Gateway to the Classics: Stephen of Philadelphia by James Otis
Stephen of Philadelphia by  James Otis

Trapping Wild Turkeys

Now was come the season when wild turkeys were plentiful, if one was willing to seek them at some considerable distance from the town, and because of our people's being so busy with their building, they could not spend very much time hunting; therefore turkeys, or any kind of game, were in good demand at a fair price, such as a sixpence for a plump bird of twenty pounds or more.

Some of our Indian friends had told us how to make a turkey trap, and Jethro and I had laid our plans to go far into the forest on the morning after the day of buying the land, starting at the first gleam of day, to build it. Therefore it stood us in hand to get to bed early, otherwise we should not be in best condition for the work.

In case you have never trapped wild turkeys, I can tell you how to set about it in the simplest and best manner, for we caught many a big gobbler during that fall, before the winter snows came to put an end to the sport, and, with the money thus earned, sent to England for two pairs of the best skates.

Of course you must first find a place where the turkeys are in the habit of roosting, and once having found it, not let the birds see or hear you more than is absolutely necessary while building the trap. Therefore it is that your work should be begun after the turkeys have scattered to pick up their breakfast, and finished before they come back to roost at night.

What you want is a square cage built stoutly of saplings, with brushwood woven in on the top and sides in such manner that the biggest of the birds cannot force their way out after having been caught. Make the cage at least six feet square on the ground, and four feet high. On each side form a door of twigs, twelve inches wide and twice as high, made to swing from the top, and fastened open with a trigger and string, as if you were building a rabbit trap.

When all this has been done, and a covering of brushwood thrown around to hide, so far as possible, the work of your hands, scatter corn inside the trap, and make trails of it from the thickets up to each door.

Now the story of it is that the turkey, walking home to roost, for he does not fly to his sleeping place, comes across the trail of corn, and, like the greedy fellow he is, rushes forward, pecking here and there, always looking for a greater quantity, until he gets inside your trap. There he may or may not come upon the trigger that shuts the door; but some of those who follow him are certain to do so, and, what has always seemed to me strange, they do not have sense enough to walk out of one of the doors even when it is open.

You can safely count on getting at least four birds every night, and on more than one morning Jethro and I have found as many as ten big, fat fellows for whom we could get sixpence each.

It may puzzle you to know how we could get them out, without tearing the trap to pieces; but it was simple enough. In the top we left two or three of the saplings in such manner that they could be taken partly off, and through the hole thus made by removing them, we regularly fished for the birds with a slipnoose, catching them by the necks, after which it was only necessary to carry the game into town in order to get your sixpences.


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