He sounded, as hunters will often say, "more like a turkey than a turkey itself." His fly-down cackle rose and then fell off and rose again to a kind of climax certain to drive a gobbler wild. Cooper worked with one hand in his pocket, the other covering half his face, and he moved around in small circles on the dirt floor. When he finished, the crowd gave him the biggest hand of the day.
Sitting at the end of the bleachers, 20 feet from the nearest caller, there was a man who looked uncannily like Chuck Norris, the karate-movie man. This fellow had the same neatly trimmed beard and disturbingly intense eyes as Norris. He wore a camouflage shirt from H.S. Strut, and he was clearly working very hard to psych himself up before his five minutes onstage.
While he was waiting, a boy who appeared to be about 10 approached him to whisper something. The man sent the boy away without looking at him or changing his expression.
After a few more callers had performed, it was this man's turn. He stood to make his calls, and though he moved about, there was nothing exaggerated in his movements. Or in his calling, for that matter. If Cooper's calls had been charismatic and interpretive, his were subdued and formal. And perfect, it seemed, in every note. They began and ended cleanly, and there was a raspiness to them that made them seem absolutely wild, as though they could not have been made by a human. When he finished, he knew, as did everyone else in the room, that he had done well.
When the last caller had left the stage, some two hours after Morgan had made his first tree yelp, the judges totaled their scores. The high and low scores for each contestant were thrown out, and the other scores were added up. Each call was judged on a scale of 1 to 10, so the highest possible score was 150. The winning score was 133, earned by the man who looked like Chuck Norris.
His name is Walter Parrott, and he comes from Doe Run, Mo. He finished third in the All-American last year and had been on a streak lately. In the past several weeks, he also had won the Grand National and the U.S. Open, and while it sometimes seems as if there are as many extravagant titles on the turkey-calling circuit as there are in professional wrestling, those two are very prestigious tournaments. The All-American is the biggest of all. For now, Parrott is the best.
Cooper finished four points behind. He examined his scores and saw that the fly-down cackle, his most ambitious piece of improvisation, actually cost him points. He won $1,000 less than Parrott, and his trophy, a brass spittoon, was slightly smaller. "Well," he said as he left the fairgrounds for his hotel, "what can you say. That's turkey calling."
Morgan was third, with a 126. "In this crowd," he said, "I'm happy to win anything at all."
Parrott gave his spittoon to his nine-year-old son, Curtis, the boy who had spoken to him before Parrott took the stage and who stood proudly at his side while he talked to a local reporter. "When I first started hunting turkeys," Parrott said, "I was afraid to call. I was embarrassed by how bad I sounded." He practiced so much that entering contests became inevitable.
Parrott left the fairgrounds with his wife, Linda, and son. They would spend the night in Indianapolis, the big city, before going back to Missouri. He had another competition coming up the next weekend. During the week, he works as a brickmason.