Turkey is often the centerpiece of a Thanksgiving feast — but many gobbling diners might not know that the bird on their table has relatives living in the wilds of Southern Arizona.
Gould’s wild turkeys roam in Madera Canyon south of Tucson and in several of the area’s major mountain ranges.
More than 1,000 of the free-ranging birds inhabit ranges including the Santa Ritas, Catalinas, Huachucas, Rincons, and other mountains, said Mark Hart, spokesman for the Arizona Game and Fish Department.
“Gould’s is the largest wild turkey species in North America,” Hart said, noting that the big birds are making a comeback after being extirpated from Arizona in the 1900s.
He credits the National Wild Turkey Federation for playing a key role in the department’s efforts to rebuild the population with turkeys descended from animals brought from Mexico more than two decades ago.
Encounter a flock of the birds on a trail in Madera Canyon or elsewhere and you might be surprised at how big they look and how noisy they can be as a group.
The Wild Turkey Federation offers these facts about Gould’s turkeys:
It’s legal for those with a hunting license and a big-game tag to hunt Gould’s wild turkeys in Arizona during March and April — but the taste might not be quite like that of store-bought birds.
Hart said he had no first-hand knowledge of the taste, but he offered this description that has been shared by a member of the turkey federation:
“As for wild turkey, they are predominantly white meat, and as with all wild game there is no fat. So, one must cook them in such a way as to add moisture via wrapping in bacon, adding orange, and wrapping turkey in cloth for baking. You can also flash fry them which helps to preserve the moisture inside without allowing it to escape. I have also made turkey nuggets which are exceptional.
“For my taste, I like wild turkey over store bought, but maybe that is because of the effort, expertise, and enjoyment I receive from hunting these truly magnificent birds.”