When the family is at our house each year for Thanksgiving dinner, we celebrate a truly American Thanksgiving holiday. Headlining the feast is a wild turkey that fell to a hunter's gun. Also on the table will be other wild food gathered from the outdoors, including wild plum and grape jelly, persimmon bread, wild grape wine and pecan pie.
In addition to the food on the table, fall decor like bittersweet and colorful wild grape wreaths will add to the scene and also bring back memories of earlier outings in the deer and turkey woods.
One big change from the days of the Pilgrims is the fact that the wild bird on the table was taken by the woman in the family.
Our first fall hunt together was different than past years which was about as good as it gets. On that hunt, we started out around 6:30 a.m., on opening day and parked the truck about 200 yards from a grove of pecan trees where I had seen a flock of turkeys feeding earlier in the week. We had an east walk into the woods as light began to show in the east.
Picking out a clearing near a big oak tree, I sat out a full-bodied decoy about 20 yards from where we planned to sit. Shortly after 7 a.m., we heard turkeys talking, so I gave a few soft yelps and waited as at least a dozen squirrels ran through the trees in search of pecans. Donna and I had a perfect spot to watch for the birds as we sat side-by-side next to a tree with some knee high weeds in front for cover, but a wide open view in front.
Except for the constant chatter of the bushytails, it was very quiet for a while. Then a flock of turkeys started talking. I gave one more yelp and saw several blue heads bobbing to our left. I whispered to Donna to take off the gun's safety and don't miss.
First, three birds came out of the heavy woods, followed by five more, then three more, then seven more while others were talking behind us. Finally, two birds split up from the flock and I said, "Let's take them." Two shots rang out and two nice birds lay on the ground while no telling how many more went scurrying for cover. I looked at my watch and it was 8:30 a.m., on a beautiful morning in the turkey woods.
Later, I went back into the woods and relived the earlier hunt without firing a shot. This time, I took the camera instead of the shotgun. As a full moon shone over an old barn in the distance, the sun was about to rise and made the fall color outstanding.
An eight-point buck slowly worked his way to the trees in front of me and ate some leaves from a small pecan tree. As with the hunt, a flock of turkeys started talking behind me. They were more cautious this time and stayed out of the camera's range. A flock of geese passed overhead, adding to the fall picture.
Fall is a special time for our family. It not only means good hunting for game like the wild turkey, deer, quail and waterfowl, but also goodies from the outdoors including elderberries, a wide variety of nuts, wild grapes and persimmons. Many of the goodies harvested each year are located on public property, but some are on private property where permission is easy to obtain. On cold winter days and evenings, wild things harvested in the fall bring back good memories.
While many wives of hunters stay home, my wife, Donna, loves to be part of the fall hunting, not only for the game, but for all the many other goodies that are available in the outdoors.
The thought of all the good eating along with the harvest helps make November a favorite month of the year.
It's no wonder that the American hunting and outdoor heritage is so strong, and that it continues to play a major role in shaping our culture and society. We take up a shotgun and go into the turkey and deer woods, not only to put food on the table, but because it's the one true way to remember who we are and from whence we came.
As we shaped the American wilderness, it also shaped us in some inexplicable lasting way.
The pull is great and after our outings, it's easy to see why.