Vulture Vomit

Payback, Scavenger-Style

If you hang around hunting camp or the shooting range for more than, say, seven seconds, you will soon be regaled with the most outrageous fibs, half-truths, bald-faced mendacities and straight-up Category Five lies ever inflicted on civilized mankind. It’s the nature of our shared passion. Frankly, most of us actually embrace dubious storytelling as a wonderful part of the experience.

In fact, hunters are often chased out of camp by their cohorts brandishing large sticks if they have the temerity to share a tale that includes more than 5% actual verifiable fact. It’s never been done, but if a hunter ever told a shooting-related story that was absolutely true start-to-finish, it’s likely a massive rip would develop in the space-time continuum and we’d all end up exploding into icy clouds of anti-matter.

Therefore, despite my lifelong dedication to “never let the truth get in the way of a good story,” along with my status as a professional writer, I’m going to risk the universe imploding by sharing a supposedly-true story. Though I hang around with hunters, shooters, anglers and other compulsive liars, the person who shared this episode swears and affirms it is true. Where the actual truth lies, I shall leave up to the audience but I will note on humid days my friend did radiate an unusual bouquet, so perhaps there is legitimacy in his claims. Let me explain.


The protagonist in this tale shall remain nameless but he is an older gentleman who I’ve known for nearly 40 years. We’ve grown apart over the last decade and haven’t spoken but previously, we spent many years shooting, hunting, fishing and generally committing various outdoor-related outrages together. He is also the person in my life — and we all have one — who can take a simple situation and turn it into a full-blown, four-alarm catastrophe in the name of fun. This was one of those times.

A mutual friend of ours witnessed this incident and told me about it. It occurred sometime in the late 1960s, before I knew either party, and involves a stupid and childish act — of course — but wasn’t illegal and was fairly commonplace at the time.
One fine late-winter day, the person telling the story and my lets-make-matters-worse buddy were driving out to hunt coyotes with rifles. Cruising along the backroads, they happened to spy a large gathering of turkey vultures, also known as “buzzards,” feasting on the odiferous remains of some poor creature that met its demise two weeks earlier on the country road.

Slowing to look upon the group, my friend spontaneously announced he had always wanted a full-body taxidermy mount of a buzzard to grace his home decor. Why this would be a better conversation piece than, say, a nice piece of driftwood or an oil painting remains open for debate to this day.

Before we go any further, we must note the turkey vulture is federally protected under the Migratory Bird Act of 1918, though legal protection wasn’t granted until 1972. Today, like all animals, turkey vultures have advocacy groups and a political action committee in Washington D.C. so please note our admonition: The turkey vulture is a critical part of the ecosystem, a fine fellow and generally misunderstood soul you shouldn’t harm or harass, despite the fact they smell like hot garbage, their vomit is acid enough to destroy car paint and they regularly urinate on their legs instead of bathing. So, regardless of any legitimate aversion, they are illegal to molest without federal permission.

The deed

Showing a critical lack of long-term thinking or any inkling as to how wives and future houseguests might view the acquisition, our heroes unanimously agreed potting the vulture and turning it into an objet d’art was a grand idea. Pulling over to the shoulder of the road, my friend grabbed his bolt-action .22-250, laid it over a weathered fence post and fired. At the shot, one buzzard flopped over as his frightened dining companions took wing.

Our victorious rifleman hopped the fence, walked over to the remains and gingerly picked up the stinking, gore-covered bird. Returning across the fence, the two men discussed what to do with the reeking carcass.

As vultures are known for their normal diet of rotten meat, the witness noted the smell was somewhere between unbelievable and unimaginable.

Because of last-minute mechanical trouble, the pair was driving the car of one of their wives instead of their usual pickup trucks. This meant the only reasonable place to carry the fetid beast was the trunk of the sedan. They figured they could wrap the bird in an old blanket, which they would later burn, and then use some type of disinfectant spray to rid the car of the lingering traces of stench. I’m guessing kerosene.

Satisfied with this dubious plan, the two then drove to another buddy whom they knew was an amateur taxidermist.

At the taxidermist’s home, my friend inquired if it were possible to mount the buzzard in a full, menacing, gothic wing-spread pose. The wildlife “artist” allowed that he could. After a bit of haggling, they agreed upon a price and the three men walked up to the trunk of the vehicle. There was an ominous rustling from inside as my friend turned the key in the lock.

Hostilities Commence

As the trunk lid popped open, the now-conscious and thoroughly angry buzzard stood up like the Phoenix arising to glare at the men. The furious bird then spread its five-foot wings menacingly, squawked loudly and proceeded to vomit with great force and volume.

For those unaware, vomiting is the vulture’s standard first line of defense and they are quite practiced in the art. For what seemed like an eternity, the bird swiveled its head like a lawn sprinkler spewing liquefied roadkill all over the three men and the car.

The smell was excruciating. Most of the trees within 30 feet began shedding leaves and several flying insects died in midair. To make matters worse, in the panic borne of hyper-gagging, my buddy tried to grab the now-apparently-healthy bird by the wings as it continued flopping and spewing the upchuck geyser.

The struggle turned into a short wrestling match with the bird expending its entire arsenal on his hapless tormentor. Locked arm-in-wing, the duo struggled around the driveway in a life-or-death battle as vomit, feces and urine spurted every direction — the majority of which came from the vulture.

The horrific, clinging odor seared every nostril hair within range and in turn each man added their lunch to the gory tableau. The driveway grew slippery with barf and after three or four circuits of the immediate area, the bird and man went down for good.

After several more seconds of driveway grappling, the man finally conceded defeat and curled into a ball in the hopes the whole thing would just be a bad dream — a very wet, extremely smelly, bad dream. His friends didn’t witness this as they were indisposed, crawling on their hands and knees while looking for somewhere cleaner to hurl again.

With this sudden break in the action, the bird took flight with a loud squawk. It was never seen again and no one knows why it flopped over unconscious or if it eventually succumbed to whatever wound it had sustained in the initial encounter. Some believe it just had a sick sense of humor.


In the end, there are several lessons to be learned. First, you shouldn’t shoot vultures because it’s illegal, immoral and serves no purpose, decorating needs notwithstanding. Secondly, if you do happen to need to shoot a buzzard under legal circumstances, as Robert Ruark said, “Use enough gun.” I’d suggest something along the lines of a .458 Winchester Magnum, though my friend now thinks only a .470 Nitro Express safely meets the criteria.

And, most of all, always warn your wife beforehand when the clothes hamper contains an extra-special surprise.

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