Posts Tagged ‘colonial turkey trap’

If I could Live in the Pleistocene Part X–Turning a Bear into Soap

November 2, 2012

For those who might come across this blog on a random search, a word of explanation is necessary.  I write an irregular series imagining what my life would be like, if I could travel back in time to 36,000 BP and live in east central Georgia.  I brought some modern conveniences back with me and inhabit an adobe brick home that I built.  I have a garden, row crops, and a fruit orchard surrounded by a high stone wall to keep the beasts from destroying my food supply.  I raise milk cows, geese, chickens, and honeybees.  My home is heated with woodstoves, and electricity is generated from a combination of solar power and ethanol alcohol.  A wilderness consisting of open parkland oak forest surrounds my home and a variety of different pristine environments are within walking distance.  I try to remain as self-sufficient as possible so I don’t have to travel back to the present in the time tunnel through which phone lines and wires allow me to communicate with the modern world.  (I can actually watch college football from the present day on tv, while sitting in my home temporally located 36,000 BP.)

A dilemma arose which threatened the fabric of my fantasy.  I brought concubines back in time with me to satisfy my sex drive.  Unfortunately, we ran out of soap, and my concubines refused to sleep with me until I made some more–bathing with just plain water wasn’t good enough.  In other words they’ve gone on a sex strike.  I would post some photos of my concubines here but some readers object because they’re afraid a kid might see a naked boob or buttocks.  I certainly don’t share those values but in deference to the prudes abounding in American society I’ll merely post links to models who look like my concubines.  One of my concubines looks like September Carrino , and the other looks like Jenna Shea .  A man  can understand why I was quite anxious to manufacture some new soap.

My original plan was to manufacture soap from peanut oil, using peanuts I grew in my garden.  However, I miscalculated and produced enough peanuts for food consumption and next year’s seed, but not enough for soap.  I have enough goose grease to make a small batch of soap, but if I’m going to go to the trouble of making soap, I want to make enough for several years.  This means I need to kill an animal that has loads of fat.  I see deer, elk, peccary, and horses almost everyday in the grassy firebreak I maintain around my homestead, but these animals don’t have enough fat on them for soap.  Long-horned bison might be a candidate, but the herds never come near my homestead, and transporting one from the prairie located 5 miles away would be a problem.  Besides, even bison are generally lean.  The animal around these parts with the most fat is the black bear.  There has been a very large black bear tearing into my turkey trap lately.  Although I don’t entirely rely on turkey meat, it is a convenient source of protein.

Colonial era turkey trap.  Colonists dug a ditch that led under a wooden enclosure.  They baited the ditch with corn.  The turkeys followed the corn inside the enclosure, hopped up inside, and were too dumb to figure out how to get out.  Colonists collected all the turkeys they wanted without having to stop working in the fields to go hunting.  Some times they would forget about the traps which would hold scores of turkeys that would die, rot, and emit a stink for miles around.

By killing the rogue bear, I’ll not only have a big supply of meat and fat, but it will eliminate a recent nuisance.  I also promised the concubine who looks like September Carrino a bear claw necklace, and the one who looks like Jenna Shea wants a bear skin rug.  I didn’t like having to kill a bear, but I put aside my reluctance by thinking of all the rewards I would gain, if I was successful.

I started the hunt by baiting my turkey trap with cracked corn one morning.  My turkey trap is located 50 yards from the elevated platform attached to my adobe brick home.  I regularly use this platform to bowhunt for deer, elk, and peccary.  I use a bow with a draw of 70 pounds.  I find that it shoots accurately with a flatter trajectory over longer distances.  I practice 3 or 4 times a week year round, and I have no problem controlling the pull because I’m strong for my size.  (In real life I  did 66 pullups in a row a couple days ago.)  In a worst case scenario a wounded bear could charge me.  A sprinting bear can cover 50 yards in 3 seconds.  But I’m standing on a platform, and I carry a 44 magnum in a side holster, so if the bear charges, I can shoot down and hopefully hit the bear before it climbs the platform and mauls me.  Incidentally, I’m a better shot with a bow than with a rifle, thus explaining my weapon of choice.

Well, the bear didn’t show up for 2 days but my trap did continuously catch turkeys.  I opened the hatch and removed a couple for our meat freezer, and I  freed a few more, so the pen wouldn’t get overcrowded.  I gave the rest cracked corn and water and kep them captive to serve as bait.  I periodically kept looking out the window until late on the third afternoon when I saw the old boar sniffing around the turkey trap.  I grabbed my bow and rushed to my hunting platform.  By the time I was ready, the bear had ripped the roof off the trap and had grabbed a turkey with his paws.  I could hear the other turkeys  gobbling in panic.  Luckily, the bear began eating the lifeless turkey on the side of the trap facing the platform.  I had a perfect broadside shot.  If the bear sensed I was near, he didn’t show it.  Pleistocene animals have no special fear of man, making hunting easy here.

