Turkey Shoot

One afternoon during my first week in New Hampshire Mahoney had called from Oklahoma and I was gazing out the back windows, describing the wilderness — the trees, the pond, the view. Suddenly I shrieked! Turkeys! Wildlife! We had actual wildlife in our back yard!

A band of perhaps six wild turkeys had strolled out of the tree line, apparently to inspect the new residents. Embarrassed at having nothing in the way of food to offer them I instead grabbed the camera in hopes of memorializing our first meeting. I dashed out onto the deck, leaving Mahoney to wonder, and took a bunch of hopeful shots, but realized I was probably too far away and the turkeys would likely blend into the trees when the prints came back. And I was right.

But wild turkeys abound in our neck of the woods. Down the road at the horse farm they show up in droves for the evening feeding, scavenging the grain that falls to the ground, pecking and weaving around the legs of the indulgent beasts. Every year the bank of turkeys is bigger. Closer to town I have passed a farm where what I thought were big black rocks of strangely regular shapes and sizes seemed to move about a field in early mornings in the fall. Closer inspection revealed these were indeed turkeys, too! I have carried cameras with me, yet when I am thus armed, there are no turkeys. When I have given up and left the equipment at home, there they are. I took to carrying a small point-and-shoot for a while, but when I got the film back the pictures were useless. The heat of the car had worked its evil on the emulsion and everything looked like mud.

And yet I continue my quest to get a breathtaking portrait of a wild turkey in its natural surrounds. Once Mahoney called me from the road and said it must be mating season because there were a number of male turkeys auditioning for some females just down the road. But of course by the time I got into the car and drove the half mile, there was no trace. To be fair to the turkeys, though, this has also happened with a moose and a bear, so it’s probably not entirely a turkey thing.

When I see them I smile and wave, but I’m still hoping for the Big Break.

Last week I was coming home from work. The good camera with the telephoto already on it was in the car, there was film in the camera and a fresh battery. As I passed the horse farm there were turkeys on the lawn. There were baby turkeys. The males were fluffed out and parading proudly. The entire stage was set, and they were kind of drifting toward the brow of the hill. The sun was close to the horizon, the light was perfect, the setting immaculate! I unzipped the camera bag with one hand and dug out the camera as I spun the wheel, scattering gravel, and made a hasty U-turn. I dashed back to the scene, smiled at the hum of the window going down, thumbed the camera’s On switch. This was it! It was all finally coming together! I cruised smoothly up to my chosen vantage point — just in time to see the last male turkey settling the final few feathers back into place. He looked back over his … what, shoulder? … at me as he descended the far side of the hill after the rest of the herd.

Aw, rats!

I thought about waving farewell in defeat, but instead, in keeping with the avian theme, I admit it — I flipped that turkey the bird. NH

Essayist Barrie Woodruff moved to New Hampshire long enough to write her book-length ode, “A Novice in New Hampshire.” Now she submits her Granite State musings from Arizona. Go figure.