Posts Tagged ‘turkey’

Cades Cove

June 19, 2017

Most of the Great Smoky Mountains National Park is heavily wooded, and wildlife usually stays hidden in thick vegetation.  Cades Cove is 1 of the few areas in the park where tourists can reliably see wildlife because it is an open beautiful valley of fields and thin fingers of forest, resembling what many southeastern landscapes looked like until the mid-19th century.  Indians set fire to the valley annually to improve habitat for game animals, and white settlers maintained the open nature of the valley by using it as pasture and by planting row crops.  The valley remained open when the National Park Service took over the site 90 years ago.  Today, a 1-way loop road encircles the valley, making for the best accessible wildlife watching in the park.  I rode my car on the Cades Cove loop road last Saturday evening with my wife and daughter.  We saw >50 horses, 20 deer, 2 black bears, 1 squirrel, 1 turkey, and lots of crows and chimney swifts.

The herd of tame horses is located near the beginning of the loop road.  Many different breeds are represented including spotted palominos, Clydesdales, and solid black and brown horses.  I saw cowbirds foraging between the horses.  Fossil evidence shows horses did inhabit this region during the Pleistocene.  I would like to see the park service allow horses to go wild here.  Wild horses belong in North America.

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There’s an herd of over 50 horses near the entrance to the Cades Cove loop road.

Black bear sightings caused several traffic jams on the loop road.  There are hundreds of signs telling tourists to pull over when they want to stop and see the wildlife, and other signs constantly warn to stay at least 50 yards away from bears and deer.  Most tourists ignore these signs.  They stop their cars in the middle of the road, rush toward the bear, and get as close as they can to photograph the bruin.  We were stuck in 1 traffic jam for 20 minutes.  At least I did get to see wild black bears for the first time in my life.  I’d rather live in a world where bears outnumber people.  It has been thousands of years since bears outnumbered the entire population of Homo sapiens on earth but before the development of agriculture they did.

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We saw 20 deer.  This buck snuck behind me.

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This was the only turkey I saw in Cades Cove.  I expected to see more.  While driving through the park the following day I saw an hen with 2 chicks cross the road.  Why did the turkey cross the road? 

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There are 4 deer in this photo.  2 are laying down but their antlers are visible.

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This was the only live squirrel I saw in Great Smoky Mountains National Park.  I was surprised I didn’t see more.

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We saw 2 black bears on the Cades Cove loop road.  Look at how close these 2 stupid asses got to the bear.  They are underestimating how dangerous this situation is.  There must be at least 100 signs telling people to stay at least 50 yards away from the bears and deer.  Instead, people rush in and try to get as close as possible to take a photo.  That bear could be mauling them in about 2 seconds.

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These are the rare and extirpated species that used to live in the Great Smoky Mountains National Park. Spotted skunks are rare, Indiana bats are endangered, northern flying squirrels are probably extirpated here, fox squirrels haven’t been seen for decades in the park, and northern water shrews are uncommon.

I was surprised I didn’t see more turkeys or squirrels.  The latter probably stay in the tree tops for much of the day.  I also expected to see woodchucks, rabbits, and maybe wild boars.  Woodchucks are more active in the morning, and I did see 4 of them while driving through the North Carolina mountains on the way home the following day.  I can’t explain the absence of rabbits because there is plenty of excellent habitat for them in Cades Cove.  Perhaps they were hidden in the tall grass.  Ironically, I saw a road-killed wild pig 5 miles from my house on the drive home the next day as if the wildlife watching Gods wanted to reward me with a kind of epilogue to my trip.  Despite how common wild pigs are supposed to be, this was the first road-killed specimen I’ve seen in the Augusta, Georgia area.

The National Park Service should introduce bison, elk, and cougars to Cades Cove.  I know the addition of cougars would be controversial, but the park service should be inspired to come as close to possible to establishing a complete ecosystem here.  More open areas should be created as well so that wildlife populations could increase.

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The National Park Service should introduce bison and elk to this side of the park to fill up this empty space.

Bird watching at Cades Cove was not as good as in Townsend, Tennessee where our hotel was located.  I saw 5 species of birds in Cades Cove compared to 11 species in town.  However, I did encounter 1 unexpected species outside of Cades Cove but inside Great Smoky Mountains National Park.  I saw a raven while driving in the higher elevations, then saw another raven on the way to Cades Cove at a lower elevation.  This was the first time I’d ever seen live ravens in the wild.  I mistakenly thought ravens were rare here because there is only 1 raven nesting site in the entire state of Georgia.  But according to the National Park Service, the raven is a fairly common year round resident in the park.  Ravens look like humongous crows.  The birds I saw were far too large to be crows.  They were about the size of a red-shouldered hawk.  Crows are more common here, however. In addition to the 5 species of birds I saw at Cades Cove, I heard the constant song of the field sparrow.  Eastern meadowlarks are also supposed to be common here, but I didn’t see any.  I have never seen an eastern meadowlark.