A swirling wind threatened to make for a difficult shot.  My stomach felt the fluttering of butterflies, and my heart pounded.  I took a deep breath.  I waited for a gust of wind to pass.  Overcast skies eliminated the glint of the sun, and the black fur of the bear contrasted with the cloudy atmosphere.  I pulled the bowstring and aimed.  I’m an accurate shot.  When I shoot deer I seldom miss the heart, and when I do it’s usually close enough to cause death in minutes anyway.  On one occasion I did miss but hit the neck and killed the deer instantly.  Another time I hit a kidney and never did find that deer after it scrambled into the woods, though I’m sure it died within hours.  My worst shot was when I hit a deer in the ankle, but I did track that hobbled animal down and finished it off.  In any case I hope for a quick humane kill because I can’t bear to see an animal suffer.

I let the arrow fly.  Bullseye.  The bear roared and shook in pain and rage and started to run but then collapsed a few seconds later–surprisingly going down faster than most deer or elk I’ve killed.  I waited a few minutes.  A crow or raven called from a tree top.  I decided to get to work before dire wolves arrived and disputed ownership of the carcass.

I went to the garage and drove my pickup next to the bear.  Before exiting the truck, I put a bullet in the bear’s brain just to make sure it was not simply comatose.  I didn’t want it to awake while I was butchering it.  I atttached a chain to both back paws and connected the other end to the bumper.  I dragged the bear behind the truck into the garage and closed the door behind.  I then attached the chain to a mechanical winch to raise the bear upside down.  And I proceeded to skin and butcher the animal.

 

This photo is  of an estimated 528 pound bear killed in Oregon.  I don’t know why the people in the photo wanted their faces phased out.

I disposed of all the entrails and organs about a mile from my homestead and set up a trailcam to record all the predators and scavengers the offal would attract.  Normally, I’d save the liver from my kills, but bear’s liver contains toxic levels of Vitamin D and is not safe for human consumption.  The bear had a 4 inch layer of fat on its back and a total estimate of 125 pounds of fat.  I rendered the fat behind my home, safe inside the stone walls that enclose my farm.  I boiled chunks of the fat with water in an uncovered iron kettle over an open fire.  As the water evaporated, the fat melted into liquid lard.  Odd pieces of meat became cracklings which I saved for cornbread.  The list of culinary uses for bear meat and fat is endless.  The fat belly makes great bacon.  I corned some meat and made sourbraten out of a roast.  Bear steaks were smothered in onions — ettouffeed.  Bear meat needs to be cooked for long enough to kill trichinosis parasites, so a bloody rare bear steak is not safe to eat.  I made bear chili, bear stew, and bear gumbo.  Ground bear meat makes good sausage and hamburger and when mixed with venison and/or turkey makes excellent meatloaf.  I used the fat as shortening for biscuits, pie crusts, and tamales as well as for deep frying other foods.  But most importantly, I made soap, so my concubines would let me in their beds again.

150 years ago, almost every family had to make their own soap.

I made 2 batches of soap–20 pounds of rose scented soap and 20 pounds of pine scented soap.  I took 20 pounds of bear lard and added a gallon of scented rainwater that I boiled with either rose petals or pine needles.  I boiled this and let it cool.  I then added 8 tbls of sugar, 4 tbls of salt, 12 tbls of borax, and 1 cup of ammonia (made from evaporated piss and water) to 2 cups of rainwater.  I mixed a gallon of rainwater with lye (made from wood ashes and water) in a granite kettle.  I did all of this outside for safety reasons.  When the lye water cooled I poured in the ammonia mixture, then added the lard. I stirred it and put the mixture into molds.  Now, we can wash with soap, and my concubines let me sleep in the same bed with them again.

Advertisements

If I Could Live In the Pleistocene (Part Three)–The Turkey Trap

December 10, 2010

(For parts 1 and 2 of this irregular series, see the September archives.)

I imagine living in my snug adobe brick house on December 10th, 41,000 BP.  Though this is during an interstadial, a warm wet climatic phase occurring within the time span of the Wisconsinian Ice Age, the weather currently is dry and cold; the temperatures are dropping to 10 degrees Fahrenheit at night, and all three of my wood stoves are turning wood I chopped into fire and smoke and indoor warmth.  I’m hungry for meat, but I’m a little tired of eating venison and peccary, and in this cold weather I don’t feel like getting wet checking my fish traps on the river.  This year, no bison came close enough to my home for me to kill and butcher, so I have no beef.  Instead, I’ll settle for turkey.

