Marc Divens gently nudged his drowsing son, 13-year-old Adam, as the eastern sky lightened.
“The turkeys are awake,” he said. “Hear them?”
A rusty chorus of “erk, erk, erk” signaled that a rafter of wild turkeys was stirring. A single turkey sailed down from its roost in a pine tree, followed by another. Suddenly, the hillside was alive with wild turkeys, sauntering single file toward the barnyard, where breakfast awaited in a silage bin.
Divens and his son sat in silent anticipation, hidden by a hunting blind on a farm near Newman Lake. It was the opening day of turkey season. Each hoped to bag a bird for Thanksgiving.
Serving wild game is part of the family’s holiday tradition.
“Taking some ownership of the food I eat has an allure to me,” said Divens, a Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife biologist. “I think of it as free-ranging, whether it’s whitetails or wild turkeys.”
Divens, his wife, Karin, and their son harvest about half of the meat they eat. They hunt for deer, game birds and waterfowl in the Inland Northwest; gather razor clams in Hoquiam, Wash., where Karin’s family lives; and fish for salmon, lingcod and whitefish on the Washington coast.
Adam and his 10-year-old sister, Elise, each caught a king salmon this year, though Elise opted to let hers go.
“I can’t eat quail,” she recently told her dad. “They’re too cute.”
But his daughter does like to eat other game, Divens said, and both he and his wife enjoy cooking dishes such as Pheasant Basque – prepared with vinegar, wine and capers – and deer back straps in marinade. Including wild game or fish at the Thanksgiving feast, alongside a store-bought turkey, celebrates the bounty of natural foods in the Northwest, Divens said.
Past Thanksgiving dinners have featured venison and steelhead. But this year, Divens had his eye on the wild turkeys that he and his children drove past each morning on the way to school.
It was Adam’s first turkey hunt and Divens’ first time hunting turkeys in the fall. His past experience was during spring hunts, where hunters use calls to lure wild turkeys.
Divens and Adam rose at 4:30 Sunday morning to head to the farm where they had permission to hunt. An hour later, they settled into the blind. Adam promptly fell asleep in his camp chair. “He doesn’t understand why we have to get up so early,” his dad said.
Wild turkeys rely on keen eyesight to protect themselves from predators, so Divens wanted to be in the portable fabric blind before the sky began to lighten. Both he and Adam wore camouflage, with chin masks. Their shotguns stood ready.
The turkeys began stirring around 7 o’clock. One strutted past a nearby bush, but Divens and Adam waited for a better shot.
Forty-five minutes later, the turkeys suddenly flushed from the barnyard toward the blind. Adam fired; Divens fired. Two turkeys lay against the snow.
Adam grinned, flashing a mouthful of braces. His dad squeezed his shoulder.
In an excited jumble of talk, father and son reconstructed the scene. “I was aiming at those other birds when that one poked its head up,” Adam said. His successful shot startled another turkey, which Divens shot, thinking Adam had missed.
After the shotguns were unloaded and the hunting tags were attached to the birds, Divens got out his camera. Adam knelt by his turkey, a 12-pound tom. Divens had shot a seven-pound hen.
Adam inspected his bird carefully, admiring the striped wing feathers, the iridescent bluish sheen of the back feathers and the showy tail feathers. The turquoise head indicated that it was a male, but it was too young to have a wattle.
Cellphone photos were snapped and sent to his mom and school friends.
“Thanksgiving dinner!” Karin Divens texted back.
Divens mulled possible recipes as he and Adam packed up their hunting gear. Instead of roasting the birds whole, he’ll cook the legs and breast separately to achieve tender, juicy meat.
“Preparing wild game the best you can, I think, is very respectful to the animals we harvest,” Divens said.
The turkeys will be served at a Thanksgiving potluck gathering of friends.
Subscribe to the Morning Review newsletter
Get the day’s top headlines delivered to your inbox every morning by subscribing to our newsletter.