sound a lot harder than it actually is, turkey hunting is pretty affordable. a $20 tag (good for 1 tom in spring, or if you don’t end up punching your tag in the spring, you can use it in the fall for either a tom or a hen) a $15 box call, a $10 box of shells, your old shotgun, your deer hunting camo, and a free saturday you have as good of chance as anyone of bringing home a gobbler. In spring look for turkeys in areas where the snow is receding. Turkeys will follow the snow line looking for bugs that have recently been let loose of their snowed in dens. If all else fails, drive to an area that looks like it may hold turkeys, and let a few calls rip… You might be surprised what answers!
-Grant Willoughby 4/16/2017-