Night fell by the time we left the Cades Cove loop road.  I was surprised at the abundance of lightning bugs.  Special tour buses take tourists through the park at night to see the amazing light show displayed by the synchronous firefly (Photinus carolinus) during late May and early June.  We probably saw some of the other 18 species of lightning bugs found in the park because it was too late in the season for P. carolinus. Lightning bugs are not bugs, nor are they flies.  They are beetles.  Their larva prey upon snails, slugs, and insects for a year or 2 before they transform into flying adults for the final few weeks of their lives.  Different species flash at different intervals and that is how males and females of the same species recognize each other.  Lightning bugs are only seen occasionally in Augusta, Georgia.  They are abundant in the Great Smoky Mountains because the moist forests support a large population of their favorite food–escargot.

Video from you tube of the synchronous fireflies.

Vacation at Land Between the Lakes

June 22, 2012

This beautiful strip of land on the border between Kentucky and Tennessee was originally known as land between the rivers.  The Tennessee and Cumberland Rivers flowed parallel to each other and often flooded the land in between.  The floods enriched the soil, creating fertile farmland, but they were disastrous to homesteads.  By the 1920’s a once-thriving iron smelting industry began disappearing because the trees being used to fire the blast furnaces had largely been felled.  During the Great Depression the people living here had depleted most of the natural resources, and floods were ruining their only other remaining source of income–agriculture.  The Federal government saved the region by creating the Tennessee Valley Authority.  The TVA dammed the 2 rivers, creating Kentucky Lake and Lake Barclay, and in the process provided many much needed construction jobs and a long term source of hydroelectric power and flood control. The Land Between the Lakes was protected and trees grew back.

Black walnut trees are once again common in the forests of Land Between the Lakes.  This surprised me.

Thanks to the public works projects of the 1930’s, thousands of hillbillies and rednecks were elevated above poverty.  Ironically, today this region is a stronghold of Ron Paul followers who believe in free market Laissez-Faire economics, lax regulations, and no taxes–a return to the policies that wrecked this region almost 100 years ago.  They reject the federal government, the entity that literally saved their lives then.  The stupidity and ignorance of Ron Paul supporters is astounding.  If these tea baggers think the government is so bad, why do they want to be in it?

Land Between the Lakes is the greatest natural area I’ve ever visited.  From my cursory 5 hour survey, I estimate the upland is covered in about 80% hardwoods, 15% meadow, and 5 % pine.

Much of 18th century North America from Ohio and Pennsylvania south to middle Georgia and Alabama looked like this.  Note the buffalo wallow.  There were buffalo wallows all along the road that went through the Elk and Bison Prairie within Land Between the Lakes.

Biologists use fire to establish these 18th century-like landscapes.  Imagine bigger trees and this is what much of the eastern half of the continent  looked like when the pioneers first crossed it.  Many Pleistocene landscapes probably looked much like this as well.

Dominant trees include white oak, post oak, southern red oak, black oak, shagbark hickory, pignut hickory, sycamore, black walnut, sugar maple, red maple, mimosa, and cottonwood.  Willow grows in the low areas.  There are some wetlands but most were inundated by the reservoirs.  I recognized 3 species of pine–shortleaf, white, and Virginia.  I notice on the range maps that this population of Virginia pine is a disjunct one.  Birch, juniper, and ash are also present.  I forgot to try and identify the kinds of grass that grows in the meadows here but purple coneflowers and various species of coreopsis were blooming in abundance.

Coreopsis is abundant in meadows this year everwhere from Augusta, Georgia to LBL.  Heavy spring rains made for a good wildflower year.

Most of the mature trees look to be about 80 years old, but I did see 1 exceptionally large white oak growing on land within “The Home Place,” a replica 1850 farm.  This oak may have been growing on private property, and landowners saved it from the shortsighted iron smelters who were cutting all the trees down from 1870-1925.

I estimate this white oak to have a diameter of almost 6 feet.  Primeval forests consisted of widely spaced trees such as this.  Imagine the photo of the bison wallow above juxtaposed with bigger trees like this one.  Many shagbark hickory sapling grow in the shade of this oak.  Several nice specimens of mature shagbark hickories grow nearby.

