Turkey Hunting, Primitive style
Well, not really so primitive. No foot traps, no sinew backed stick bow and reed arrow, no boomerang or throwing stick. No goats-foot levered crossbow, no glowing salt peter soaked match, no spanner or pyrites for wheel-lock, but the most sophisticated and elegant of flintlocks, the end product of Marin de Bougouis 1675 AD amalgamation of the Doglock, Snaphaunce, Mediterranean and Snapping locks of the late 17th century.
The French lock in my 1750’s style 12 gauge French fowler was elegant to look at, threw huge showers of sparks right into the pan and flashed through the Oh-so-modern stainless steel sunset-positioned counterbored touch-hole with nary a moments hesitation. It was as quick as any percussion gun and near as quick as any modern cartridge contraption.
The fowler itself was hardly primitive. No need for a crew to serve it or cross-sticks to shoot it, no forge or hammer marks on the barrel, the telltale design of twist or skelp iron was not to be seen, there was no clumsiness about it. It , too, was the end product of a long and glorious heritage of progressive improvements in arms experience by the French during the 16th and 17th centuries, culminating in an easy to carry, simple to use and very effective hunting gun.
Indeed, despite its length the gun weighed only 8 lbs, was quick to the shoulder and the kick easily absorbed because of the functionally elegant stock design. The 40 inch barrel was drilled out of a solid blank of modern Gun Barrel Quality steel, reamed smooth as glass in modern industrial machinery, with an interchangeable choke artfully installed at the muzzle.
Nor was the load primitive. The shot was not laboriously chipped by chisel then rolled to crude roundness by hand, the powder was not a hand mix of salt-peter, charcoal and sulfur, the wads were not grass, leaves or wasp’s nest. As a matter of fact, the fowler fired its 1 7/8 oz load of tower dropped, Italian nickle plated commercial # 7 shot over 110 grains of carefully corned, graphited and screened Ffg Goex Black Powder spaced between machine punched fiber , felt and plastic wads that fit the bore precisely. The result was a 75% or better pattern on a standard 40 yard 30 inch circle pattern board., about the same as any modern shotgun.
Nor was the costume very primitive, not even the color of the fabric. The fabric was not hand sheared or spun, the cloth was not hand woven on a home loom, the thread was not linen, and the seams were not hand sewn, except for a repair or two here and there. At least the cloth was real cotton, even if it had been picked by a machine and carded in a descendent of Whitney’s first Gin and loomed in some factory in Asia, but the dyes were as modern as man’s ingenuity could make them, even if they were the right shade of faded dirty green and butternut brown, surprisingly good camouflage in the woods despite their modern provenance. About the only thing truly primitive was the dirt that had accumulated in the cloth over the past years of use and the mud purposefully smeared on hands and face to disguise the sheen of white man’s pale skin.
The mode of transport wasn’t so primitive either. No shank’s mare, except for the last few hundred yards, no horse to ride or pack, no bruised butt from a board wagon seat. Indeed, we had traveled as far in 22 hours as a man ahorseback with a spare mount and packhorse could travel in 30 days, and he would have exhausted himself and his string doing it, as well as pretty well destroying his equipment. We were well rested and hot-eyed and ready to hunt the next morning before dawn. No sore muscles, no sweaty fatigue, no animals to feed or gear to fix for us.
So here I was, hiding in a thorny bush in south Texas, where at least the thorns were primitive, making love-sick sounds on my box call. And the box call was made of wood, even if it was cut and planed and assembled using modern machinery. Maybe Lohman was a 17th century manufacturer of wood products, could have been, after all.
Some idiot of a tom turkey was off in the brush to my right, gobbling his fool head off. He was with a boss hen, I could tell because I could hear her bossing him around, the tone of her calls demanding and obstreperous. Sounded like my mother-in-law. I long ago gave up trying to call toms away from boss hens. It never works. What tom with any brains at all would give up a hen in hand for one in the bush, especially one that sounds like me.
I called out to her, mimicking her bossy tones. When she called, I would call. Sometimes this works and sometimes not. If you call too well, you sound tougher than she feels and she will lead the tom away. Fortunately, this hen was feeling her oats, thinking she might chase off the intruder, and came my way. Her calls were getting closer and closer, the fool tom gobbling behind her. He was coming too.
