Apicultura Wiki

ORIGINALLY, the wild turkey was found scattered throughout the whole of our continent, its habits only differing, where the peculiarity of the seasons compelled it to provide against excessive cold or heat. In the "clearing," it only lives in its excellent and degenerated descendant of the farm-yard, but in the vast prairies and forests of the "far west," this bird is still abundant, and makes an important addition to the fare of wild life.

It is comparatively common on the "frontiers," but every passing year lessens its numbers; and as their disappearance always denotes their death their extermination is progressive and certain.

In Louisiana, Alabama, South Carolina, and other southern states, there are fastnesses, in which they will find support and protection for a long time to come. The swamps and lowlands that offer no present inducement to "the settler," will shelter them from the rifle; and in the rich productions of the soil, they find a superabundance of food.

The same obscurity, however, that protects them, leaves the hole of the wildcat in peace; and this bitter enemy of the turkey, wars upon it, and makes its life one of cunning and care. Nor, is its finely-flavored meat unappreciated by other destroyers, as the fox often makes the turkey an evening meal, while the weasel contents itself with the little chicks. The nest, however, may have been made, and the young birds may have in peace broken the shell, and frightened at their own piping notes, hidden instinctively away, when the Mississippi will rise, bearing upon its surface the waters of a thousand floods, swell within its narrow banks, and overflow the lowlands. The young bird, unable to fly, and too delicate to resist the influence of the wet, sickens and dies.

Upon the dryness of the season, therefore, the turkey- hunter builds his hopes of the plentifulness of the game.

Independent of the pernicious influence of unfavorable seasons, or the devastation of the wild turkey by destructive animals, their numbers are also annually lessened by the skill of the pioneer and backwoodsman, and in but comparatively a few more years the bird must have, as a denizen of our border settlements, only a traditionary existence; for the turkey is not migratory in its habits, and its absence from any of its accustomed haunts, is indicative of its total extermination from the place where it was once familiar.

At present, the traveller in the "far west," while wending his solitary way through the trackless forests, sometimes very unexpectedly meets a drove of turkeys in his pathway, and when his imagination suddenly warms with the thought that he is near the poultry-yard of some hospitable farmer, and while his wearied limbs seem to labor with extra pain, as he thinks of the couch compared with the cold ground as a resting-place, he hears a sudden whizzing in the air, a confused noise, and his seeming evidences of civilization and comfort vanish as the wild turkey disappears, giving him by their precipitate flight, the most painful evidence that he is far from the haunts of men and home.

Turkey hunting is a favorite pursuit with all who can practice it with success, but it is a bird liberally provided by nature with the instinct of self-preservation, and is, therefore, seldom found off its guard. Skilful indeed must be the shot that stops the turkey in its flight of alarm, and yet its wings, as with the partridge and quail, are little used for the purposes of escaping from danger. It is on their speed that they rely for safety, and we doubt if the best hounds could catch them in a race, even if the turkey's wings were clipped so that they could not resort to height to elude their pursuers. So little indeed does the bird depend upon its pinions, that they find it difficult to cross rivers moderately wide, and in the attempt the weak and very fat, are often sacrificed.

We have seen the wild turkey gathering in troops upon the limb of some tall cotton wood on the banks of the Mississippi, and we have known by their preparations that they intended to cross the rive. There on their elevated roost they would set, stretching out their necks as if gathering a long breath for their, to them, prolonged :Fight. In the mean while, the "squatter," on the opposite bank, would prepare himself to take advantage of the birds' necessities. Judging from experience where about the "drove" would land on his side of the stream, he would lie concealed until the flight commenced. The birds would finally launch themselves in the mid air, as in their progress it could be seen that they constantly descended toward the earth, - the bank would be reached, but numbers exhausted would fail to reach the land, and would fall a prey to the insatiate wave, or the rapacious wants of man.

In hunting the wild turkey, there is unfortunately too little excitement to make it a favorite sport with those who follow the hounds. But uncertainty of meeting with the bird, even if you know its haunts, and the sudden termination of the sport, even if successful, makes successful turkey hunters few and far between.

