Appalachia Holidays in Appalachia

Catching Wild Turkeys


Thanksgiving in Appalachia

Granny Gazzie and Grandpa Charlie

Most of us will get our Thanksgiving turkey from the grocery store, Granny bought one for our dinner last week. In the old days if folks wanted to eat turkey they harvested a wild one themselves.

When I was growing up, there were very few wild turkeys here in Brasstown. I do remember Uncle Henry had tame turkeys one time-don’t tell nobody but I was scared to death of them. I swear they were almost as tall as I was and every time I seen them they came running at me.

Seems like it was during my late teenage years that the wild turkey population increased enough for folks to start hunting them. I remember Papaw Wade got him a long black coat to wear and hunted turkey in the Coleman Gap. Said he was going to show the young boys how it was done, but I don’t think he ever got a turkey.

The Deer Hunter has harvested quite a few turkeys over the years, however since turkey season is in the spring-all of his were eaten way before Thanksgiving rolled around.

The Dictionary of Smoky Mountain English has an interesting entry about catching turkeys in a pen.

turkey pen noun A large enclosure built to entrap wild turkeys.
1939 Hall Coll. Cataloochee NC How to build a turkey pen: You just build a square pen out of ten foot fence rails, and when you get the wall built, you build it up about three feet high, and then you cover the pen over with fence rails laid close together all over it, and then you go out back a distance from the pen, start a trench, shallow at first, and the deeper you go, get under the rail of the pen. Why, it’s big enough for a turkey to walk under the bottom rail, but the trench then sloped out, up from the middle of the pen, and the turkeys walks through there, and they get inside this pen. They raise up and see where they’re at. They get so excited that they don’t notice the hole down there to go out back outside. (Sarah Caldwell Palmer)

Hard for me to imagine a place with so many turkeys you could catch them in a pen. In recent years, the coyotes have cut down the turkey population in this area-although I do still occasionally see turkeys in the cow pasture down the road.

I know everyone doesn’t eat turkey for Thanksgiving, but for the Blind Pig family there’s always a turkey on the table along with Granny’s pumpkin pie and The Deer Hunter’s dressing.

We’ll be missing Pap something fierce at this year’s big dinner. Granny said we have to get together and eat because Pap would want us to. I know she’s right. Even though I get sad just thinking about it I can hear his voice telling me “Why don’t worry about me. You ought to get together and eat till your bellys bust cause that’s what I’d do.”


You Might Also Like


  • Reply
    Melinda Rowe Kessler
    November 12, 2016 at 3:15 am

    My husband, raised on the farm in west central Illinois, decided to buy some turkey poults (or chicks?). Sure enough, one day I got a call from the local post office with loud cheeping in the background! Some were wild & a few were ‘Dolly Partons’ for eating.
    We had lots of fun feeding them crickets. Crawling around with chicks following as if we were mom we’d pick up a board in the lot & those babies would gobble up an insect half their size. My husband even learned to crouch down & spread his ‘wings’ and gobble a warning. The chicks beat it under him for safety!
    I knew just enough about killing, scalding & plucking to know I didn’t care for the job – but he was eager so we did eat one or two. Nothing to brag about…
    Happy Thanksgiving to all! Melinda

  • Reply
    Larry Proffitt
    November 10, 2016 at 9:09 pm

    Tipper Once upon a time a few years back I was hunting the Goulds wild turkey high in the Sierra Madres in mexico when I saw a turkey pen just as descibed. It was made of what I would descibe 8-12 inch pine poles. All 4 sides wete logs with the same roof. It had a convenient hole dug on the lower side for the baited turkeys to enter. I took a picture to send to a turkey biologist friend the late Lovett Williams. I grinned to myself and thought these folks eat turkey too. Larry Proffitt

  • Reply
    Rev. RB
    November 10, 2016 at 8:37 pm

    To my recollection, we’ve always had turkeys for Thanksgiving except for one year when I was a child. Dad took the turkey to Grandma’s to get stuffed. Then a huge snow storm came trapping the stuffed turkey at her house and us at ours about 10 miles away. We had hot dogs that year, and I remember the child whining was something awful. LOL We did get to have that turkey later in the week, but as a leftover cause Grandma had to cook it before it got bad.
    I sure hope everyone’s having a wonderful week, and a safe one too.
    God bless.

  • Reply
    November 10, 2016 at 8:13 pm

    A few years ago we looked out in our back yard and saw a turkey! The backyard is fenced and that turkey just walked and pecked all over the place and stayed! Someone told my husband to go get some soybeans for it so he did and then that turkey left and here we were with a huge barrel of soybeans! I think my son-in-law is going to fry a turkey this year when we all get together.