LBL is 250 square miles, and there probably are other trees surpassing this one in diameter.

I enjoyed LBL much more than my trip to the Great Smoky Mountains National Park.  The latter is crowded and holds little wildlife accessible to the public.  We saw only a few people in LBL during mid-morning hours and maybe a few more in mid-afternoon.  Despite the heat wave, an unfortunate stroke of luck, we saw lots of wildlife.  At the Elk and Bison prairie we ran into a herd of bison and a flock of cattle egrets.  They hardly noticed us.  We also saw 2 small flocks of turkeys.

These bison must be used to cars.  They didn’t budge, though the nursing calves hid behind the cows.  Note the cattle egret, and the bison’s coat in the process of shedding. Bison wallows occur all along the road and flattened bison patties are visible.

Cattle egrets, an African species, naturally colonized North America within the last century.  Nobody knows exactly when or how.  Presumably, a few flew here.

This is a mounted elk at the visitor’s center.  Unfortunately, I must be destined to never see a wild elk.  The hot weather forced the elk to bed down in the shade where I couldn’t see them.

We saw several wild white-tailed deer in broad daylight, despite the heat, but they wouldn’t stay still for a photo.  They are in their beautiful red summer coats.  This is the time of year 18th century market hunters killed them for their hides.  A buck skin was worth a dollar then, hence the slang “buck” for dollar.  I suspect a person traveling through the length of LBL during dusk or dawn would see dozens of deer–LBL is just ideal habitat for them and so is the adjacent Fort Campell and Fort Donelson Battlefield Park.

In addition to turkeys and cattle egrets, I saw brown-headed cowbirds, bluebirds, purple martins, eastern kingbirds, black vultures, turkey vultures, an unidentified hawk, a great blue heron, cardinals, and crows.  The Woodland Nature Center is a little zoo within LBL for orphaned and injured animals.

Gray rat snake.

Timber rattler.  Accounts of early white explorers suggest rattlesnakes were abundant in pre-Colonial Kentucky.

LBL is 20 miles from any town that is big enough to have a decent hotel.  From Augusta, Georgia a traveler can choose from hotels in Clarkesville, or Paris, Tennessee.  (There are plenty of campgrounds within LBL, but I like to sleep behind locked doors where tv is available.)  We stayed at the Westgate Inn  in Clarkesville and enjoyed a spacious clean room, a reasonable rate, an indoor swimming pool, and a generous breakfast bar, plus we got to witness a loud dispute between a tattooed customer suffering from a severe case of PMS and the hotel management who with the help of the police were trying to evict her and her family.

Jim Oliver’s Smokehouse Restaurant

Jim Oliver’s Smokehouse Restaurant in Monteagle, Tennessee.  The food was so good we ate here for lunch on the way to LBL and on the way back to Augusta.  It’s like a museum inside.

The best and most interesting restaurant we encountered on our vacation was Jim Oliver’s Smokehouse in Monteagle, Tennessee which is halfway between Nashville and Chattanooga. The place has a Cracker Barrel type atmosphere, but it seems more like the original blueprint, whereas the famous chain is merely an inferior rip-off.  Jim Oliver’s Smokehouse resembles a museum.  It houses a player piano, taxodermic wonders, and antiques of all kinds.  Jim Nabors’ albums plaster the walls.  There’s a tribute room to a locally famous country music band I never heard of.  Old fashioned candies, Jim Oliver’s country smoked hams and bacon, cheeses, and genuine fried pies are for sale.  They serve smoked meats–pulled pork, brisket, turkey, and ribs.   On our first visit I had a smoked roast beef open-faced sandwich with mashed potatoes and covered with gravy.  Smoking roast beef made for a delicious and unique dish.  Jim Oliver makes at least 8 kinds of sauce to go with his dishes.  I used the Trail of Tears sauce, a sweet, hot, barbecue sauce.  My beef didn’t need it, but it added nice variety.  I would alternate one bite with just gravy and one with sauce.  On our return visit I tried fried frog legs–the most unusual item on the menu.  The frog legs were juicy but lean white meat.  There’s nothing objectionable to the taste when they’re fresh.  (Frog legs can taste like biology lab, if they’re not.) 

This restaurant deserves high praise for serving authentic fried pies.

Fried chocolate pie !!! Words can’t describe how good this is.

