Food & Drink

Wild turkey a wholesome meal, rewarding hunt

Wildside: Looking forward to Thanksgiving feast

Scout, a Labrador retriever owned by Quasqueton native Rusty Chesmore of Verona, Wis., retrieves a young turkey harvested during a Nov. 11 hunt in Buchanan County. The turkey will be the main course for the Thanksgiving dinner at the Orlan Love residence in Quasqueton. (Orlan Love/correspondent)
Scout, a Labrador retriever owned by Quasqueton native Rusty Chesmore of Verona, Wis., retrieves a young turkey harvested during a Nov. 11 hunt in Buchanan County. The turkey will be the main course for the Thanksgiving dinner at the Orlan Love residence in Quasqueton. (Orlan Love/correspondent)

The folks coming to my house Thursday will feast on a free-range, antibiotic-free, almost organic turkey.

Its breast will not be as large and pink as that of the boughten variety.

Nor will it have a built-in pop-up doneness indicator.

But the young-of-the-year hen will be as tasty, toothsome and tender as the main course at millions of other Thanksgiving Day tables.

A resident fall turkey tag costs $24.50, which is probably more than you would pay for a similarly sized domestic turkey, but I had the fun of hunting it and the opportunity to personally oversee its processing and preparation.

Not that I am all that suspicious of birds raised shoulder to shoulder in buildings and processed on a conveyor by people who work long hours for comparatively low pay. I’ve eaten lots of domestic turkeys over the years with ample enjoyment and no noticeable ill effects.

And wild turkeys, even though they eat wholesome natural foods such as acorns and insects, could never meet organic standards because much of their diet consists of waste grain, most of it genetically modified and grown with the aid of weed and insect poisons.

Still, wild turkey is a healthful, flavorful and sustainable source of nourishment, and hunting them in the fall with dogs is such fun I am surprised more Iowans don’t do it.

In the 2018 spring season, Iowa issued 49,124 licenses, which compares with 7,430 fall tags in 2017.

I’m not going to try to tell you fall turkey hunting is as exciting as its spring counterpart, when the release of an arrow or the squeeze of a trigger instantly relieves the nearly unbearable tension that mounts when a gobbler heeds the call.

But spring season has its drawbacks, and fall season has its compensations.

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The hardest parts of spring turkey hunting are getting up well before dawn, lugging your stuff through the darkness to your ambush site and then lugging your stuff plus a 24-pound bird back to your vehicle.

In the fall, you don’t have to get up early, and the critical component of the hunt — the dogs — carry themselves, with great enthusiasm, to and from the field and, while they are there, find, flush and retrieve your turkey.

As an additional bonus, while spring hunters are limited to turkeys with beards — typically the older, bigger and tougher gobblers — fall hunters can harvest any turkey, including the tender and delectable young of the year.

Hunting fall turkeys with dogs, which has been legal in Iowa since 2005, was a natural fit for me and my buddies, who spend many autumn days afield in pursuit of pheasants.

Since pheasants and turkeys often share the same habitat — grass buffers along wooded creeks are ideal for both — we soon started buying fall turkey tags in preparation for the inevitable thunderous turkey flush.

With no special talent or effort, we have filled those tags in almost every year since.

In the lone memorable exception, on the day after the fall season closed, turkeys flew so low over our heads that we almost had to duck.

Eating that tag was much less satisfying than the marinated and roasted turkey breast I look forward to later this week.

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