When she came into view, the tom was close behind. I cautiously pulled some branches down in front of me. I scrunched down into the grass, hiding as well as I could, and held still. I hoped that I looked like a pile of dirt. The fowler was between my knees, the muzzle shifted clumsily off to my right, already cocked and ready to go, the pan half full of ffffG black priming powder. When the hen turned her head away for a few seconds, I shifted the gun to my left shoulder, tipping it to the right at the same time to throw the priming charge to the outside of the pan. The left handed hold gave me a much better angle at the approaching tom.
The hen was close, so close I was afraid she would see me, maybe ten yards away but behind a bush. She was searching for the offending hen. Low clucks came from her open beak. She did not like the situation. The tom was behind her, 35 yards out, strutted up, tail spread, fanning the ground, showing his muscles for all the girls to see. Normally I would alarm cluck to get him out of strut and his head up for the shot, but the hen was too close. Even with all the power strutting, one alarm sound from the hen and he would be instantly gone. I did not dare make a sound or a move Now this was primitive!
It’s not hard to understand why ‘primitive’ hunting is such fun. There’s the challenge of a ‘primitive’ arm, the nostalgia of a simpler day, the emulation of heros gone, dressing up in an adult sort of way, acting out a part in a play in which we originally had no part at all. The problem is that no matter how hard we try, even to the point of living history out in its fullest, it is always an event, a time out, a time away from the present that robs the future. The mere fact of modern transportation technology , bathrooms and Fish and Game Departments guarantees it.
Have you noticed that despite the best attempt to experience history, you still have to buy a permit to hunt the game or enter the park and that the only currency they accept is this modern paper stuff. No trading allowed.
Have you noticed how nice it is to take a shower once you get back to your air conditioned house. How about transport. The most primitive airplane I have ever flown in was a DC-3, the most primitive car a 1923 Rolls right hand drive. Taking a month or more to horseback the trail south for a primitive turkey hunt would not make my patients or my wife very happy, let alone the month long journey home.
Despite all that, we can still make a best effort to emulate the past, accepting the challenges as we understand them, playing the game as well as we can and to the fullest of our ability, learning as we go and improving our performance with each outing.
So it had been with me. The first turkey I ever killed was taken with a Tominator, a muzzleloader that I designed for the modern market. Sure, it was a muzzleloader, at least you loaded it from the muzzle, but it was tricked out with a straight rifling so the plastic shot collar wouldn’t twirl in the barrel, scattering your shot. That feature improved patterns by 10%. It had a modern rifle trigger, fully adjustable, a straight line ‘in-line’ action and a modern looking stock and a trigger safety for ease of use and familiarity.
The Tominator is a great turkey gun. It shoots a better pattern than any modern cartridge shotgun, at least until it dirties up on the first shot. But primitive it ain’t. I popped a New Mexican turkey at 45 big steps that first time. He was spurs up in an instant with hardly a wiggle. I was dressed appropriately in the most primitive of Cabella’s camo, head to toe.
I got a Turkey slam with the Tominator. In fact I got two slams before I ever killed a turkey with a modern gun, and then only because I had to borrow a gun in an emergency when my luggage got lost on an airplane. It got to be too easy, so I switched to flintlock and primitive, except that the functionally elegant Frenchified flint fowler was really not so primitive at all. If I really wanted primitive, I would use a matchlock musket, or better yet, wear a loincloth, go barefoot and carry a throwing stick.
So here I was, lying in the grass, or at least what passed for grass in Texas, trying to avoid the cactus and the rattlesnakes, with a sharp-eyed hen turkey ten yards to my right and behind her a fool love sick tom gobbling his head off. He was right excited. I was, too. It was hard to hold still.
I knew that if I held still long enough, that hen just might wander past me, maybe even get her back to me and give me a shot at the tom. So still I held. Sure enough, she gradually stepped past then away, the angle increasing as she passed, her attention to the front, her gaze away from me. She hadn’t seen me! The tom would be following.
I switched my eyes back to the right, to where I expected the tom to be. Yikes! He was even closer than the hen had been, peering around a bush at me, feathers down, strut gone. But hey, the muzzle of the fowler was pointing right at him, almost perfectly. He blinked and I twitched the bead under his chin. I deliberately and carefully pulled the trigger, knowing that my aim had to be good this close. He was staring right down the barrel. The sweat popped out on my forehead as I pulled. Goodness, the trigger pull seemed hard, , I pulled harder striving not to lose point of aim, running out of breath. Desperately, I yanked on the trigger. Nothing! The damn gun would not fire!
