Five fine specimens of Meleagris gallopavo (wild turkey to you) wandered onto my property here in Humboldt county, northern California, a few days ago. I assume they forgot to check the California Fish and Game calendar which permits a two week window for wild turkey hunters before Thanksgiving. Out came my 12-gauge, and I loosed off a shot, which at some 100 feet did no discernible damage, and after a brief bout of what-the-hell-was-that, the turkeys continued to forage. A fusillade of two more shots finally brought down a 14-pounder. I hung him for four days, plucked him, and by Thanksgiving's end, he'll be history. This was all easier than sporting manuals suggest, where hunters take enormous trouble to decoy the turkeys with fake gobbles.

Wild turkeys haven't been seen in California since the Cenozoic era, but in recent years, two ranchers in my valley imported a few, and now they've begun to appear in our neighborhood in substantial numbers. I've heard reports of flocks of up to a 100 wild turkeys 15 miles up the Mattole river around Honeydew, an impressive quantity, though still far short of the 1,000 birds counted in one day by two hunters in New England in 1630.

The speed with which New World foods spread across Europe and Asia half a millennium ago is astounding. Cortez brought turkeys back to Europe from Mexico, and by the 1530s, these birds were well known in Germany and England. The Puritans had domestic turkeys with them in New England, gazing out at their wild relatives, offered by the Indians who regarded them as somewhat second-rate as food. The white folk thought differently.

A few days later, I saw the four survivors of the flock I had depleted, pecking their way along the hillside without any visible nervousness, even though they have many enemies aside from the Beast called Man. There are swaths of Humboldt and Mendocino counties where coyotes and mountain lions now hold near exclusive sway. Ranchers running sheep used to hold off the coyotes with M-80 poison gas canisters that exploded at muzzle touch but these are now illegal, and the alternatives are either trapping, which is a difficult and time-consuming job, or getting Grand Pyrenees dogs to guard the flock. But the coyotes are crafty, and wait till the sheep have scattered, then prey on the unguarded half.

Gabbing on the phone to my friend Ford Roosevelt, who lives in Los Angeles, I mentioned my turkey kill, and he reacted with revulsion, not so much to the fate of Meleagris gallopavo, but to the fact that I have a shotgun at all. I told Ford that it was this sort of city slicker foolishness that had cost Gore states like West Virginia, Tennessee, Arkansas and Ohio. Ford, a grandson of FDR, then disclosed that the Democratic National Committee had asked him to campaign in various states, including West Virginia. "Well, Ford, didn't you find that the gun issue was on peoples' minds?" "Yes, as a matter fact. I was talking to some miners and they brought it up. I told them that as far as I was concerned, guns should be banned altogether. They weren't pleased." "So, it was you, Ford, who lost West Virginia." He didn't seem contrite.

Alexander Cockburn and Jeffrey St Clair are coauthors of Al Gore: A User's Manual, published by Verso. To find out more about Alexander Cockburn and read features by other columnists and cartoonists, visit the Creators Syndicate web page at COPYRIGHT 2000 CREATORS SYNDICATE, INC.