On The Ridge: Thanksgiving, a hunting conundrum

Published: 11-22-2023 1:00 PM

Thanksgiving at home with my family is one of the highlights of my entire year. But as I look back over the decades of Thanksgiving dinners, at least the ones I can remember, I’ve been known to fall into a temporary funk on Thanksgiving Day, usually after dinner.

Now, this feeling is never brought on by heated conversations about a football game, nor was it ever induced by political dialogue, but I can say with relative certainty that this short-lived withdrawal is because of hunting season. And while I love football and chatting it up with family, I can only do so much of it before becoming unbalanced – which I know is completely unnecessary – but I simply need to be in the woods during November.

Now, to my dear mother, who I miss every day, Thanksgiving was always a “truce” with God’s creatures, which was an expression spawned by my grandmother and delighted my mother greatly. But her gentle opposition to hunting stemmed mostly from her desire to spend more time with her husband and son. Today, when the idea of sneaking away after Thanksgiving dinner surfaces, Linda takes on the role of my mum giving that look which all sons and daughters should know by the time they’ve reached threescore and ten, plus a wee bit more.

There’s never been a problem with me heading out to deer hunt on Thanksgiving morning before the festivities begin, and I dare say some of my best days deer hunting have been on this special day of thanks. But to anyone else on Thanksgiving Day, Linda’s look, which means “no hunting after dinner,” would seem very reasonable. That’s especially true when she follows up with: “Thanksgiving Day is about spending time with family, and as the overwhelming majority of our family doesn’t enjoy spending the early days of winter in a tree stand, or moving up some ridgeline, I think it’s important to all of us that we be together for most of the day, sharing our thankfulness for the many blessings we have.” There’s no doubt that this argument is always compelling, so I relent, at least as much as I can, but I usually end up feeling a little shaky and disoriented as the day goes on.

All that said, I come by this characteristic honestly, often thinking back to simpler days when hunting on Thanksgiving was just a natural thing we always did as part of our tradition. And what a glorious day it was, with such special memories of dad, grandpa, and I hunting on our neighbor’s property in the game-rich regions of the Catskills. And after Thanksgiving dinner had ended, and our guests began moving toward the couches and recliners for the next few hours, we’d escape this lethargy by wandering outside and into the woods for a short walk, listening to the quiet until darkness stole our day. We genuinely enjoyed being together back then, and my only regret today is that dad and grandpa didn’t live long enough to see the restoration of wild turkeys become, arguably, the greatest conservation success story in the history of our New England states. I know they both would have loved to see all of that happen!

Unlike then, wild turkeys are a common fixture in Massachusetts today, with the chances of encountering them extremely likely as they now thrive in every corner of the state. Our history tells us that when the Pilgrims first arrived in 1620, wild turkeys were prolific in the Bay State. When European settlers arrived, and started clearing the land, they hunted wild turkeys for food to near extinction. By 1851 they had disappeared entirely, and even though attempts were made between 1911 and 1967 to reintroduce them, every attempt made was unsuccessful. But with resources given through the Pittman-Robertson Act, and MassWildlife deciding to make another run at it, by the fall of 1978 a flock of about 1,000 birds was well established in Berkshire and Franklin Counties. Today, populations of 35,000-40,000 birds roam the entirety of the Commonwealth, continuing to populate on their own throughout our state, and every state in the country except for Alaska.

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Here are a few more informational tidbits that might be interesting to you on T-Day...

The wild turkey became the Massachusetts State Game Bird on Nov.1 8, 1991. Wild turkeys are communicators and have at least 28 different known calls that they communicate with. It’s true! Wild turkey was served at the first Thanksgiving, but it was just one of many different game birds served that day!

And so, on this Thanksgiving Day, from my “roost” here “On the Ridge,” my best wish to all of you is that the warmth of this season fills your heart! Happy Thanksgiving!

Joe Judd is a lifelong hunter and sportsman. He is an outdoor writer, seminar speaker, member of the New England Outdoor Writers Association, and a 2019 inductee into the N.E. Turkey Hunting Hall of Fame. Joe is also on the Quaker Boy Game Calls and Bass Pro Shops/Cabela’s Pro-Staff. He can be reached at jjontheridge@comcast.net