Ah, Thanksgiving. It’s when we find ourselves fighting with our siblings over who is going to bring what to Turkey Day dinner, and then actually physically fighting our neighbors as we bum rush the aisles of our local shopping center in the wee hours of Black Friday. Fisticuffs aside, there are actually plenty of ways to reintroduce some charm back into the holiday. What’s my go-to strategy? Doing Thanksgiving like they used to: with a boom stick in one hand and a basket in the other.
The first step in executing the perfect hunter-gatherer Thanksgiving dinner is to decide on your menu. When you can’t go to the local supermarket and prance through the aisles pulling boxes of ready-made this and instant that off the shelves, you actually have to put some thought into what you prepare. I personally would suggest a turkey (of course), mashed sweet potatoes, asparagus, sweet corn, and squash.
It’s hard to explain and maybe all of this work doesn’t sound appealing on its face. But I guarantee that it will provide a needed contrast to your usual or mundane Thanksgiving rituals. You will make the transition from doing a holiday because your “supposed to,” to doing it because you want to spend time with family and enjoy food that you worked hard to obtain and prepare. Dinner won’t be spent listening to family members dance uncomfortably around the already tired talking points from the election. Instead, you’ll be excitedly talking about how you saw the most amazing sunrise on the morning of your turkey hunt. Or you’ll regale your company with tails of the horse that farmer let you ride when you went out to bargain for some fresh sweet corn. One thing is certain though: If you hunt and gather this Thanksgiving, it will be a different holiday than all the others in years past in the best and most rewarding way.
Obtaining the turkey will actually be the most difficult task, as well as require the most talent and patience. Turkeys are actually very intelligent, and, if you have never hunted them before, will prove to be elusive game to bag.
Obviously, the first step is to pick up a turkey license. Licenses are available in 49 states, with Alaska being the sole state in which there is no season available. After that, you’ll need to find legal land to hunt on, whether that be a friend’s private property or a national forest. Finally, make sure you have a shotgun ready to go. (I prefer a 12-gauge). Some states allow for hunting of turkeys using a rifle, but a shotgun is going to be the most practical tool for this hunt.
Depending on the area you will be hunting, you’ll have to decide whether you will sit in a blind and try to call a turkey to you, or actively stalk them. Every turkey hunt I have ever done has been in my home state of South Dakota, where I’ll end up walking miles over the high planes of the western side of the state in active pursuit of a gobbler. I’ve never sat in a blind or called one in, but I can say from experience that there is extra satisfaction in actively stalking your game as it is more difficult to be successful due to a turkey’s amazing vision.
Make sure you follow all applicable local and state laws, and abide by common safe hunter practices as well as common sense. Finally, if you are successful in your pursuit, make sure you aim for the head. A head shot will kill the bird instantly and prevent unnecessary suffering, and it will also be easier to prepare to eat since you won’t have to dig out all those little lead beebees from the body. I’ve made this mistake before, and, trust me, you will always miss at least one.
You’ve felled and cleaned your turkey and it’s sitting safely in your freezer awaiting whatever family recipe you have ready for it. You feel good. You didn’t claim your mass-produced, hormone-injected turkey from the supermarket; you put in the work and felled one as an active member of the ecosystem, and you’ll be proud to present it to your family on the fourth Thursday of November.
You don’t need to be a farmer to gather. If you’re not, this is an opportunity to go visit a local farm (or if you live in a city, travel to one) and bargain for their harvest. This is an amazing opportunity to meet some great people outside of your usual social circle, and if you are a lifelong city-dweller, to see a different way of life. If this is absolutely not possible for you, then I would still encourage you to skip the supermarket and go to a local farmer’s market. Although this isn’t quite as far outside of your comfort zone, it will still give you the opportunity to do your gathering while still supporting farmers and other local small businesses.
Take your time and really pick the best of the bushel. Enjoy the art of bartering. Don’t cut corners. And only purchase what you will actually have the time, energy, and talent to prepare. Remember, you are going to do all of this by hand when you get home. One thing that you will notice is that you will have less side dishes to prepare, but the ones you do have will take more time and effort. The holiday will all of a sudden become more about enjoying the fruits of your labor than it is about stuffing as much instant potatoes into your mouth as possible.