Turkey-Free Turkey Day

It’s not a regular habit, but I have some experience with holiday hunting

In the fashion of presidential poultry pardons, I gave the birds of Montana a pass last Thursday. The reality is that I couldn’t even find them, so I’m not sure I granted them anything. You can’t grant what you don’t have to begin with, and I never had a shot to pass up.

There were birds in the general vicinity. The tracks in the now dried mud from a rainstorm a few days before gave them away. Tracks are great for settling the old presence/absence debate, but the fact that Doll never gave them a sniff — they might as well have been Goodrich tracks for all the interest she showed — suggests this presence was fleeting.

It’s not a regular habit, but I have some experience with holiday hunting. There was even an actual pardon once, on a pheasant at Blasdel that I inexplicably watched fly away, never mounting my gun for an easy shot. That was on Christmas Day nearly a decade ago. I spent a Thanksgiving a few years before that looking at crowds of pheasant on private land in the country south of Shelby. Sadly, my survey work that day indicated the species had been extirpated from any publicly accessible land in the region.

I did, however, flush one covey of Huns, but it was a surprise on new ground and I didn’t shoot with confidence. I’m not sure poor shooting qualifies as a pardon, however. It was as if I’d swung the axe wildly on the poor bird selected for the year’s feast, missing the neck altogether and instead decapitating the turkey’s restraints, allowing an escape.

Intent has to be a component of any true pardon.

Those hunting excursions were exceptions. Usually, I’m assigned cooking duties during the holidays. I’m pretty handy in the kitchen, and enjoy cooking. I’ve long been the best cook in the family, however that family was assembled (there have been various iterations). The result is that when holiday duties are assigned, I’ve usually had too much on my plate to sneak away for some field time.

That wasn’t the case this year, however. I still had to cook, but this year the crowd was small, just two, which meant even a small turkey would be overkill. By dispensing with the usual crowd of relatives, I realized if I wanted to spend the day hunting, then have a late dinner while watching the last football game of the day, there wasn’t anything to stop me.

The intent when I headed out for the chukar grounds was to kill Thanksgiving dinner. Unfortunately, the aforementioned tracks and a couple of semi-fresh, .22-caliber-sized chukar turds were as close as I got. There were birds back home in the freezer, however, so we didn’t have a meatless feast.

I’m now convinced this is the way to approach this holiday: spend the bulk of it hiking rugged country burning calories. Then, when the inevitable seconds and thirds come at the dinner table, I’ll have created a caloric deficit for all that gravy to fill.

I didn’t even need to wear sweat pants, and any Thanksgiving you can say that is truly reason to be thankful.

If not destined to go straight to the plate, my game birds are first brined, then vacuum sealed before they land in the freezer. Then they can go from the chill chest to the sous vide water bath to thaw and cook in 3-4 hours. After a quick brown from the broiler or grill they’re ready to eat.

That’s the way to do poultry pardon day properly.