Preparing the weekly issue of The Martha's Vineyard Times is a team effort. In preparation for a Thanksgiving week story on Martha's Vineyard turkeys, this member of the team gladly agreed to provide the main ingredient.
In the South, turkey hunting ranks among the major religious denominations. There is a whole industry devoted to hunters who want to learn the finer details of bagging a bird that Benjamin Franklin thought should be the national symbol.
The wild turkey is a wary, smart bird that uses its keen eyesight to avoid the slightest suggestion of danger. Hunters must spend hours in the woods even to get near a bird, let along close enough to shoot one.
Like many newcomers to Martha's Vineyard, turkeys have made themselves quite at home. They preen and puff themselves up as if they own the place, and except for an occasional encounter with a big cat or SUV, they enjoy a relatively safe habitat. They may share the same genetic traits as their wild cousins but they demonstrate none of the wariness.
My biggest challenge was not to get close to a turkey. It was to find a turkey off a road and out of a backyard where I could use a shotgun instead of a golf club.
Massachusetts has a four-week spring turkey hunting season and a one-week fall season. A hunter must have a state tag to shoot a turkey and is allowed two birds in the spring or one bird in the fall.
The law requires that a hunter bring his or her bird to an official checking station so details such as the weight and sex can be recorded. In the case of the Vineyard, a hunter needs to call state forest supervisor John Varkonda.
When I decided that the Thanksgiving story needed an authentic turkey, I quickly applied for a tag. Once it arrived, I had one day left in the fall season to get my turkey.
An up-Island caretaker had been more than happy to let me know about a flock of turkeys that had become quite a property nuisance. I peered over a stonewall and saw my quarry right where he said they would be.
Baby turkeys are poults.
Juvenile males are called "jakes" and juvenile females "jennies."
Adult males are called "toms" or "gobblers" and adult females "hens."
A fryer is a turkey under 16 weeks old. A young roaster is five to seven months old.
A group of turkey eggs is called a clutch. In western Massachusetts, the clutch size for first nests averages 12.1 eggs.
Turkeys have acute hearing but no external ears.
Wild turkeys produce at least 28 different known calls or vocalizations and can recognize the voices of other turkeys.
Turkeys see in color and have excellent eyesight, with a 270-degree field of vision.
The average turkey lives 11.5 years. The oldest known eastern turkey, which was from Massachusetts, lived to 15.
Wild turkeys always roost in trees at night.
Although not fond of flying, wild turkeys can fly about one mile, when gliding with periodic wing flaps, at a speed of up to 55 to 60 mph. On the ground, they can run at speeds up to 25 mph.
Turkeys do not migrate for the winter (not even when Islanders offer to pay their passage on the Steamship Authority).
(Information from www.infoplease.com and www.mass.gov/dfwele/dfw, with the exception of the previous parenthetical comment)
The turkeys, 20 or so little heads and beady eyes, also saw me. They started to move in the other direction. I ducked behind the wall and attempted to intercept them.
I had watched enough Saturday morning hunting shows to know something about the tactics. I walked through a thicket and sat myself behind a tree. I held my over-under 12-gauge Browning loaded with pheasant shot, and I did not move.
If I had been hunting in Alabama, I would have had a guy named Bubba skilled in the art of sounding like a hen looking for love. I was relying on my stealth and the turkeys' failure to recognize a Browning.
The turkeys spied me again. They stopped, then clucked and scratched. They began to move away from me.
It was getting late. It was time to rely on some hard-hitting straight-forward reporting techniques.
I stood up and walked through the brush on a parallel course to the turkeys. I turned right for the birds.
As I closed the distance quickly, there seemed to be a conversation going on among them: "I don't know, what do you think?"
"I don't know, what do you think?" Deep.
The little heads bobbed to and fro. Then they started moving, quickly, single file through the woods. I swung my shotgun and fired.
According to the National Wild Turkey Federation, a nonprofit organization with more than 584,000 members dedicated to conserving wild turkeys and preserving hunting traditions, there are more than seven million wild turkeys throughout the United States, Canada and Mexico and nearly three million turkey hunters.
John Varkonda told me my turkey was the second one he had weighed in this year. So as near as I can tell, there are two turkey hunters on Martha's Vineyard, and no wild turkeys in the truest sense of the word. But I know where there are some very nervous ones.