|One of America's most cherished renewable resources. The French explorers called them Le Dindon sauvage. The Spanish call them Gaujalote. In Latin, it's Meleagris gallopavo. In English, our Wild Turkeys.|
hunting in the Old Dominion is steeped in tradition, the
sport of dedicated men, long on experience and a bit short
on patience with the new breed of hunters who take their
birds in the spring. Success demands dedication." - Bob
Gooch, of his 1973 hunt with the Cosner family
(Spotsylvania), on Walker Mountain in Bath County. Page
one of six shown, see last column: "Even the Indians
owned turkey dogs." Members can read
all six here.
most turkey hunters think Spring is the time to hunt wild turkeys, but
actually the Fall season was always the traditional time (see
explanation in the 1st Green Row down). Our earliest stories of spring
turkey hunting in the United States come from: Rutledge 1907, Jordan/McIlhenny 1914, Turpin 1924, Everitt
1928, Mosby and Handley 1943, Davis 1949.
But, Americans were hunting wild turkey with dogs in the fall since 1607, when the first Englishmen brought their quail dogs to Jamestown, Virginia (see the dog in the middle of the painting - The First Thanksgiving by Jean Leon Gerome Ferris). Historically, only the first born sons were granted lands in Britain. The second and third born sons (and on), were sent to the new world, bequethed thousands of acres by the king. These British Aristocrats were the landed gentry, they came here expecting to live in the style they did at home, with servants to do the work, while they lived like gentlemen. That included bringing their beloved quail dogs with them. But they weren't prepared for the hardships and were soon dependent on the natives for necessities like food. Since wild turkeys sustained them better than quail, out of necessity (and by the native's example), their quail dogs became turkey dogs. Over the years, the Virginians did something very American - they improved their strains of bird dogs, crossing their pointers and setters (creating the dropper), making that fast, wide ranging dog needed to find and get the big running birds off the ground. For hundreds of years, they continued to improve the turkey dog, sometimes mixing in a little hound, primarily for their cold-trailing ability and their inclination to bark when they find game. These became the Virginia turkey dogs.
What was turkey hunting with a dog like for the last 400+ years? The breeding and hunting of fine turkey dogs originated in Virginia, still the #1 state for turkey dogs today. These special dogs were bred and hunted in the Tidewater and Piedmont areas of Virginia. Historically, they weren't used in the mountains (Blue Ridge and Appalachians). The British quail dogs became the Virginia turkey dogs.
There were dogs in the New World, long before the arrival of Europeans; archaeologists have found more than 100 dog skeletons where woodland Indians lived during the centuries before Jamestown's founding.
Now recent archaeological and anthropological studies show it was a longstanding tradition of many native Americans to hunt turkeys in the spring, for the last several thousands of years. Did the immigrants learn spring turkey hunting from the natives? Is that part of the reason the turkey population was decimated (they were hunted year round, but they're most susceptible in the spring), in addition to the introduced European diseases that the turkey had no resistance to? Quoting the recent studies:
“Passenger pigeons' diet centered on mast, the collective name for acorns, beechnuts, hazelnuts, chestnuts, and the like; they also really liked maize. All were important foods to the Indians of eastern North America. Thus passenger pigeons and Native Americans were ecological competitors.
A consulting archeologist in Atlanta... noted that Indians had also vied for mast and maize with deer, raccoons, squirrels and turkeys. Unsurprisingly, they hunted all of them with enthusiasm, as documented by the bones found in archaeological sites. Indeed, Indians actually sought out nursing or pregnant does... They hunted wild turkey in spring, just before they laid eggs (if they had waited until the eggs hatched, the poults could of survived, because they will follow any hen). The effect was to remove competition for tree nuts. The pattern was so consistent, that Indians must have been purposely reducing the number of deer, raccoons and turkeys.”
Reference: 1491: New Revelations of the Americas Before Columbus Of all the animals Native Americans hunted in the spring, the only one we still do is the turkey. The natives used dogs to assist them year round.