The cautiousness of the wild turkey is extraordinary: it excels that of the deer, or any other game whatever; and nothing but stratagem, and an intimate knowledge of the habits of the bird by the hunter, will command success. We once knew an Indian, celebrated for all wood craft, who made a comfortable living by supplying a frontier town with game. Often did he greet the villagers with loads of venison, with grouse, with bear, but seldom, indeed, did he offer the esteemed turkey for sale. Upon being reproached for his seeming incapacity to kill the turkey, by those who desired the bird, he defended himself as follows:

"Me meet moose - he stop to eat, me shoot him. Me meet bear - he climb a tree, no see Indian, me shoot him. Me meet deer - he look up - say may be Indian, may be stump - and me shoot him. Me see turkey great way off - he look up and say, Indian coming sure - me no shoot turkey, he cunning too much."

The turkey is also very tenacious of life, and will often escape though wounded in a manner that would seem to defy the power of locomotion. A rifle ball has been driven through and through the body of a turkey, and yet it has run with speed for miles. Some hunters have been fortunate in possessing dogs that have, without any instruction, been good turkey hunters. These dogs follow the scent, lead the hunter up to the haunts of the bird, die quiet until a shot is had, and then follow the game if only wounded, until it is exhausted, and thus secure a prize to the hunter, that would otherwise have been lost. This manner of hunting the turkey, however, cannot be its most legitimate form; as will be noticed in the progress of our chronicle.

The taste that makes the deer and fox hunt a favorite amusement, is not the foundation on which to build a true turkey hunter. The baying of hounds, the clamor of the horn, the excitement of the chase, the pell-mell and noisy demonstration, are all destructive to the successful pursuit of the turkey, - consequently, the turkey hunter is distinct and peculiar; he sympathises with the excentric habits of the bird, with its love of silence, with its obscurity, and it is no objection to him, if the morning is whiled away in the deep solitude, in comparative inaction, for all this favors contemplation worthy of an intellectual mind.

It is unnecessary to describe the bird, though we never see it fairly represented except in the forest. The high-mettled racer that appears upon the course is no more superior to the well fed cart-horse, than is the wild turkey to the tame; in fact, nothing living shows more points of health and purity of blood than this noble bird. Its game head, and clear hazel eye, the clean, firm step, the great breadth of shoulder, and deep chest, strike the most superficial observer. Then there is an absolute commanding beauty about them, when they are alarmed or cautious; then they elevate themselves to their full height, bringing their head perpendicular with their feet, and gaze about, every feather in its place, the foot upraised ready at an instant to strike off at a speed, that, as has been said of the ostrich, "scorneth the horse and his rider."

As a general thing, turkey-hunters, if they be of literary habits, read Isaak Walton, and Burton's "Anatomy of Melancholy," and all - learned or unlearned - are, of course, enthusiastic disciples of the rod and line. The piscator can be an enthusiastic admirer of the opera, the wild turkey-hunter could not be, for his taste never carries him beyond the simple range of natural notes. Herein, he excels.

Place him in the forest with his pipe, and no rough Pan ever piped more wilily, or more in harmony with the scenes around him. The same tube modulates the sound of alarm, and the dulcet Strains of love; it plays plaintively the complaining notes of the female, and, in sweet chirrups, calls forth the lover from his hiding- place; it carols among the low whisperings of the fledgling, and expresses the mimic sounds of joy at the treasure of food, that is discovered under the fallen leaf, or half hidden away in the decaying wood.

And all this is done so craftily, that ears, on which nature has set her stamp of peculiar delicacy, and the instinct, true almost as the shadow to the sunlight; are both deceived.

The wild turkey-hunter is a being of solitude. There is no noise or boisterous mirth in his pursuit.

Even the dead leaf, as it sails in circuitous motion to the earth, intrudes upon his caution, and alarms the wary game, which, in its care of preservation, flies as swiftly before the imaginary, as before the real danger.

Often, indeed, is the morning's work destroyed by the cracking of a decayed limb, under the nimble spring of the squirrel. The deer and timid antelope will stop to gratify curiosity; the hare scents the air for an instant, when alarmed, before it dashes off; but the turkey never speculates, never wonders; suspicion of danger, prompts it to immediate flight, as quickly as a reality.

The implements of the turkey-hunter are few and simple; the "call," generally made of the large bone of the turkey's wing, or a Small piece of wood, into which is driven a nail, and a small piece of oil stone (the head of the nail on being quickly scraped on the stone, producing perfectly the noise of the female turkey), and a double-barrel fowling-piece, complete the list. A rifle is used where the game is plentiful; and the person using it, as we have already described, depends upon the sagacity and speed of the dog, to rescue the wounded bird, for the turkey never instantly dies, except wounded in the brain.

