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The Philosophy of Despair By David Starr Jordan Characters: 9025

Updated: 2017-12-01 00:02

My father was a great all-round hunter and pioneer in the state of Alabama, once the paradise of hunters. He was particularly devoted to deer hunting and fox hunting, owning many hounds and horses. He knew the ways and haunts of the forest people and from him my brothers and I got our early training in woodcraft. I was the youngest of three sons, all of whom were sportsmen to the manner born. My brothers and myself were particularly fond of hunting the wild turkey, and were raised and schooled in intimate association with this noble bird; the fondness for this sport has remained with me through life. I therefore may be pardoned when I say that I possess a fair knowledge of their language, their habits, their likes and dislikes.

In the great woods surrounding our home there were numbers of wild turkeys, and I can well remember my brother Frank's skill in calling them. Every spring as the gobbling season approached my brothers and myself would construct various turkey calls and lose no opportunity for practising calling the birds. I can recall, too, when but a mere lad, coming down from my room in the early morning to the open porch, and finding assembled the family and servants, including the little darkies and the dogs, all in a state of great excitement. I hastened to learn the cause of this and was shown with admiration a big gobbler, and as I looked at the noble bird, with its long beard and glossy plumage, lying on the porch, I felt it was a beautiful trophy of the chase.

"Who killed it?" I asked. "Old Massa, he kill 'im," came from the mouths of half a dozen excited little darkies. A few days later my brothers brought in other turkeys. This made me long for the time when I would be old enough to hunt this bird, and these happy incidents inspired me with ambition to acquire proficiency in turkey hunting, and to learn every method so that I might excel in that sport.

As I grew older, but while still a mere lad, I would often steal to the woods in early morning on my way to school, and, hiding myself in some thick bush, sitting with my book in my lap and a rude cane joint or bone of a turkey's wing for a call in my hand, I would watch for the turkeys. When they appeared I would study every movement of the birds, note their call, yelp, cluck, or gobble, and I gradually learned each sound they made had its meaning. I would study closely the ways of the hens and their conduct toward the young and growing broods; I would also note their attention to the old or young gobblers, and the mannerisms of the male birds toward the females. All this time I would be using my call, attempting to imitate every note that the turkeys made, and watching the effect. These were my rudimentary and earliest lessons in turkey lore and lingo, and what I have often called my schooling with the turkeys.

At this age I had not begun the use of a rifle or shotgun on turkeys, although I had killed smaller game, such as squirrels, rabbits, ducks, and quail. I was sixteen years of age when I began to hunt the wild turkeys. I discovered then that although I was able to do good calling I had much more to learn to cope successfully with the wily ways of this bird. It took years of the closest observation and study to acquire the knowledge which later made me a successful turkey hunter, and I have gained this knowledge only after tramping over thousands of miles of wild territory, through swamps and hummocks, over hills and rugged mountain sides, through deep gulches, quagmires, and cane brakes, and spending many hours in fallen treetops, behind logs or other natural cover, not to be observed, but to observe, by day and by night, in rain, wind, and storm. I have hunted the wild turkeys on the great prairies and thickets of Texas, along the open river bottoms of the Brazos, Colorado, Trinity, San Jacinto, Bernardo, as well as the rivers, creeks, hills, and valleys of Alabama, Florida, Mississippi, and Louisiana. With all modesty, I believe I have killed as many old gobblers with patriarchal beards as any man in the world. I do not wish to say this boastfully, but present it as illustrative of the experience I have had with these birds, and particularly with old gobblers, for I have always found a special delight in outwitting the wary old birds.

I doubt not many veteran turkey hunters have in mind some old gobbler who seemed invincible; some bird that had puzzled them for three or four years without their learning the tricks of the cunning fellow. P

erhaps in these pages there may be found some information which will enable even the old hunter to better circumvent the bird. I am aware that there are times when the keenest sportsmen will be outwitted, often when success seems assured.

How well I know this. Many times I have called turkeys to within a few feet of me; so near that I have heard their "put-put." And they would walk away without my getting a shot. Often does this occur to the best turkey hunter, on account of the game approaching from the rear, or other unexpected point, and suddenly without warning fly or run away. No one can avoid this, but the sportsman who understands turkeys can exercise care and judgment and kill his bird, where others unacquainted with the bird fail. I believe I can take any man or boy who possesses a good eye and fair sense, and in one season make a good turkey hunter of him. I know of many nefarious tricks by which turkeys could be easily secured, but I shall not tell of any method of hunting and capturing turkeys but those I consider sportsmanlike. Although an ardent turkey hunter, I have too much respect for this glorious bird to see it killed in any but an honorable way. The turkey's fate is hard enough as it is. The work of destruction goes on from year to year, and the birds are being greatly reduced in numbers in many localities. The extinction of them in some states has already been accomplished, and in others it is only a matter of time; but there are many localities in the South and West, especially in the Gulf-bordering states, where they are still plentiful, and with any sort of protection will remain so. Some of these localities are so situated that they will for generations remain primeval forests, giving ample shelter and food to the turkey.

A novice might think it an easy matter to find turkeys after seeing their tracks along the banks of streams or roads, or in the open field, where they lingered the day before. But these birds are not likely to be in the same place the following day; they will probably be some miles away on a leafy ridge, scratching up the dry leaves and mould in quest of insects and acorns, or in some cornfield gleaning the scattered grain; or perhaps they might be lingering on the banks of some small stream in a dense swamp, gathering snails or small crustacea and water-loving insects.

To be successful in turkey hunting you must learn to rise early in the morning, ere there is a suspicion of daylight. At such a time the air is chilly, perhaps it looks like rain, and on awakening you are likely to yawn, stretch, and look at the time. Unless you possess the ardor of a sportsman it is not pleasant to rise from a comfortable bed at this hour and go forth into the chill morning air that threatens to freeze the marrow in your bones. But it is essential that you rise before light, and if you are a born turkey hunter you will soon forget the discomforts. It has been my custom, when intending to go turkey hunting, never to hesitate a moment, but, on awakening in the morning, bound out of bed at once and dress as soon as possible. It has also been my custom to calculate the distance I am to go, so as to reach the turkey range by the time or a little before day breaks. I have frequently risen at one or two o'clock in the morning and ridden twelve miles or more before daybreak for the chance to kill an old gobbler.

Early morning from the break of day until nine o'clock is the very best time during the whole day to get turkeys; but the half hour after daybreak is really worth all the rest of the day; this is the time when everything chimes with the new-born day; all life is on the move; diurnal tribes awakening from night's repose are coming into action, while nocturnal creatures are seeking their retreats. Hence at this hour there is a conglomeration of animal life and a babel of mingled sounds not heard at any other time of day. This is the time to be in the depths of the forest in quest of the wild turkey, and one should be near their roosting place if possible, quietly listening and watching every sound and motion. If in the autumn or winter you are near such a place, you are likely to hear, as day breaks, the awakening cluck at long intervals; then will follow the long, gentle, quavering call or yelp of the mother hen, arousing her sleeping brood and making known to them that the time has arrived for leaving their roosts. If in the early spring, you will listen for the salutation of the old gobbler.

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