Story and Photos By Emily Key
Traveling north on U.S. Hwy 431 from Opelika involves patience. The two lane road winds through farmland and has speed limit changes quite frequently as it passes through multiple small towns. Each small town has it’s own unique style, often with murals that can be seen from the road. You don’t have to take detours to enjoy the drive north. A couple turn-offs are necessary along the way, but 431 continues straight into Sardis City, where excitement awaits at Bama Bucks Wildgame Restaurant and Exotic Animal Park.
Terry Turk, a long time resident of the Sardis City community, grew up loving animals. His dream started off specifically by wanting a pet deer but has surpassed that a few hundred fold. Twenty-five years ago, Turk received his first deer from the state.
“Back then, you could get deer and put them behind a fence with the proper permit. You can’t do that anymore. Now, if a deer is born outside of a fence, it can’t be moved inside of one; if it’s born inside, it can’t go outside,” Turk said.
Anyone looking to begin a deer farm would have to purchase their deer from farms like Turks. The days of making a wild deer a pet are long gone.
What began as somewhat of a hobby, has turned into a full-fledged business as Turk grew his deer population and began adding exotic species to his farm. It started by adding an elk, then a kangaroo and is now a full-blown menagerie. The facility is home to ostriches, black bears, ring-tailed lemurs, a 3-month old zebra, Rocky Mountain elk, a swan, camels, miniature Mediterranean donkeys, kangaroos, fallow deer and the list goes on. I’m sure you are all as curious as myself, in regards to the question of “How in the world does someone end up with all these animals?” Turk explained that things in the animal world progress naturally.
“When you get to know some camel handlers, you naturally end up getting in touch with the kangaroo guy, the zebra girl, and [so] on,” Turk said.
There are two specific animals that quite likely have futures at Bama Bucks if Turk has his way: alligators and a cougar. He explained the work it would take to create a quality enclosure for the alligators, demonstrating his passion and knowledge about this endeavor. He works with the proper government authorities and has shown responsiblity in the creation of this unique destination.
Turks desire to grow the facility and give the community more opportunities to experience his passion pushed him to expand by opening a steakhouse and wildgame restaurant on the property, he said. The beautifully constructed restaurant hosts incredible taxidermy throughout, while maintaining the classy style of an upscale joint.
The staff were well-informed of the menu’s “wild” offerings and gave great recommendations. The wild-game trio came as an appetizer, allowing guests to taste elk, bison and boar sausage. It was fun to be able to take note of and discuss the different flavors of each item individually. While the steakhouse has your more “normal” options, I couldn’t help but to go all out with the 12-ounce bison ribeye (cooked medium rare). I expected the meat to be tougher than beef, but it was amazingly tender and juicy. The flavor of the meat was incredible and was perfectly enhanced by the tomato butter and fried onions dripping off the top of the steak. My lunch companions also made excellent choices with the pheasant and elk steak, both of which were delicious. As full as you’ll be after such beautiful entrees, you have to save room for dessert. Who’s counting calories when crème brûlée cheesecake is an option?
Turk himself said, “I have to be careful with that cause I can eat that twice a day.”
The top was perfectly glassed over with caramelized sugar, breakable with a quick tap of a spoon. The flavors combined in an incredible way and the whole meal left us practically rolling out of our booth with full bellies.