- Peacocks in Paradise
Peacocks in Paradise
by Kyle Sullivan
When I moved to Hawaii I knew I was going to have to adapt in more ways than one, and hunting was no exception. Oahu, the island I moved to, does not have the axis deer some of the other islands are famous for, and access to quality hunting areas can be quite difficult for a newcomer. I was also swapping pigs for whitetails as my main quarry, and adding a few new birds I wasn’t familiar with like spotted doves, Erckel’s Francolin, Kalij Pheasant, and… Peacocks.
My mainland experience of Peacocks, like most people’s, involved tame animals at petting zoos and golf courses, and as that is where most people have ever encountered one, I can understand their incredulity about being able to hunt them, much less considering it a hunt at all. However, Peacocks, or more properly “Indian Peafowl” (only the males are the ‘cocks’) are descended from a wild bird that literally overlapped with lions, tigers, and bears – Oh My! All that to say that when a Peacock is wild or feral, it quickly reverts back to its keen eyesight, hearing, and instinct to stay alive in a world filled with hungry and dangerous predators. Add to that the three feet of tail feather that, when grabbed, can spell doom for its owner means that having an instinct and skill in keeping a healthy distance from danger are a must.
My hunt for a truly wild Peacock actually started months before I shouldered a shotgun, as hunting is limited to a three-month season. So I used the preceding months when the hunting area was open to hunting feral goats and pigs to start gathering intel. Where was I finding feathers? Where did I see tracks? When and where did I hear calls - and when and where was I lucky enough to catch a glimpse of a bird that always spotted me before I spotted him?
I also hit the books, but as I quickly learned there was precious little information about how to actually hunt them. I found no videos on how to call them, almost nothing in online hunting forums, and a Peacock call I bought online wasn’t even made for hunting Peacocks, but was designed to provoke a gobble from a turkey! I did learn that they can live up to 15 years, and that a male does not develop his full tail until he is at least three years old. I saw videos of people shooting them with centerfire rifles from 100+ yards in New Zealand, and heard of people locating their roosts and shooting them off their perch at night. But none of that sounded very sporting or proper – I wanted to make it a real hunt, and a real hunt is what I got.
When the season opened, I spent three days in Peacock country – shotgun in hand trying to close the distance. I used my call that produced the two-note cat-like call of the males, but never heard any direct responses. My first day I did hear one of their honking calls uphill of me in a dry creek bed. What followed was one of the most intense 30 minute stalks of my hunting career. The creek bed had some trees with a high canopy, but the understory was cleared out by feral goats and cattle. So, while I could carefully step from rock to rock and keep relatively quiet and I could see a long way, I was also painfully visible to any peafowl in the creek bed. I knew it was a game of who saw who first, and each step I took reveled more land to me, and more of me to the unseen ground ahead. Each time I lost my balance on the round cobbles and waved my arm in the air for balance, stomping on dry leaves by accident I would wait with baited breath, thinking I’d screwed it all up, sweat pouring down my face and back until I was saved by another call further up the creek. Every 40 seconds to a minute I would get another encouraging honk from somewhere in the brush ahead.
I tried hard to judge the distance and not get impatient until I heard a call close by and finally knew the bird was just ahead. I popped over a rock, shotgun at the ready to find – a lone female. I had resolved only to shoot a male though females were legal, and ducked back away from the Peahen. I considered it a learning opportunity and decided that the honking call was only made by females, and would not follow that call again.
After a busted second day, I returned to the head of the dry creek bed I had been to on the first day, and decided to stalk it downhill at midday. I moved very slowly and deliberately. Stopping every few paces to just listen and wait. Finally, I came over a rise and locked eyes with a full-tailed male Peacock. I fired two shots in quick succession, but either due to poor aim, or under-powered ammo (limited selection in the island gun shops) the bird seemed un-phased and took flight! But either poor judgement or blocking brush pushed his flightpath at an angle towards me, so I settled in, swung my gun, and connected solidly with my last shot.
Emotions run high in the final moments of a hunt, but after weeks and months of preparation and daydreaming, and days of actually hunting in the field, when I could actually kneel down beside this beautiful bird I had finally caught up to – I was left speechless. You would not believe the variety of colors, the diversity of feathers, and the unexpected phenomena the light can illuminate in the feathers of a Peacock. The back that I previously assumed was just ‘green’ revealed golden iridescence and little blue ‘eyes’ I had never noticed before. Turning the tail at an angle to the sun changed it to a rosy-gold that melted all the green away. I spent several minutes with this astonishing bird just admiring it, turning it this way and that, stroking the luxurious plumage and thanking it for its life.
I brought the whole bird home to show my wife who, not being a hunter, and certainly no fan of taxidermy at all, had all but insisted that if I was going to hunt a peacock, we were going to do something with the pelt. I was happy to comply as I knew this would be a rare and beautiful thing however we went about it, but when we had it there before us, I had to share her sentiment when she left me in the garage to do the dirty work. She said “It’s beautiful, but I just have so many mixed emotions about this… it’s like you shot a Unicorn!”.