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   Chapter 5 BREAST SPONGE—SHREWDNESS

The Philosophy of Despair By David Starr Jordan Characters: 7040

Updated: 2017-12-01 00:02


Nature has provided the old gobbler with a very useful appendage. Audubon calls it the "breast sponge," and it covers the entire upper part of the breast and crop-cavity. This curious arrangement consists of a thick mass of cellular tissue, and its purpose is to act as a reservoir to hold surplus oil or fat. It is quite interesting to study its function, and it is a very important one for the gobbler. This appendage is not found on the hen or yearling gobbler. At the beginning of the gobbling season, about March 1st, this breast sponge is full of rich, sweet fat, and the gobbler is plump in flesh; but as the season advances and he continues to gobble, strut, and worry the hens, his plumpness is reduced, and finally the bird becomes emaciated and lean. Often during the whole day he gobbles and struts about, making love to the hens, and at this time he eats almost nothing, being kept alive largely by drawing on his reservoir of fat. As the gobbler begins to grow lean, his flesh becomes rank and wholly unfit for food, and one should never be killed at this time. It is a fact that the young male turkeys gobble but seldom, if at all, the first year. Neither do these young birds possess the breast sponge, or reservoir to hold fat, and consequently they are unfit to mate with the hens. The hens visit the males every day or alternate days; consequently, if among the gobblers there are no mature birds, the eggs laid are not fertile. I wish every hunter, sportsman, and farmer could read these lines, and recognize the importance of sparing at least one of the adult male turkeys in each locality. The benefit of such a policy would soon be apparent in the increase of the turkeys. I dwell at length on this point in order to make clear the necessity of sparing some old gobblers in each section.

It has frequently been stated that the wild turkey will not live and propagate within the haunts of man. This depends upon how the birds are treated. No bird or animal can survive eternal persecution. There is no trouble about the birds thriving in a settled community, if the proper territory is set apart for their use, and proper protection given. The territory should consist of a few acres of woodland, or of some broken ground, thicket, or swamp to afford a little cover. In such a retreat, a trio of wild turkeys may be turned loose, and in a few years, if properly protected, the vicinity would be stocked with them.

I have ample evidence that wild turkeys will not shrink from civilization. It is the trapping, snaring, baiting, and killing of all old gobblers that decimates their numbers, not the legitimate hunting by sportsmen.

Note the full chest of the gobbler on the left. This is the breast sponge. (Photographed in March)

The shrewdness of the turkey is shown by his having no fear of the peaceable farmer at the plow, no more than the crow or the blackbird has. The wild turkey will go into the open field and glean food from the stubble or upturned furrows in full view of the plowman. This I have often seen, and I will cite one incident of this kind, which came under my observation some time ago when hunting in the State of Mississippi. It was a clear, beautiful morning in the month of March. Three old turkeys were gobbling in different directions, along a creek in a swamp, which was about half a mile wide, with fields on each side. Having selected the one I thought the oldest and biggest, I approached it as near as I dared; then, hiding myself in the brush, I began

to call. In a short time the other two birds quit gobbling and came quickly to the call, while the one I had chosen continued his gobbling, but in the same place as when first heard. Suddenly I heard "Put-put" directly behind me; turning my head, I saw, within twenty paces of me, a fine gobbler. "Put"-then he was gone. This caused the one gobbling in front of me to become suspicious. He refused to come an inch nearer, and, having heard that alarm, "put," he began to make a detour in order to gain a certain heavily wooded ridge. To do this, without getting too near the spot where he heard the warning cry of his comrade, he had to go over a high rail fence, going through a part of the field just plowed up, while the plowman was there at work in his shirt sleeves, not over one hundred yards away and in full view of the gobbler. The man was moving all the time and frequently holloaing to his mules, "Whoa," "Gee," or "Haw," in such a loud voice that one could hear him a long distance. The turkey would gobble every time the plowman would holloa. He appeared to be perfectly fearless of the plowman, but was employing all his sagacity to avoid the spot where I was. I could not understand this at first, but discovered the reason a little later. The bird had reached the field and was flanking me, but I could not see it on account of the undergrowth. I rose, and by making a detour of about two hundred yards around the angle of the field, keeping well in the woods, I finally discovered the gobbler striding sedately across the field between me and the plowman, who was busily engaged in attending to his furrows, still loudly holloaing from time to time. The gobbler at intervals stopped, strutted, gobbled, and then proceeded on its way. Seeing that I could get no nearer to him, I waited until he was about to cross the fence, when I dropped by a stump, lifted my rifle, and waited for him to mount the fence. This he was some time in doing, but I finally heard the flop, flop, when his fine form with long, pendent beard was seen broadside on by me on the top rail, about eighty-five yards away. In a second the bead of my rifle covered the spot at the wing, and, as I fired, the bird tumbled dead into the field. It was a grand old specimen, and on examining it dry blood was discovered where a buckshot had passed through its leg. There was another shot across the rump, and a third had creased the back of the neck near the head. In my opinion, the bird hearing the "put-put" of the gobbler who came up behind me suspected a hidden enemy, and, having lately been wounded, thought it best to give suspicious places a wide berth.

There are thousands of acres in the South which were once cultivated, but which are now abandoned and growing up with timber, brush, and grass. Such country affords splendid opportunity for the rearing and perpetuation of the wild turkey. These lands are vastly superior for this purpose than are the solid primeval forests, inasmuch as they afford a great variety of summer food, such as green, tender herbage, berries of many kind, grasshoppers by the million, and other insects in which the turkeys delight. Such a country also affords good nesting retreats, with brier-patches and straw where the nest may be safely hidden, and where the young birds may secure safe hiding places from animals and birds of prey; but alas! at present not from trappers, baiters, and pot hunters. Check these, and the abandoned plantations of the South would soon be alive with turkeys.

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