Where turkeys are plentiful and but little hunted, unskilful persons succeed in killing them; of such hunters we shall not speak.

The bird changes its habits somewhat with its haunts, growing wilder as it is most pursued; it may, therefore, be said to be the wildest of game. Gaining in wisdom according to the necessity, it is a different bird where it is constantly sought for as game, from where it securely lives in the untrodden solitude. The turkey will, therefore, succeed at times in finding a home in places comparatively "thickly settled," and be so seldom seen, that they are generally supposed to be extinct. Under such circumstances, they fall victims only to the very few hunters who may be said to make a science of their pursuit.

"I rather think," said a turkey-hunter, "if you want to find a thing very cunning, you need not go to the fox or such varmints, but take a gobbler. I once hunted regular after the same one for three years, and never saw him twice.

"I knew the critter's 'yelp' as well as I know Music's, my old deer dog; and his track was as plain to me as the trail of a log hauled through a dusty road.

"I hunted the gobbler always in the same 'range,' and about the same 'scratching,' and he got so, at last, that Allen I 'called,' he would run from me, taking the opposite direction to any own foot-tracks.

"Now, the old rascal kept a great deal on a ridge, at the end of which, where it lost itself in the swamp, was a hollow cypress tree. Determined to outwit him, I put on my shoes, heels foremost, walked leisurely down the ridge, and got into the hollow tree, and gave a 'call,' and boys," said the speaker exultingly, "it would have done you good to see that turkey coming towards me on a trot, looking at my tracks, and thinking I had gone the other way."

Of all turkey-hunters, our friend W -- is the most experienced; he is a bachelor, lives upon his own plantation, studies, philosophizes, makes fishing tackle, and kills turkeys. With him, it is a science reduced to certainty. Place him in the woods where turkeys frequent, and he is as certain of them as if already in his possession.

He understands the habits of the bird so well, that he will, on his first essay, on a new hunting-ground, give the exact character of the hunters the turkeys have been accustomed to deal with. The most crafty turkeys are those which W--- seeks, hemmed in by plantations, inhabiting uncultivatable land, and always in more or less danger of pursuit and discovery, they become, under such circumstances, wild beyond any game whatever.

They seem incapable of being deceived, and taking every thing strange, as possessed to them of danger - whether it be a moth out of season - or a veteran hunter - they appear to common, or even uncommon observers, annihilated from the country, were it not for their footprints occasionally to be seen in the soft soil beside the running stream, or in the light dust in the beaten road.

A veteran gobbler, used to all the tricks of the hunter's art - one who has had his wattles cut with shot; against whose well-defended breast had struck the spent ball of the ride - one who, though almost starved, would walk by the treasures of grain in the "trap" and "pen," - a gobbler who will listen to the plaintive note of the female until he has tried its quavers, its length, its repetitions, by every rule nature has given him - and then, perhaps not answer, except in a smothered voice, for fear of being deceived; - such a turkey will W--- select to break a lance with, and, in spite of the chances against him, win.

We then have here the best specimen of wild turkey- hunting; an exhibition of skill between the perfection of animal instinct, and the superior intellect of man.

The turkey-hunter, armed with his "call," starts into the forest; he bears upon his shoulder the trusty gun. He is either informed of the presence of turkeys, and has a particular place or bird in view, or he makes his way cautiously along the banks of some running steam; his progress is slow and silent; it may be that he unexpectedly hears a noise, sounding like distant thunder; he then knows that he is in close proximity of the game, and that he has disturbed it to flight. When such is the case, his work is comparatively done.

We will, for illustration, select a more difficult hunt. The day wears towards noon, the patient hunter has met no "sign," when suddenly a slight noise is heard - not unlike, to unpractised ears, a thousand other woodland sounds; the hunter listens; again the sound is heard, as if a pebble dropped into the bosom of a little lake. It may be that woodpecker, who, desisting from his labors, has opened his bill to yawn - or, perchance, yonder little bird so industriously scratching among the dead leaves of that young holly. Again, precisely the same sound is heard; yonder, high in the heavens, is a solitary hawk, winging its way over the forests, its rude scream etherealized, might come down to our ears, in just such a sound as made the turkey-hunter listen; - again the same note - now more distinct. The quick ear of the hunter is satisfied; stealthily he intrenches himself behind a fallen tree, a few green twigs are placed before him, from among which protrudes the muzzle of his deadly weapon.