The fried pies sold in grocery stores are made with regular pie crust and taste like cardboard.  Real fried pies are made with fluffy biscuit dough and resemble doughnuts.  Jim Oliver’s Smokehouse offers apple-pecan, peach, coconut, chocolate, and blackberry.  I had the peach.  On request they serve it with homemade ice cream.  One of the waitresses told me the fried pies sell out everyday.

Mounted bobcat, ruffed grouse, and gray fox on top of an antique piano.  That’s a particularly large specimen of bobcat (and fox).  This bobcat’s hind leg is bigger than my pet cat’s entire body.

Mitt Romney’s Tour Bus

While traveling home on I-24 through Nashville, we drove alongside Mitt Romney’s tour bus by accident.  What a coincidence.

Couldn’t be.

Yep, it is.  If the American people are stupid enough to vote for a man who says “Corporations are people too, my friend,” than they deserve what they get.

My Expedition to Kettle Creek Battlefield, the Little Kettle Creek Fossil Site, and the Great Buffalo Lick

May 21, 2011

Now that the school year is finished, I finally had a chance to tour some of the sites I’ve been ruminating about lately on this blog beginning with…

The Kettle Creek Battlefield

In Febuary 1779 Colonel Boyd of the British Loyalists sent 150 men to forage the nearby farms for supplies such as cattle which they likely stole.  While the foragers were  busy slaughtering their booty, Boyd hunkered down with the rest of his men on a hilltop near Kettle Creek which is actually more of a small river about 30 feet in width that runs through what today is Wilkes County, Georgia.  Colonel Dooly of the Patriots decided this was a good time to attack because he only had 340 men compared to the 550 remaining Loyalists who were missing the foragers.  Andrew Pickens led a frontal attack up the hill, while flankers led by Dooly and Elijah Clark headed through the woods.  Unfortunately for the Patriots, Boyd’s skirmishers and sentries successfully ambushed Pickens, and the swollen creeks and canebrakes slowed down the flanking attacks, making them well behind schedule.

The Patriots attacked up this hill.  The Loyalist who took this photo was kind of nervous–note the blurry image.  Actually, I took all the photos in this week’s blog entry.

The Loyalists were winning, but the battle turned when a Patriot musket ball struck Boyd in the heart, killing him, and just at that moment the Patriot flanking attacks emerged from the canebrakes.  Now surrounded on three sides,  the Loyalists retreated in panic toward their only escape route–the cold swollen waters of Kettle Creek.  Some made it across, but up to 70 were killed and 70 more captured.  The Patriots suffered just 9 dead.  Some of the Loyalists who escaped were later captured and hanged because they’d previously pledged their loyalty to the Patriots.  This seems harsh by today’s standards, but back then, going back on one’s word and disgracing one’s honor was considered a crime equal to murder.  The battle demonstrated the futility of British efforts to subdue its American colony.  The foraging thievery of the Loyalist militia  turned the countryside against them as well.

Graveyard for veterans of this battle.  Most buried here didn’t actually die on the battlefield.  Some didn’t die until 65 years later and chose to be buried here.  They must have talked about this battle for the rest of their lives.

List of soldiers proved to have fought in this battle.

Monument to the battle

Behind the battlefield, a nice hardwood forest slopes toward Kettle Creek.  The canebrakes are gone.

Today, the Kettle Creek Battlefield sits at the end of a long gravel road that cuts through miles of young loblolly pine stands and old fields where turkey and deer are abundant.  I chased a turkey with my car for awhile, and the turkey chose to try to outrun me for about 100 yards up the road before it flew a little, landed, and finally cut into the brush.  It’s a small battlefield within a woodlot of black oak, post oak, shortleaf pine, and shellbark hickory.  The canebrake is gone, probably due to fire suppression.

The Little Kettle Creek Fossil Site

(For more on this site see my blog entry of March 17, 2011.)

Little Kettle Creek is a much smaller stream than Kettle Creek, but it flows through a surprisingly deep gulley–evidence that it’s a very old watercourse that at times has run much deeper.

Note how deep this gully is compared to the size of the stream.  Both banks must be at least 30 feet deep.  It must be very old and in the past has run much deeper.

