The holidays are filled with tradition for every family and some of those even involve the outdoors.
For years, it was one of my traditions to go striper fishing with my buddy Bill Biggerstaff on the day after Christmas. But that was laid to rest with him.
Still, those memories from the years we braved the cold to head out on a boat and live-line shad for a mess of filets, which his grandmother would fry up, will remain with me for all of my days.
One of the most obvious of holiday traditions is the turkey that many folks enjoy at both Thanksgiving and Christmas each year.
It’s a shame that this is about all that most of the population know about turkey because hunting the wild variety is, without a doubt, one of the greatest endeavors of the outdoors world.
The domesticated bird famous for being somewhat dumb and bought at the grocery store is far from the same as the ones that roam our hills and hollows in the Carolinas.
The wild turkey is slim bodied, tall and long-legged with the ability to outrun a horse.
Despite weighing 25 pounds or more, these birds can fly as far as a mile, if needed, and as fast as 55 miles per hour.
Domestic birds are a different story. Their ability to fly has long been bred out of them through selective breeding techniques that were designed to create a better product for the table.
They’re heavier, broad-breasted fowl with shorter legs and they can’t run. This often results in many a barnyard bird becoming an easy target for coyotes and bobcats.
The story of the turkey that will grace your table on Christmas day is pretty interesting. The American Indians were the first to domesticate turkeys long before the Europeans arrived.
According to information provided by the South Carolina Department of Natural Resources on the subject: “Turkey bones have been found in Indian burial mounds in Tennessee, Kentucky and some other parts of the South, and turkeys were being raised in Mexico and Central America for more than 500 years before the Spanish arrived. Turkey relics have been found in Arizona dating as far back as 25 A.D., and turkey-raising may well be one of the oldest forms of organized meat production in the Northern Hemisphere.”
They added: “Spanish explorers took Mexican wild turkeys domesticated by the Aztecs home to Europe in about 1519. The turkey then spread rapidly through Europe and was introduced in England between 1524 and 1541, where they were highly sought after for gourmet dinners. After the domestic turkey spread across Europe in the 1500s, the colonists who settled the New World brought these tasty birds with them across the Atlantic to the land of their origin.”
You could say the turkey had come full circle.
The domestic turkeys brought from Europe were crossbred with the wild turkeys native to North America, and this led to the creation of the six standard domestic breeds in the United States today. These are the Black, Bourbon Red, Bronze, Narragansett, Slate and White Holland.
It wasn’t long ago that the wild turkey was almost completely wiped out. SC DNR states that, “Reintroduction of the wild turkey in South Carolina is one of the Palmetto State’s most noteworthy conservation success stories. Limited at the turn of the century to small pockets of birds in the Lowcountry’s Francis Marion National Forest and along the Savannah River swamps, the wild turkey is now so widespread throughout South Carolina that a month-long spring hunting season is held in all of the state’s 46 counties (there is no fall season). Wild turkey restoration was made possible through the efforts of the state DNR, the National Wild Turkey Federation, the forest products industry and South Carolina sportsmen and sportswomen.”
It’s for this reason that the release of pen-raised turkeys into the wild is illegal because such action could quickly result in the spread of disease to the population of wild birds.
It gives you more to think about when you break out the carving knife doesn’t it?
Y’all save me a leg.
Brad Harvey is a freelance outdoors writer in Clover. Visit his website at www.bradharveyoutdoors.com or follow on Twitter @BHarveyOutdoors.