Thus prepared, he takes his "call," and gives one solitary "cluck" - so exquisitely - that it chimes in with the running brook and the rustling leaf.

It may be, that a half a mile off, if the place be favorable for conveying sound, is feeding a "gobbler;" prompted by his nature, as he quickly scratches up the herbage that conceals his food, he gives utterance to the sounds that first attracted the hunter's attention.

Poor bird! he is bent on filling his crop; his feelings are listless, common-place; his wings are awry; the plumage on his breast seems soiled with rain; his wattles are contracted and pale, - look! he starts - every feather is instantly in its place, he raises his delicate game-looking head full four feet from the ground, and listens; what an eye! what a stride is suggested by that lifted foot! gradually the head sinks; again the bright plumage grows dim, and with a low cluck, he resumes his search for food.

The treasures of the American forest are before him; the choice pecan-nut is neglected for that immense "grub worm" that rolls down the decayed stump, too large to crawl; now that grasshopper is nabbed; presently a hill of ants presents itself, and the bird leans over it, and, with wondering curiosity, peering down the tiny hole of its entrance, out of which are issuing the industrious insects.

Again that cluck greets his ear, up rises the head with lightning swiftness, the bird starts forward a pace or two, looks around in wonder, and answers back.

No sound is heard but the falling acorn; and it fairly echoes, as it rattles from limb to limb, and dashes off to the ground.

The bird is uneasy - he picks pettishly, smooths down his feathers, elevates his head slowly, and then brings it to the earth; raises his wings as if for flight, jumps upon the limb of a fallen tree, looks about, settles down finally into a brown study, and evidently commences thinking.

An hour may have elapsed - he has resolved the matter over; his imagination has become inflamed; he has heard just enough to wish to hear more; he is satisfied, that no turkey-hunter uttered the sounds that reached his ear, for they were too few and far between; and then there rises up in his mind some disconsolate mistress, and he gallantly flies down from his low perch, gives his body a swaggering motion, and utters a distinct and prolonged cluck - significant of both surprise and joy.

On the instant, the dead twigs near by crack beneath a heavy tread, and he starts off under the impression that he is caught; but the meanderings of some ruminating cow inform him of his mistake. Composing himself, he listens - ten minutes since he challenged, when a low cluck in the distance reaches his ears.

Now, our gobbler is an old bird, and has several times, as if by a miracle, escaped from harm with his life; he has grown very cunning indeed.

He will not roost two successive nights upon the same tree, so that daylight never exposes him to the hunter, who has hidden himself away in the night to kill him in the morning's dawn.

He never gobbles without running a short distance at least, as if alarmed at the noise he makes himself - he presumes every thing is suspicious and dangerous, and his experience has heightened the instinct.

Twice, when young, was he coaxed within gun-shot: but got clear by some fault of the percussion-caps - after that, he was fooled by an idle schoolboy, who was a kind of ventriloquist, and would have been slain, had not the urchin overloaded his gun.

Three times did he come near being killed by heedlessly wandering with his thoughtless playfellows.

Once he was caught in a "pen," and got out by an overlooked hole in its top.

Three feathers of last year's "fan," decayed under the weight of a spring-trap.

All this experience has made him a "deep" bird; and he will sit and plume himself, when common hunters are tooting away, but never so wisely as to deceive him twice. They all reveal themselves by overstepping the modesty of nature, and woo him too much; his loves are far more coy, far less intrusive.

Poor bird! he does not know that W--- is spreading his snare for him, and is even then so sure of his victim, as to be revolving in his mind whether his goodly carcass should be a present to a newly-married friend, or be served up in savory fumes, from his own bachelor but hospitable board.

The last cluck heard by the gobbler, fairly roused him, and he presses forward; at one time he runs with speed; then stops as if not yet quite satisfied; something turns him back; still he lingers only for a moment in his course, until coming to a running stream, where he will have to fly; the exertion seems too much for him.

Stately parading in the full sunshine, he walks along the margin of the clear water, admiring his fine person as it is reflected in the sylvan mirror, and then, like some vain lover, tosses his head, as if to say, "let them come to me:" the listless gait is resumed, expressive that the chase is given up.

