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Leopold, Aldo, 1887-1948 / Writings: Reprints (bound)

Publications of Aldo Leopold: game,   pp. [425]-[1195] PDF (1304.9 MB)

Page [455]

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 
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 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 
DATIL FOREST               high up on the hill, but no 

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