  • Reply
    Ed Ammons
    November 10, 2016 at 4:37 pm

    “many an intelligent turkey hunter has outwitted many a stupid wild turkey.”
    Well, I messed that one up. I meant to say “many an intelligent turkey hunter has been outwitted by many a stupid wild turkey”

  • Reply
    b. Ruth
    November 10, 2016 at 3:44 pm

    and William Dotson…thank you for acknowledging my request. I wonder if everyone knows that kraut is really good for you! It has lots of that ‘funky stuff’ in it that helps your immune system, etc. Unless you totally are on a salt free diet, then there is a way to make it without so much or any salt. My son used to make it when he was on a restricted salt diet!
    When I have bought kraut in glass jars only, sometimes it is tough, but so is the homemade at times. Guess it depends on the weather the cabbage received during the growth season.
    Sometimes I just get a craving for kraut, guess it is in some of my German ancestor heritage.
    Now then, wonder I could sneak over to Tippers, and gather enough of those purty turnips to make me a good run of kraut.
    Thanks William for letting me know about turnip kraut!
    Thanks Tipper….have you ever made any turnip kraut?

  • Reply
    November 10, 2016 at 3:05 pm

    Wild turkey breast cut in strips, marinated over night and cooked over charcoal can’t be beat.
    Try this one: Thirty-three tom turkeys tripping timidly through the thistles.

  • Reply
    November 10, 2016 at 2:32 pm

    When I was little me and my brother and daddy went down to his mom’s place for a visit. While everyone was inside, me and Harold took off outside to explore. I could really throw rocks back then and hit just about anything. Just as we rounded a corner, there they were, a bunch of Turkeys eating. I picked a smooth, sailing rock and hit a big ole Tom. That thing came at me, my brother could run faster than I could, and that booger got me down, and ’bout beat me to death with them wings. I could just feel his beard around my neck and about that time my brother had run around the house, picked up a stick, and got that thing off me. We never bothered them again! …Ken

  • Reply
    Ed Ammons
    November 10, 2016 at 12:58 pm

    Farm raised turkeys are what I call Dolly Partons. They are known for their large breasts and lack of brain power. Wild turkeys on the other hand are rather smart comparatively. All birds have bird brains but many an intelligent turkey hunter has outwitted many a stupid wild turkey.

  • Reply
    Ed Ammons
    November 10, 2016 at 11:35 am

    Let me see if I can splain this now. You build you a turkey trap in the spring and catch you a turkey (or three) in hit. Then you don’t kill it right away. You put it up and fatten it up til along into fall. Meantime it gets tame, which the wildlife rules don’t apply to tame turkeys. Then you lop off its head.
    I think the shooting of wild turkeys with gun or bow should be banned entirely except in extreme emergencies. No, its not what you think! I am not a PETA supporter ner nothing like that. Its just that with bullets and arrows you risk damaging too much good meat or like with deer, you might not be a good enough shot and lose the whole animal.
    How do you catch a wild turkey?
    Do you know how to catch a wild wabbit? Well hits the exact tame way!

  • Reply
    November 10, 2016 at 11:08 am

    Our story is about the same here in Wisconsin. Never had wild turkeys while I was growing up and it wasn’t until about the early 1970s that there seemed to be enough to see fairly often and to hunt. We have a hunting family, including me and spring turkey hunting is my favorite. We have roasted whole turkeys, but have never been satisfied with the results. Therefore, we separate the breast meat from the darker and cook these is different manners. My one son likes to wrap a nice breast 1/2 in bacon and put on his grill. He has also smoked the breast meat….oh so good. I usually cook the dark meat and take the meat off the bone and freeze in approx. 3-4 cup amounts. This I have used for a variety of dishes. Some were successful and some not so. We firmly believe that one eats what they kill and so I continue to gather recipes and invent recipes.
    The trail cameras indicate that the farm has a good amount of wild turkey leading into winter. Hope they winter over ok. Looking forward to spring turkey hunting.
    Happy Thanksgiving to you all.

  • Reply
    Sue Crane
    November 10, 2016 at 10:47 am

    The “firsts” are hard but follow your heart — Pap always was right and he’s still right — fill the belly, laugh, cry, make some music, and love each other

  • Reply
    November 10, 2016 at 10:21 am

    We have often seen turkeys crossing through our yard, but not lately- probably due to the drought. I’m fascinated by the turkey pen instructions, and had to laugh at their confusion! My husband often tells of a family friend who owned a turkey ranch in California when he was a kid, and how they would lift their heads up to drink during a heavy rain and literally drown, i.e., ‘not sense enough to come in out of the rain’ ;-).

  • Reply
    Eva Nell Mull Wike, PhD
    November 10, 2016 at 9:40 am

    Tipper: Speaking of TURKEYS – when we use to drive over to THE MATHESON COVE to visit my folks, we would often see a couple of turkeys near the edge of the forest – which was pretty dense – that is the forest was dense – not the turkeys! I never knew about the turkey’s intelligence quotient!
    Maybe we will climb up Rich Mountain in the SMOKEY Mountains and go Turkey hunting. But on second thought, I would probably get caught again by the Game Warden! Those dudes are tough – the Warden that is – not the Turkey!
    Eva Nell Mull Wike, PhD
    AUTHOR; “Fiddler of the Mountains” NC Society of Historians’ AWARD!!