Gaining the ascent of a low bank, that lines the stream he has just deserted, he stops at the foot of a young beech; in the green moss that fills the interstices of the otherwise smooth bark is hidden away a cricket; the turkey picks at it, without catching it; something annoys him.

Like the slipper of Cinderella to the imagination of the young prince, or the glimpses of a waving ringlet or jewelled hand, to the glowing passions of a young heart, is the remembrance of that sound, that now full two hours since was first heard by our hero - and has been, in that long time, but twice repeated. He speculates that in the shady woods that surround him, there must wander a mate; solitarily she plucks her food, and calls for me - the monster man, impatient of his prey, doles not out his music so softly or so daintily - I am not deceived, and, by my ungallant fears, she will be won by another.

Cluck. -

How well-timed the call. The gobbler now entirely off his guard, contracts himself, opens wide his mouth, and rolls forth, fearlessly, a volume of sound for his answer.

The stream is crossed in a flutter, the toes scarce indent themselves in the soft ground over which they pass. On, on he plunges, until caution again brings him to a halt. We could almost wish that so fine a bird might escape - that there might be given one "call" too much - one, that grated unnaturally on the poor bird's ear - but not so, - they lead hilt to his doom, filling his heart with hope and love.

To the bird there is one strange incongruity in the "call" - never before has he gone so far with so little success; but the note is perfect, the time most nicely given.

Again he rolls forth a loud response, and listens - yet no answer: his progress is still slow.

The cluck again greets his ear; there was a slight quaver attached to it this time, like the forming of a second note; he is nearing his object of pursuit, and with an energetic "call;" he rushes forward, his long neck stretched out, and his head moving inquiringly from side to side.

No longer going round the various obstacles he meets with in his path, but impatiently flying over them, he comes to an open space, and stops.

Some six hundred yards from where he stands may be seen a fallen tree; you can observe some green brush, that looks as if it grew out of the very decayed wood; in this "brush" is hidden away the deadly fowling piece, and its muzzle is protruding towards the open ground. Behind it is the hunter, flat upon the ground, yet so placed that the weapon is at his shoulder. He seems to be as dead as the tree in front of him. Could you watch him closely, you would perceive that he scarcely winks for fear of alarming his game.

The turkey, still in his exposed situation, gobbles: - on the instant the hunter raises his "call" to his lips, and gives a prolonged cluck - loud and shrill; the first that could really be construed by the turkey into a direct answer.

The noble bird, now certain of success, fairly dances with delight; he starts forward, his feathers and neck amorously playing as he advances; now he commences his "strut" - his slender body swells, the beautiful plumage of his breast Infolds itself - his neck curves, drawing the neck downward - the wattles grow scarlet, while the skin that covers the head changes like rainbow tints. The long feathers of the wings brush the ground, the tail rises and opens into a semicircle, the gorgeously colored head becomes beautifully relieved in its centre.

On he comes, with a hitching gait, glowing in the sunshine with purple and gold.

The siren cluck is twice repeated; he contracts his form to the smallest dimensions; upwards rises the head to the highest point; he stands upon his very toes, and looks suspiciously around; fifty yards of distance protects him from the bolt of death: he even condescends to pick about.

What a trial for the expectant hunter! how vividly does he recollect that one breath too much has spoiled a morning's work!

The minutes wear on, and the bird again becomes the caller: he gobbles. opens his form, and, when fully

bloomed out, the enchanting cluck greets his ear; on, on he comes - like the gay horse towards the inspiring music of the drum, or like a bark beating against the wind, gallantly but slowly.

The dark cold barrel of the gun is now not more silent than is the hunter; the game is playing just outside the very edge of its deadly reach; the least mistake, and it is gone.

One gentle zephyr, one falling twig, night break the charm, and make nature revolt at the coyness apparent in the mistress, and then the lover would wing his way full of life to the woods.

But on he comes - so still is every thing that you hear his wings distinctly as they brush the ground, while the sun plays in conflicting rays and colored lights about his gaudily bronzed plumage.

Suddenly, the woods ring in echoing circles back upon you; a sharp report is heard.

Out starts, alarmed by the noise, a blue jay, which squalls as he passes in waving lines before you, so rudely wakened was he from sleep.

But our rare and beautiful bird, - our gallant and noble bird, - our cunning and game bird, where is he?

The glittering plumage - the gay step - the bright eye - all - all are gone: -

Without a movement of the muscles, our valorous lover has fallen lifeless to the earth.