Seven Roosters and a Turkey

Sprung – nine startled red deer mill about like headless chooks. They gather their wits and dash into the gorse above the forest track just as I get the ute parked and the rifle readied. A brown-eyegoodbye their Cervus version of ‘adios cowboy!’

The hinds hadn’t interested me, they were all bellies a’ bulge and bagged up with colostrum. With a gut full of freshly foraged greenery, they were toting a lot of weight, including a fully formed fawn. Nope it was not the big mamas I had my eye on, it was one of their last season’s sons. He with the velvet spikes carried tall and proud and his summer coat just emerged from its winter wardrobe.

The following morn I made like Mr Schwarzenegger – ‘I’ll be back’ – but this time my ute was a kilometre away and I was steal-thing along in soft boots and with rifle at the ready.

Dawn had clambered through the great divide and the natural world was abuzz with life. Sunday-morning-humans though, were a whole other story. Their homes and lifestyle blocks were across the river, dotted along the terrace at regular intervals. Of the humans, no one was stirring, not a yawn nor a fart broke the silence.

A thrush fluttered from a culvert head; she’d used the wee pool there to perform her morning ablutions. Feathers slicked back, sleepy eyes clear and teeth brushed she started her day in fine style. Quail pairs with bumble bee-sized chicks hurried as quail do, picking at grit and tugging seeds from tall grasses. Birds of every variety were singing up a storm.

A French hen in a coop across the way started to cluck. An early bird, she’d just produced an egg and told everyone within ear shot all about it.

That’s when the roosters started.

As I padded along silently every rooster at every residence across the river stretched his neck and his vocal cords too. A cock-adoodle-doo at every house. The second-last place had two!

Noise pollution and no deer over here. Whilst over there, the Sunday-morning-humans slept on, curtains pulled, and alarms muted.

It was the turkey that did it. At the eighth house up the valley a turkey tom started to contribute his vocalisations to the domestic fowl dawn chorus. His enthusiastic ‘gobble-gobble-gobble’ did my head in. What next – two turtle doves and a partridge in a pear tree?

I detoured far from the forest track, following the tinkling tones of a side creek. Here, clover grew lush despite summer’s dry and lanky watercress flowered prolifically. Buttercup, broom and barberry competed for ‘Best in Show in the Yellow Flower’ category.

This was more like it. Absolute silence except the sounds of the birds and the bees. Now I could tune-in without distraction and be aware of all things in the natural environment.

Eventually a movement caught my eye. A flash of black amidst a broom bush. Probably a blackbird gobbling flowers. Possibly a pig, also eating flowers.

I paused, waited, watched intently. The odd glimpse was enough to ascertain it was no blackbird. Nor was it a porker – too tall.

It was velvet. Black velvet.

I slowly, s-l-o-w-l-y crept crossways to open the shooting angle, then I just managed to sink to one knee before an ear and an eye appeared below the velvet. I readied myself to shoot, still on one knee, like I was about to make a marriage proposal. The head kept moving, the velvet bobbing back and forward as the buck picked flowers with his lips. 

Through my scope I could see his long eyelashes, his moist nose, the fluff in his ears but I didn’t want to risk a head shot on a bobbing target.

I waited – till my arms began to tire of holding the raised rifle.

I waited longer – the buck vanished – then his head reappeared – still eating.

My knee-high thigh began to cramp and my arms to tremble. I could hear my heart and feel it too. I could hear the pluck and chew and swallow as the buck fed. But I couldn’t shoot yet. Patience. Wait!

Finally, after eons, a fine black fallow buck stepped forward, his chest in full view. My fatigued arms wouldn’t behave, the rifle barrel wandered, the view through the scope weaved and wobbled. My mind was doing 110kph, my heart 150bpm. I’m old enough to know better, but adrenalin and anticipation were, as always, a very intoxicating cocktail.

The shot was accurate, but the buck ran anyway. He leapt a redundant barbed wire fence, airborne like the finest showjumper. He clattered across the creek, droplets of both water and blood in his wake. He made the shelter of the forest then lay down, defeated. I gave him a moment to expire in peace, his eyes dulled and reflexes ceased.

I padded silently back towards my ute, recounting the fine stalk in my head while retracing my boot prints in the dust. The roosters had shouted themselves to a stand-still, but the turkey gobbler continued his racket. He has no clue, how can he, that Christmas is but days away and he is destined to take pride of place at the family dining table.

Thanks be to that turkey for giving me reason to detour. Now my table and theirs will be graced with fine Christmas fare.

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