Leopold, Aldo, 1887-1948 / Writings: Reprints (bound)
Publications of Aldo Leopold: game, pp. - PDF (1304.9 MB)
WILD LIFED WILD LIFE A. Turkey Hunt In the Datil National Forest By ALDO LEOPOLD, Assistant District Forester, U. S. Forest Service i (Photos by J. S. Ligon, U. S. Biological Survey) HERE were only four days left of the open season when my hunting partner and I made camp on the evening of November 1 near the forks of Big Pigeon Canyon. Big Pigeon is a long notch cut into the flanks of the San Mateo Mountains, which comprise a part of the Datil National Forest, Socorro County, New Mexico. The Datil Forest, from the sportsman's standpoint, is the cream of the Southwest, and there is no part of the Datil country as in- teresting to hunt in as the San Mateos. It is a very rough region with a fair amount of water, and endless miles of yellow pine forest interspersed with oak and pinon. Any year thai the oak fails to produce acorns it is pretty certain that the pinons will produce nuts, and vice versa, so that the game is nearly always "hog-rolling fat." Winter starvation, in spite of heavy snows, is almogt out of the question be- cause of the abundance of mast and of oak and mahogany browse. My partner and I had designs on the blacktail bucks and festive gobblers which were supposed to inhabit the rough foothills surrounding our camp. After a quail supper (we had bumped into a fine covey on our way out), and a com- fortable night, we were up and at it bright and early next morning. The first day was to be devoted to a general reconnaissance of the situation. All day long we scoured the hills on east side of Big Pigeon, and succeeded in finding a single turkey feather and a couple of deer tracks. We had to admit that evening that the prospects seemed to con- sists largely of fine weather and scenery. It looked like a wonderful game country,-without game. VER the oak coals of the campfire we held a council of war. There evidently had been a few deer and turkey around during the summer, but where were they now? It was decided that my partner would spend the next day exploring a higher country in the Beartrap watershed to the north, and I was to go south into the rough breaks of Whitewater and see what I could see. In the cold, frosty dawn, we set forth. We found hun- dreds of robins, bluebirds aind ninon iavs hathinp and drinking in the half-frozen waterhole near camp. I never could understand why these little fellows should deliberately choose to get wet, inside and out, so early in the morning. Sharpshinned hawks were always hanging around these water holes, but did not seem to do much exe- cution, because of the handy oak thickets in which the birds could take refuge on short notice. These hardy winter birds seemed to know their busi- ness, but we hunters were not so sure that we knew ours, after yesterday's fail- ure to make a strike. I traveled all morning across a waterless dry- wash, country covered with pinon;. pine, and cedar, which a few small tracks showed to be inhabited by white-tail deer. Hunting whitetail in these cedar brakes is about like hunt- ing rabbits in a ragweed patch-it is all hunt and no get. The chance of seeing the quarry is almost neglig- ible. So I kept right on go- ing and about noon topped out on a high ridge over- looking a wild narrow can- deep, with a fringe of large oaks and cottonwoods lining the watercourse below. It looked promising. I dropped down a steep hogback along a pretty well-worn cattle trail that indicated water below. When nearly down I heard the familiar alarm note of a robin being chased by a sharp-shin. A water-hole sure enough 1 Advancing with caution, I soon came up on a beautiful sunny glade, containing fine water, tall gramma grass, and an old deserted cabin-evidently a remnant of the good old days when dogeying, sleepering, and smearing brands were favorite outdoor sports in these remote mountain fastnesses. Those days are over now. The National Forest ranges now carry only graded Herefords worth fifty dollars a head, and the old-time rustler with his nimble branding iron has disappeared with the longhorn steer. The modern cowman fortunate enough to hold a grazing permit on the National Forest, is particular about his neighbors and rides to town in a touring car. N examination of the watering place showed a few old blacktail tracks, but no turkey sign. However, the whole surroundings felt like game, so I advanced slowly up the creek, examining the cattle trails for tracks and carefully scanning the canyon bottom ahead as the crooks and turns of the water course revealed new views to the eye. Rounding the point of a little bench, I suddenly felt a shock that seemed to freeze my feet to the ground. (I'm sure I felt that turkey in my knees quite as soon as I saw him) ! There he was, right over the point of the bench, a big hump-backed gobbler, clipping the seeds- off a stalk of wild oats. I knew there must be more behind the point. My plan was to slip forward a few steps to a little oak tree and get a rest for the first shot. But I couldn't make my knees behave! I freely confess it, they were wobbling-wobbling like a reed shaken in the wind. I can look the biggest blacktail buck in the race without a tremor, but turkey? Never! However, it didn't last long. I had advanced almost to the oak tree, and could now see at least fifteen birds that looked as big.as elephants. They were s rotehinu in the pine needles, and looked to be somewhat over seventy-five yards away. I was xalmost wholly hidden by the point, and picking every step with all the caution in the world. But you can't fool a turkey. "Put !" and I saw the big gobbler's head go up in the air. This was no time for rests, or other fancy preparations. I threw up the little car- bine, drew down on the big bird, and let go. I saw him collapse, and then the fun began! The whole flock stretched their legs and started up the hill on a high trot. The second shot failed to score. At the third shot, another fine big bird keeled over .just at the edge of the oak thicket which clothed the wall of the canyon. Shot number four was just a formal good-bye as the last bird disappeared into the oaks. F course, I went af- ter them. I scram- bled up that hill un- til my heart pounded like a triphammer. I got one more glimpse of a running y'on lb~ut five hundred feet WILD TURKED ECEMBER, 1919 D: DATIL FOREST high up on the hill, but no I,
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