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James Otis

Trapping Turkeys


The wild turkeys had appeared in the forest in great numbers, but few had been killed by our people because of the savages, many of whom were not to be trusted, even though the chiefs of three tribes professed to be friendly. It was this fact which had prevented us from doing much in the way of hunting.

Now that we were in such stress for food, and since all had turned laborers, whether willingly or no, much in the way of provisions was needed. Captain Smith set about taking the turkeys as he did about most other matters, which is to say, that it was done in a thorough manner.

Instead of being forced to spend at least one charge of powder for each fowl killed, he proposed that we trap them, and showed how it might be done, according to his belief.

Four men were told off to do the work, and they were kept busy cutting saplings and trimming them down until there was nothing left save poles from fifteen to twenty feet long. Then, with these poles laid one above the other, a square pen was made, and at the top was a thatching of branches, so that no fowl larger than a pigeon might go through.

From one side of this trap, or turkey pen, was dug a ditch perhaps two feet deep, and the same in width, running straightway into the thicket where the turkeys were in the custom of roosting, for a distance of twenty feet or more. This ditch was carried underneath the side of the pen, where was an opening hardly more than large enough for one turkey to pass through. Corn was scattered along the whole length of the ditch, and thus was the trap set.

The turkeys, on finding the trail of corn, would follow hurriedly along, like the gluttons they are, with the idea of coming upon a larger hoard, and thus pass through into the pen. Once inside they were trapped securely, for the wild turkey holds his head so high that he can never see the way out through a hole which is at a level with his feet.


It was a most ingenious contrivance, and on the first morning after it had been set at night, we had fifty plump fellows securely caged, when it was only necessary to enter the trap by crawling through the top, and kill them at our leisure.

It may be asked how we made shift to cook such a thing as a turkey, other than by boiling it in a kettle, and this can be told in very few words, for it was a simple matter after once you had become accustomed to it.