The quintessential American bird is typically spotted on your dining room table, naked and headless, with a plastic thermometer thingy stuck in its butt–but, such was not the case with our early pilgrim ancestors who first laid eyes on these magnificent fowl in 17th-century Massachusetts. Real wild turkeys are truly a site to behold, so this Thanksgiving, why not step away from the TV and go find some actual live turkeys doing real turkey things? Honestly, it’s not as hard as you think (New Jersey Turnpike, anyone?). Here are five destinations to get you started:
1. Long Island, New York Who would have thunk it? But yeah, New York state is home to around 300,000 turkeys, of which approximately one percent thrive in the backyards of Long Island. Do the locals embrace this living emblem of American heritage? No, all they do is complain about the mess. Sigh.
2. Edgefield, South Carolina Not only was the Palmetto State the first to secede from the Union, it’s also the world headquarters for the National Wild Turkey Federation. Yes America, we have a theme park for everything, including a Wild Turkey Center dedicated to preserving turkeys so that hunters can keep shooting them. Activities include learning to stalk turkeys and classes in making turkey calls.
3. Western Oklahoma
There are A LOT of wild turkeys in Oklahoma, especially in the western counties along the Texas border. Forget making hand turkeys this year. Instead, print up this nifty, informative practice target and pretend you’re a really hungry pilgrim.
4. Big Island, Hawaii Back in 1961, an intrepid farmer imported 400 wild turkeys from Texas to his ranch on the Big Island. He must have had a lousy fence, because an estimated 30,000 wild turkeys now roam the volcanic highlands of Hawaii, about half of them on the Big Island.
5. Pennsylvania After wild turkey populations dwindled nationwide, it was the good old birds of Pennsylvania that helped repopulate the rest of the country. Today, the state is home to nearly half a million wild turkeys who hang out in the back hills and hollows, eluding hunters and reproducing even more. The thing about Pennsylvania is that basically, if you go sit in the woods and wait long enough, you’re pretty much gonna see a turkey.
Happy Thanksgiving then, and may all your turkey searching be as successful as the first time Americans went into the woods.