RIO GRANDE VALLEY, Texas – If you really want to dine like a Pilgrim this Thanksgiving, then you might want to consider a wild Rio Grande turkey. Richard Moore takes us out where the wild gobblers roam.
More than 45 million turkeys will be cooked and eaten in the United States this Thanksgiving, according to the U.S. Department of Agriculture.
While the vast majority of turkey dinners will be the domesticated variety, wild turkeys thrive throughout North America, and a sizeable population of wild Rio Grande gobblers makes their home in the ranch country of deep South Texas.
The turkey is native to Mexico and the eastern United States, and the various farm-raised breeds that grace most platters on Thanksgiving are all descendants of their wild brethren.
Since that first Thanksgiving celebration at Plymouth colony in 1621, America’s wild turkeys were nearly exterminated by over hunting and habitat destruction. The only viable population of wild turkeys left in Texas was the Rio Grande. In South Texas, on large ranches such as the vast King Ranch, turkeys were protected from overhunting.
After dropping to a low of approximately 30,000 birds nationwide by the early 1900’s, wild turkeys today are fairly common across North America and number some six million birds. Strict hunting regulations and successful reproduction efforts have reestablished the country’s largest game bird throughout much of its former range.
South Texas remains one of the nation’s strongholds for wild turkeys. In an average year more than 10,000 hunters harvest some 31,000 wild turkeys throughout the state during the fall season.
While domestic turkeys make a fine meal, if you really want to dine like a pilgrim there is nothing quite as tasty as a wild turkey.