What’s the one place you can go this Thanksgiving to get your organic, free-range, no-hormones-added turkey without the lines: outside! Hunting, cleaning and cooking your own wild turkey for Thanksgiving can be a great but daunting experience. We’ve compiled some useful tips from top hunters, adventurers, outdoorsmen and chefs to make your wild Thanksgiving a little easier.
Hunting turkeys in the Fall requires a different mentality than hunting during the Spring mating season. The Fall is when family flocks are roaming around looking for food instead of trying to find a mate, so there’s a few strategies specific for the Fall season. Below are some common tips we found across the online turkey hunting community, and more great hunting tips specifically for Fall can be found over at Wild Turkey Report and the Turkey and Turkey Hunting blog.
Scout & Scatter
While looking for droppings, scratchings, tracks and feathers is business as usual for turkey hunting in every season, listening (especially in heavily wooded areas where visibility is lower) can sometimes result in finding a group faster. Once you’ve found your flock, do your best to scatter in all directions, then set up near the center of where the turkeys are scattered. Firing a shot can be more effective if you find roosted birds as they will immediately fly out of the trees in every direction.
If your hunting in an area with lots of open spaces and a good vantage point over a flock, figuring out where the flock is going may be more effective than scattering. Watch the group and predict the flock’s path, then plan a route to intercept. Remember to move quickly and quietly so you can set up before the flock arrives.
Man’s Best Friend
Properly trained hunting dogs can be incredibly useful for turkey hunting but are surprisingly overlooked. Fall hunting season is a great time to use your four legged partner and test their training during a hunt. During the Fall season, dogs are primarily used to track down and scatter and flock, giving you a chance to intercept. In the Spring dogs are used to locate and assist running down a bird once it’s wounded, and thus must have a higher level of training so as not to ruin the hunt by making their presence known. Remember, using dogs for turkey hunting during the Fall season isn’t legal in all states.
States that prohibit hunting with dogs during the Fall season are: AL, AR, AZ, FL, IL, IN, MA, MN, MO, NM, OK, RI, SD, WA.
States without a Fall turkey hunting season: AK, DE, GA, LA, NC, SC, UT
State legislation information and more great tips on turkey hunting with dogs are available at http://www.turkeydog.org
After you’ve bagged your tom, there’s still a lot of work to be done before your turkey is ready for seasoning and a few hours in the oven. Hunter, writer, adventurer and modern pioneer Georgia Pellegrini(@GPellegrini) wrote a fantastically detailed guide on how to field dress and butcher a freshly caught turkey. By detailed, we mean photos of each step, so please be warned the post is not for the faint of heart.
Here is an additional resource from the National Wild Turkey Federation on cleaning and field dressing a bagged turkey with illustrations instead of photos.
If you’re cooking a turkey from the wild, it’s not going to be a plump Buterball bird that spent its life on a farm. Wild turkeys are lean, and therefore require a slightly different approach when it comes to cooking them. In the spirit of eating the wild bird you hunted, we found an excellent recipe from The Wild Chef for cooking your wild turkey over an open fire.
The Turkey and Turkey Hunting Blog give detailed information about how to smoke, grill, fry, roast, and just about every other method of cooking for nearly any sized turkey.
If you’re tired of turkey every year and want to try something new, check out Outside Online’s list of 5 wild meat alternatives (it even includes a vegan option).