  • Reply
    November 10, 2016 at 9:39 am

    We have tons of turkeys around here, especially after the soybeans are harvested. My grandson and brother-in-law get their share. I must confess I have never eaten the first bite of the fried breast they all rave about. When I see them at a distance behind the barn, I have to take a closer look to make sure they are not a large animal as they spread their wings.
    Pap will be smiling down at his beautiful family as they make holiday memories as he has done for so many years.

  • Reply
    Mike McLain
    November 10, 2016 at 9:24 am

    I walked up the hill to my mailbox the other day in Brevard, NC and counted 11 turkey hens in the road in front of the mailbox! When I was growing up in East Tennessee (1960’s), I never saw wild turkeys anywhere.

  • Reply
    Sheryl Paul
    November 10, 2016 at 8:57 am

    Or we could just eat the fixin’s. What I like best.
    We buy from a farm that raises on organic feed. The taste is amazing. My uncle used to bring in a wild turkey at Thanksgiving and a wild hog. There seems to be a special method to cook them so they are tasty. He knew what it was. Sadly he passed away without sharing this info.

  • Reply
    Ron Stephens
    November 10, 2016 at 8:39 am

    Turkeys have been restored in my lifetime. Originally the attempt was to use domesticated turkey and release them into the wild. It was a dismal failure. Conventional wisdom at the time was that 10,000 contiguous acres of mostly hardwood forest was required before turkey restoration should be attempted. Now they can be seen in pastures and fields.
    Your thoughts about your Dad remind me of the song “The Vacant Chair”. We have to work our way through the first year as new, and sometimes unexpected, reminders come up. I’m confident you all will have consoling and healing memories to share.

  • Reply
    William Dotson
    November 10, 2016 at 8:19 am

    Tipper this not about turkeys but is about the turnip kraut question from b Ruth, the kraut is a lot more tender than regular kraut but like the regular the longer you let it ferment the more sour it it. After you process it all you have to do is warm it up because it is already cooked but I also like to eat it as soon as it sets for a week to ten days, sometimes I have a jar that won’t fit in my water bath pan and I keep it in fridge so I can snack on it cold, hope someone tries the recipe and likes it

  • Reply
    Gayle Larson
    November 10, 2016 at 8:07 am

    We have lots of turkeys here in Tanglewood. I have about 10 or more coming at least twice a day for corn I put out. They all follow me to the garage and wait for me to bring their dinner out. They are so much fun to watch especially when they bring the babies. I could never shoot one unless I was starving.
    I do not have the heart to hunt. My neighbors laugh at me because they say I would bring the cows in to sit by the fire when it gets cold.
    They are probably right.

  • Reply
    Jim Casada
    November 10, 2016 at 8:07 am

    Tipper–As someone who long ago lost a corner of his soul to the wild turkey, your subject today sure hits home. I’ve written three books on the subject, edited another three, and contributed chapters to several more. I’ve killed turkeys in well over 30 states and two foreign countries (Mexico and New Zealand). I think that probably suffices to indicate the sport looms mighty large in my life.
    The material about them being caught in pens is accurate. What you say about coyotes taking a toll probably isn’t. Right now I’m finishing a piece for Outdoor Life magazine on the future of the wild turkey and turkey hunting, and the country’s best-known wild turkey expert, Dr. James Dickson, is dubious about coyotes having much of an impact (although they are playing the dickens with deer numbers).
    A couple of other thoughts. All the old-time turkey hunting was done in the fall; now it’s spring and gobblers only. I never saw or heard a turkey growing up, and I was in the woods a great deal. They were all but non-existent in this part of the world in the 1950s and 1960s, but their restoration is one of the all-time great wildlife comeback sagas.
    Folks who see them in fields and along roads think hunting them must be a cinch, but as I’m sure the Deer Hunter would attest, that is anything but the case. The only thing certain about turkey hunting and turkey behavior is constant uncertainty.
    Jim Casada
    P. S. One of the all-time great mountain hunters, Mark Cathey, was a first-rate turkey many. Also, one of your regular readers, Larry Proffitt, is as “eaten up” with the sport as anyone I’ve ever know (and he’s a superbly skilled hunter in the bargain).

  • Reply
    b. Ruth
    November 10, 2016 at 7:56 am

    I am pondering this. If Turkey season is in the Spring of the year, and Thanksgiving is in the Fall of the year, how is one supposed to harvest a wild Turkey for dinner? Maybe if one lived in one of those counties where if wild critters were say, destroying your corn patch, you might have a right to protect your property and kill the birds. I guess only then, it would be legal to shoot or catch turkeys out of season.
    I love the tale about building a turkey pen. I’ve heard all my life that turkeys had a brain about the size of a pea, so to speak and were pretty stupid. I really think after a while and calming down a bit they would figure how to get back out! ha
    Tipper, I am so sorry that you will not have Pap with you for Thanksgiving dinner. His spirit will be there. I think it would make him sad that you all were not enjoying each others holiday because of him not being there. Memories will fall from your eyes, but funny stories and the good times together will also be remembered with laughter. Holidays can be the worst times, but also the best times as we discuss all the good times we were together.
    Thanks Tipper,
    Great post
    PS…I betcha’ our old buddy Jim could tell a tale or three about how to catch a turkey! Don’t you think?

  • Leave a Reply