Gobble Aloha –
Though I’ve been hunting birds for many many years, the chance to hunt a turkey had thus far eluded me until this year. Though there is turkey hunting in my home state, I live in a zone that holds so few birds that its closed to hunting. In order to hunt a turkey, its at least a 5 hour drive. That sort of time and fuel investment might be worth it for big game, perhaps, but not for a bird. Luckily, I had the opportunity to harvest some nice gobblers this year while on vacation in the land of aloha. You read that right: Tropical Turkey in Hawaii.
Struttin’ at the Beach
My first clue that there were game birds in Hawaii was about a decade ago. After doing some shore fishing, I was relaxing at a relatively deserted beach when I heard a gobble. I sat up and looked around, and sure enough, there was a group of tom Rio Grande turkeys chasing around a few hens! I watched them with amazement, and then asked a local what the deal was with the birds. He explained that they were brought to that particular area during the era of large pineapple plantations for hunting by the plantation owners, along with pheasants and other game birds. The tropical climate, abundance of roosts, plentiful forage, and relative lack of predators suited the turkeys well and they continue to flourish.
This year, I was introduced to a company called Hawaii Safaris. They take a lot of the busy work and headache out of hunting in Hawaii (if you’re just there for vacation, there’s a lot of logistics and paperwork to deal with including your firearm and desired hunting location), and offer different game and experiences on the islands of Hawaii, Maui, Molokai and Kauai. A local friend of mine on the “big island” heard that I never had hunted turkeys before, and hooked me up with one of their local turkey hunting guides for a two-bird hunt.
The morning of the hunt, we headed out in his truck to some hills above a massive Kona coffee plantation. The area where we were hunting was a balmy 60 degrees first thing in the morning. Coming from the Rockies, where I’m used to freezing in the early morning while hunting no matter the time of year, this was a pleasant change. Upon turning into the hunting area, we got out of the truck and immediately heard gobbling. The toms were out, and hopefully a few were not paired up with hens yet. We took cover behind some rocks, and my guide gave a few calls using a box call. The toms started to head our way, but then were distracted by a few real hens. After a while with no luck, we headed further on into the rolling meadows interspersed with Koa trees.
Our next setup was nearly a sure thing, but the interested toms ended up being scared off by (for me) an unexpected animal. Small herds of wild horses were moving around in the sunrise, and ended up scaring off our toms not once, but three different times! Ultimately, frustrated by all the horse commotion, we decided to head to a thicker, more overgrown area where the horses might not be, and the turkeys probably would be. On the edge of thick jungle, we took cover again behind a small rocky rise and started calling. The warm tropical air and the sound of Japanese white-eyes warbling from the jungle made for a somewhat surreal scene as a bunch of toms were gobbling and fighting over a hen. They were so busy taking turns knocking each other off the hen, gobbling and booming that they paid no mind to our calls.
After about 25 minutes of waiting for the birds to come to us, we decided that I should slowly make my way over the rise and take a shot at the distracted toms. Crouching low, I made my way forward. The first tom that I saw 35 yards away had enough of his body occluded by large lava rocks that I couldn’t take a shot. I waited for him to strut into a draw, and then made my way quickly, but quietly to a point where I could fire into the depression. In the depression was not one, but six toms, all squabbling with each other. These birds were fired up! Raising up the borrowed 90’s era Remington 870 Express that I was using, I shot one tom who was off to the side of the gaggle. I waited for the clump of toms to disperse a bit, and shot one more once I had a clear shot at a specific bird. Two fine Rios were down, I could now get to the business of tasting tropical turkey!
Tropical Turkey, Hawaiian-style
After the excellent hunt, I took the turkeys to a local restaurant that I knew would prepare wild game. I asked them to do the turkeys Hawaiian-style, and they did not disappoint! The turkeys ended up as a delicious turkey tempura, among other things. Other Hawaiian turkey preparations include Turkey Katsu (Fried Cutlet with katsu sauce) and turkey lau lau, which is steamed in taro leaves. Bottom line, it was delicious, and one of the best wild game dinners I’ve ever had.
Overall, I highly recommend hunting in Hawaii should you ever find yourself there. Hawaii is not only the beach and the ocean, and hunting is a great way to enjoy a little more of everything Hawaii has to offer.
Much Mahalo to Hawaii Safaris for the excellent hunt, and to the excellent chef!