It’s obvious the creek is old because it has eroded a miniature canyon here.  This is the only Pleistocene fossil site in the entire piedmont region of southeastern North America, yielding remains of mammoth, mastodon, bison, deer, voles, lemmings, and catfish.  Fossil sites are rare in this region for 2 reasons: a lower frequency of floods during arid glacial climate phases, and acidic soils which completely dissolve bone.  Nevertheless, there must have been a flood that washed fossils into this basin.  I briefly prospected for fossils under the bridge in a likely location behind a rocky dike where lots of smaller rocks and stones accumulated, but I came up empty.  The actual fossil site is a few hundred yards downstream from here, however, I chose not to trespass–the barbed wire across the creek hinted at hostility toward interlopers and a determination to keep cattle inside.  I supposed the area under the bridge was a public right of way, though maybe I was on shaky ground, and I didn’t stay long.  Still, I’m convinced there are more fossils to be had here and in other piedmont rivers and creeks in Georgia.  It’s just a matter of taking the time to look.  They’re just harder to find than they are in productive sites like those in Florida.

A look up Little Kettle Creek.  I just missed catching a deer fawn in this photo.  The mammoths, mastodons, and bison may be gone, but at least the deer are still here.

I did see lots of wildlife here, despite the noise of a nearby hay mowing machine.  A finger of forest along the creekside snakes through hayfields.  I saw a deer, a deer fawn, and lots of deer tracks.  A crayfish observed me swing my hand through sand and rocks in my futile search for fossils.  Swallow nests litter the bottom of the bridge.  A broad-winged hawk flew in front of me, and I almost stepped on a mourning dove.

This crayfish watched my futile attempt to find fossils.

I didn’t find fossils in front of these rocks, but I did find neat stones that were half black and half marble white.

Swallows make mud nests under all small bridges in the Georgia countryside.  I love the speed at which they fly.  They consume vast quantities of flies and mosquitoes.

Wilkes County is still a beautiful bucolic setting, especially the area along Highway 44 between Washington and Tyrone.  It consists of rolling hillsides with rich pastureland and hayfields interspersed with oak woodlots.  There’s less of the monocultured loblolly pine tree stands that dominate much of the rest of the region.  It has a population of only 10,000 people.  They might be outnumbered by deer and turkey.

The Great Buffalo Lick

In 1773 the Creek Indians, after seeing how the British colonists murdered the Cherokees in battle, agreed to meet local British leaders at the Great Buffalo Lick to negotiate a peaceful settlement.  A surveyor’s malfunctioning compass nearly derailed the agreement.  William Bartram reported an Indian chief’s temper tantrum over what he considered a bewitched instrument.  But the instrument’s measurements were disregarded, and the Creek Indians ceded much of Georgia to the colonists, not realizing this was a permanent deal because they didn’t understand the concept of private property rights.  They thought they were merely giving the British temporary permission to use their territory.

My quest to find this site resulted in a comical failure.  According to Dr. De Vorsey, the true site of the Great Buffalo Lick is 5 miles north of Philomath in Oglethorpe County, and .5 miles south of Buffalo Creek. I drove well past Philomath without being aware I’d passed it.  My daughter asked me when were we going to get to the site.  I told her when we passed Philomath, and she informed me that we’d passed it a long time ago.  I drove back and realized why I’d missed it–Philomath consists of just 5 houses and a volunteer fire station.  I went .5 miles back in the other direction and found a hollow that looked just like one William Bartram described in his book Travels.  He observed deep pits that buffalo, deer, feral cattle and horses licked into the clay soil, and some of these hollows filled with grass.  I saw this and assumed it was the site and photographed it.  Later, after I came home and reviewed my notes, I realized I only backtracked .5 miles instead of 5 miles.  Oops.  Nevertheless, my initial error led me to drive past this distance, and I didn’t see a 50 foot boulder, nor did I notice Buffalo Creek–two markers Dr. De Vorsey mentions in his article.

The hollow I mistakenly thought was the site of the Great Buffalo Lick.  Maybe it was a pit created by buffalo licking into the kaolin clay.  However, it’s probably just a dried out old cattle tank.  The owner of the land has Black Angus cows for sale.

This is clay soil that may be part of the Kaolin clay vein the buffalo used to utilize.  They didn’t lick it for mineral salts, but rather to aid in digestion.

I’m not the first to error in locating this site.  There are 3 other sites that have mistakenly claimed to have been the Buffalo Lick site.  Two are in Greene County, and the other is also in Oglethorpe County.  The Oglethorpe Historical Society needs to get off their duffs and put a marker in the correct location. 

Dr. De Vorsey correctly identified the site when, with the help of his students, he luckily found a 1796 survey for a “plat of land” 2400 feet from Buffalo Creek, and the description of land markers matched that of Bartram’s.  See

http://www.bartramtrail.org/pages/articles.html

For next week’s blog entry, I’m going to discuss how state highways mirror the ancient Indian trails.

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.