I saw the tom’s face right on top of that front bead suddenly change. His eyes popped out and his beak dropped in surprise. I had moved and he saw me! And he was instantly gone, running straight away, alarm clucking as he went, the hen following close behind.
I was sitting by then, sweat dripping down my face, teeth gritted in frustration, eyes on the lock of the gun. Yup, the cock, you guessed it, on half cock, on safety if you want, right where I had left it, thinking I had pulled it to full cock. This great hunter had just pulled the dumbest trick in the book. No cock, no fire, no turkey. I burst out laughing, giggling at myself, laughed all the way back to my primitive Suburban. What a great hunter I was. So sharp eyed. So savvy. So hardened to the vicissitudes of the frontier. Every reflex tuned to survival. Bosh!. If that turkey had been a Shawnee in 1750, there’s a fair chance he would be carrying my scalp home to show the folks.
I was back near the roost that afternoon. I didn’t get too close. Didn’t want to spook the birds off the roost, after all. I snuck around a bit until I found a good hide under a Mesquite bush and settled down to wait. I figured I would wait until I heard a bird and then try to call them in. I primed the pan afresh, made sure the nose of a powder grain was poking out of the primitive stainless counter-bored touch-hole and settled back in my low slung primitive Cabella’s camo beach chair. At least, the brush and grass and dirt I threw on myself was a fair approximation of primitive.
It was quiet for a long time, if you don’t count the bugs and birds. I was tempted to doze off. I got out my primitive solunar card set and checked the date and time. I was about an hour early, right where I wanted to be. I waited a while longer , then just could not stand the silence any more so got out the primitive 40 year old Lohman commercial box call and yelped a couple times, more just to break the silence than anything.
I was dumbfounded when I got an immediate answer. The gobble was close too. I figured he was within a hundred yards. If my primitive deaf ears can hear it, then its gotta be close. And he was coming from the left, so I could shoot off the right shoulder. I peeped a bit, the lost hen call, trying to sound lost and lonely. I got a huge double gobble back. This was a really dumb bird. Any tom that responds to my calling like that has to be dumbest cluck in the herd.
I caught a hint of color through a bush about 40 yards away. Then got a better look at a big tom showing his muscles as he came around the bush. He half dropped his feathers and came straight at me. It was obvious that he had marked the place where that lost hen was and was coming straight to it. He caught me with gun in lap, hammer not cocked and him staring me in the face. I didn’t dare move. I wondered if he could see my chest heave as my heart thumped along.
He stopped at 20 yards and threw himself into a huge strut. He was close enough that I could even hear the drumming of his wings. When he swung his fan to me I threw the fowler to my face, cocking it and catching his head over the front bead as he turned. I didn’t want him any closer, the pattern would be plenty tight where he was. When he reached sideways I alarm clucked, using my mouth. I simply said ‘cluck’. The sound of a human saying ‘cluck’ is so strange that it usually pops a tom right out of his strut and brings his head up. It did this time, too. Feathers were dropping and head coming up and swiveling to me when the fowler boomed, firing so fast that I was not aware of the trigger pull, the clatch of the lock, puff of priming, or anything except that big bird going over backwards on the ground. Primitive does not mean ineffective!
There about twenty #7 shot in his head and neck, any one of which would have put him down. Most had gone through with complete penetration, which is why I like the primitive hard nickel plated shot. That kind of performance is a tribute to excellent velocity, tight chokes and careful loading. 110 grains of primitive Goex ffG Black powder, two primitive 1/8″ Wonder Wads, a primitive tapered shotcup, originally designed for the now primitive Winchester AA shotshell, (Ballistic Products BP-12) that loads through a primitive .670 super full choke with the ramrod, 1 7/8 oz. of primitive #7 Nickel plated hard shot topped by another primitive 1/8″ Wonder Wad. Velocity is 1150 fps and primitive performance on turkey is wonderful.
Yes sir, I love hunting with this ‘primitive’ outfit. I may not be wearing the most primitive of clothes, or shooting the most primitive of loads, or traveling in the most primitive manner, but I am coming close. How close is a matter of definition and choice. The nice thing is that it’s up to me to make that choice. I don’t have to compete with anybody. The really nice thing is that once I’m in the field, hunting, there is no question of primitive. Pursuing a critter so I can eat him is as primitive as it gets.
Hurrah for primitive. Hurrah for the hunt. Hurrah for me cause I get to go. Hurrah for you cause you can too. Hurrah!