Tuesday, November 23, 2010

On a Budget? Serve Roadkill for Thanksgiving

With turkey prices at an all-time high this year, you may want to seriously consider serving another type of meat at your Thanksgiving dinner -- roadkill -- since it's fresh, fast and free.

According to Midwest hunter Buck Peterson, author of "The Original Roadkill Cookbook" (Ten Speed Press) and other humorous outdoor parodies, the most efficient way to do Thanksgiving on the cheap is to serve your guests freshly hit and roasted roadkill instead of a traditional turkey.

"This time of year is perfect for nabbing a deer on the road. The rut is on, and bucks are only thinking about romance, so they're being much more careless about crossing busy roads to get to the does," Peterson told AOL News. "In these next three weeks, there are very high chances for fresh meat straight off the road."

Peterson said the odds of hitting fresh roadkill are good because so many people are traveling by car to reach their holiday destinations.

"You don't want to show up to Grandma's house empty-handed," he reasoned. "That's just rude. Show up with some deer meat, and everyone will love you."

The sensible outdoorsman may not be reaching too far off the beaten path.

In fact, according to the annual Thanksgiving travel survey recently released by AAA, holiday travel between this Wednesday through Sunday is expected to increase by 11.4 percent from last year.

AAA expects 42.2 million people will travel at least 50 miles to reach their Thanksgiving destination, and trips by car remain the most popular, with 39.7 million people driving.

By Peterson's logic, that's a whole lot of chances to hit a deer, so he suggested packing extra tools, including something to scrape the deer off the road with and a rope to tie it to the car, just in case.

If you're lucky enough to score some free roadside protein, Peterson said preparing it will be a breeze.

"You don't need much to make deer meat taste good. Just roasting or grilling it with a little kosher salt, ground pepper, garlic salt and butter should be enough. You'll get some great-tasting steaks that way," he explained.

Since Peterson doesn't like to waste a single ounce of roadkill, he said the parts that aren't edible could come in handy as Christmas gifts.

"You can turn the hide into a pair of nice gloves. It's like killing two birds with one stone."

Now, if you're not too keen on scraping your Thanksgiving dinner off the pavement, Peterson recommended hunting your own wild turkey instead of spending money on one at the market.

The hunting expert said bagging a bird requires extreme patience, but it can be done.

"You need to call around and find out where the turkeys are first so you don't waste your time. The best turkey hunting happens in the spring, but you can still find one out there in the fall, especially early in the morning," he said.

After they find the prime location, Peterson suggests that turkey hunters deck themselves out in camouflage from head to toe, because wild gobblers have impeccable vision.

"They can't smell you, but they can see your every movement. Hide yourself by putting leaves on your feet and camouflage paint on your face. If you're face to face with a turkey, don't even blink, because it'll see your eyes move and it'll bolt right away. If you want the bird, stay as still as possible. Don't even scratch an itch," Peterson explained.

He also advised using a turkey mouth call to lure in a tom, which Peterson described as a "squeaky, high-pitched yelp that drives them wild."

Though he's a huge fan of bagging bucks, the hunter admitted there's nothing more gratifying than shooting your own Thanksgiving gobbler. Peterson believes the bird even tastes better knowing you killed it yourself.

"There's something very cool about scoring a wild turkey and bringing it home to your family. It makes you feel like a real pilgrim, minus the funny hat," said Peterson. "Plus, you can really build up the hunting story to make it sound more heroic than it actually was, to impress your family."

Because wild turkeys feed on only natural grains, Peterson said their meat tastes much more tender and juicy than a regular store-bought turkey.

"The breast is light meat, the legs are dark meat and the skin is delicious. If you smoke a wild turkey it comes out really good."

Again, Peterson may really be on to something.

According to Brent Lawrence of the National Wild Turkey Federation, many Americans hunt their own wild turkeys for Thanksgiving.

Lawrence told AOL News that in 2008 there were 649,507 fall turkey hunters in the U.S., and close to 3 million in the spring. He said the current wild turkey population is at a high of 7 million, so people can hunt without worry because each state manages its own turkey population.

Additionally, hunting your own turkey will help your wallet, since turkey prices are at a record high. Bloomberg reports that the cost of turkey this year is at $1.09 per pound, the highest price ever, because store-bought turkey production is down.

On top of that, the American Farm Bureau Federation reports that the average cost of a full Thanksgiving dinner this year is $43.47 -- up 1.3 percent from last year.

If you're not buying a bird, you can save around $18.

And, taking a page from Peterson's book, non-edible parts of the turkey can be used creatively. Peterson likes to make fly-fishing lures for his buddies out of the colorful feathers and often gives them away as holiday gifts.

The National Wild Turkey Federation runs a Feather Distribution Project where hunters can donate their plucked and cleaned turkey feathers to Native American tribes across the nation, which use them for their religious ceremonies.


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