They're moving in. There are no two ways about it. Merriam's turkeys are ubiquitous in the Kootenays these days. From farmers' front porches to ponderosa forests - from cross-walks in Castlegar to chicken coops in Cranbrook - the turkeys are takin' over.
Their northward expansion is due to one-part climate change (milder winters) and one-part habitat (fewer coyotes), but on this much everyone can agree: they're cheeky, fun to watch out for, and a welcome installment to Western Canadian way of life.
I have a decidedly love-hate relationship with them. I love them 11 months of the year - from mid-May to mid-April; the other month I stalk them with bow & arrow. Okay, I admit, I love them then, too, but I have to suspend the bulk of that love while I try to beguile a wily gobbler into wandering within range. Boxwood calls and slate scratches (imagine the school-room blackboard, fingernails dragging) come into play, as do frosty sunrises and unrequited love. Every now and then it all comes together.
It's not true that wild turkey is inherently tough. The trick is to brine in a salt solution for at least 12 hours, then slow-smoke ala pork butt or brisket. I did that last fall for girlfriend and family, and all agreed it was the moistest and most-tender bird they'd ever eaten.
The brining and smoking instructions are here. Be forewarned - the next time you see that 'Turkey Crossing' sign in Castlegar, you might just want to speed up instead of slowing down. But remember, a 20-pound Tom will enact his revenge, whether it's on your truck grill or your conscience.
A common misconception is that the 'Koots' owe their wild turkeys entirely to northern expansion from the U.S. That may be true to the east, but in the latter half of the last century a Slocan Valley farmer received government permission to raise wild turkeys, which subsequently escaped into the wild. They form the foundation of the wild flocks today.
Regardless of their origins, we Koots' residents should be grateful for the Thanksgiving bounty; the poor Albertan bastards to the east are turkey-deprived, and I can't count the number of times I've been propositioned to take clients on a "cast 'n blast" for turkeys and trout. Forget it, boys - when you come bearing reasonably priced gasoline we might have a deal; until then you can caw for crows and watch oil stocks plummet.