Turkeys were abundant during the Pleistocene, large flocks of perhaps 100 or more roam the woods around my house in the Pleistocene piedmont region.  I awoke to the sounds of their gobbling this morning.  Fossils of turkeys in Georgia have been recovered from Kingston Saltpeter Cave and Ladds Mountain, both in Bartow County, which is halfway between Atlanta and Tennessee, so that’s the real evidence they were common here.  There were two species of turkey, at least in Florida, during the Pleistocene, including the common one found today Maleagris gallipavo, and Maleagris leopaldo or anza, western species that colonized the southeast during glacial stages when a corridor of grassy scrub habitat extended along the gulf coast on land now submerged by the Gulf of Mexico.  Warm tropical climate allowed even more species of turkey (at least 7) to live across North America during the Pliocene.  Turkeys evolved in America from a peacock-like ancestor, Rhegiminornis calbates, during the Miocene.  Fossils of this ancient species were discovered in Florida.

Habitat in the Pleistocene piedmont of what’s now Georgia was almost ideal for turkey.  Modern day wildlife game managers work with farmers and lumber companies to maintain turkey managment areas that include fields half-covered with small trees and shrubs.  Turkeys forage for weed seeds and insects in the fields but can retreat to brush to escape predators such as great-horned owls and bobcats.  In addition they like fields that border forests of mature trees that provide roosting sites and mast.  Pollen evidence from the Nodoroc site in Winder, Georgia suggests the piedmont region of what’s now Georgia (about 29,000 years BP) was 75% forest and 25% meadow–an environment in which turkeys would thrive.  Fire, drought, rapid climate fluctuations; and megafauna browsing, grazing, and trampling maintained open areas within the forest where turkey populations probably were high most of the time. 

In late fall and early winter male turkeys are in good condition, living in bachelor flocks and fattening on acorns.  So now is the time of year to catch and eat them (Of course, I’m referring to my imaginary Pleistocene existence.  Hunting season for present day turkeys  is in the spring), but I don’t want to aimlessly wander the wilds where in my distraction of the hunt, I might get ambushed by Smilodon fatalis or some other big cat.  Instead, I’m going to use a colonial American method that was formerly quite common and effective–the turkey trap.  There’s a modern misconception that our colonial ancestors were all gun-toting hunters.  Although it’s true that many did have firearms and did actively hunt, most did not.  In fact, gun ownership per capita was lower during colonial times than it is today.  Hardworking farmers didn’t have time nor the strength for hunting after putting in 12 hour days plowing the fields, taking care of the livestock, building fences, chopping firewood, doing household chores (like making soap from scratch and smoking hams), and making carpentry repairs on their cabins.  To catch wild game for the cooking pot, they set traps and snares.  Turkey traps were devastating for the birds.

Sketch of a colonial turkey trap.  The ditch dug under a wooden pen was baited with corn.  The turkeys followed the bait into the pen but couldn’t figure their way out in much the same way a crab trap works.  I have no idea who drew this sketch but I found it at http://woodsrunnersdiary.blogspot.com/

Colonial turkey traps consisted of a small wooden shed and a ditch baited with corn.  The ditch extended under the shed.  The turkey went into the ditch, ate and followed the corn into the shed or pen.  They’d hop up into the shed to eat more corn…but didn’t have the sense to escape by following the ditch back outside.  The colonists could then simply open a hatch to the pen, grab the bird, and execute it.  These traps could yield many birds at once.  According to J. J. Audubon, colonists occasionally forgot to check on the traps, perhaps they were too busy working or they got tired of eating turkey, and dozens of turkeys would starve to death and rot, making the whole area stink.  Audubon also reported that predators occasionally were attracted to these turkey pens–he once discovered a black wolf feeding on trapped turkeys.  In my Pleistocene world I block the entrance to my turkey trap when not in use because I abhor waste.

Reportedly, wild turkeys have better flavor than domestic turkeys, and they have more dark meat but less white.  The chances of catching one much larger than supermarket turkeys are also much higher.  Modern domestic turkeys are bred to have white skin and extra large breasts, and they’re most often harvested when they reach 15 pounds.  Domestic turkey breasts are so large, the meat must be embalmed with a salt water solution to keep the birds from drying out during roasting.  They’re bred to have white skin because it is more visually appealing than the black skin of the wild birds.  They are sold as 15 pound birds because that’s about the right size for roasting.  Wild turkeys that I catch in my Pleistocene turkey trap can weigh as much as 30 pounds.  I don’t bother roasting them.  Instead, I stew the thighs and drumsticks in a crockpot.  I shred the cooked meat and smother it in a gravy made from the liquid they cooked in.  I thicken it with a roux of butter and flour and season it with salt, sage, and thyme.  The shredded meat and liquid makes an excellent base for a Brunswick stew with vegetables grown in my Pleistocene garden (crushed tomatoes, corn, lima beans, potatoes, onions) and seasoned with salt, and red and black pepper.  The dark meat makes good ground meat and mixed with half venison yields an delicious meatloaf.  I smoke the breasts and wings.  The smoked breast meat is good for sandwiches; the smoked wings season a pot of red beans.  The breast meat can also be cut into filets and breaded and fried or cooked in a pan sauce with wine, mushrooms, and garlic.  Turkey carcasses make soup stocks superior to that made from chicken, so I have a ready supply of broth for the kitchen as well.