***In precolonial times (before Columbus), the natives in Virginia used knee-high, 20 pound dogs for hunting wild turkey (before they interbred with the large English hunting dogs). The colonists learned various spring turkey hunting methods from the Indians, as well as hunting turkeys with a dog (the Powhatans used their dogs only in hunting land fowl such as wild turkey). Many tribes kept numerous dogs, these Indians had at least two dogs a piece (members only). In later years, the mix of hunting dogs in the country would change: "We know from the historical record that Native Americans had dogs, but previous population surveys in the Americas turned up only dogs with European heritage" (National Geographic). "Genetic evidence suggests that Native Americans and Europeans domesticated dogs independently, and that North American pre-contact dogs were almost completely replaced by dogs that came over on European ships" (Canadian Museum of Nature). "What we know about dogs in Native American societies is limited. But we do know that the dogs brought by the Spanish were much different in character and breeding from those already present" A History of Dogs in the Early Americas
It was forbidden for Indians to have European dogs:
'It is ordered by this Courte and Authority thereof, that no man within this Jurisdiction shall... sell, barter or give to any Indian... any dog or dogs, small or great; upon pain of ten pounds fine for every offense...' Connecticut Code of Laws 1650
That's likely because it was well-known various Indian tribes liked to eat dogs. Some time after 1865, in the cattle shipping town of Evarts, South Dakota, on the east side of the Missouri River, south of the present town of Mobridge, SD, Calamity Jane said: "I can go to his grave as straight as an Indian goes to dog soup."
The epidemic diseases introduced by the Europeans into the Americas killed most of the Indians, with the same effect on their dogs (they had no immunity). The Europeans brought their dogs with them and the Indians still alive liked them better than their own. By then, the majority of the native dogs were extinct - Dogs of the American Indians.
"Interestingly, there are over four hundred dog breeds today, and most of them were developed in just the last 150 years." "The data also confirm the idea that dogs moved with humans from Asia into the New World and were not domesticated from scratch with wolves in North America. The large majority of breeds, however, likely have recent, European origins, according to the authors."
Most breeds of dogs are at most a few hundred years old, but the English Setter appeared about 400 years ago in England. The English Pointer may have been around since 1650. Many turkey dogs are part Plott hound, a breed that originated in the mountains of western North Carolina about 1800, and is also the state dog of North Carolina.
Who started hunting turkeys with dogs? Did the Jamestown VA immigrants learn it in the sacred hunting grounds of the Indians and their dogs that survived the period? Soon after, the Europeans imported hunting dogs. Virginians refined turkey hunting with a dog and kept the tradition alive for the next 400 years. See the source cited by the 1491 book and read more about the origin of the Turkey Hunting Dog.
1890 Wild Turkey Hunt with Indian Guide photo by special permission of the Smithsonian Institution, National Museum of American History, Home and Community Life, Harry T. Peters 'America on Stone' Collection (Image Use | Copyright | Credits).
1606 Apalatchy VA map credit: Jodocus Hondius -1636 Amsterdam.
Old turkey dog hunter and Valley RR photos courtesy Steve Turpin.
|“Our ability to perceive quality in nature begins, as in art, with the pretty. It expands through successive stages of the beautiful to values as yet uncaptured by language.” Aldo Leopold, A Sand County Almanac|
|The women of the Caddo Indian tribe perform the first four parts of the hour long Turkey Dance. |
Turn up the speakers. The Caddo Nation 5 part turkey dance.
The Zuni Indian turkey dance at the Albuquerque Indian Cultural Center.
In 1834, Karl Bodmer illustrated the Hidatsa Warrior - Two Ravens, tribal chief and head of the Dog Society.
Hand-coloured aquatint engraving by Rene Rollet after Bodmer. $12,000.00 with FREE Shipping
|We hunt wild
turkeys with similarities in bone structure to the
hollow-boned dinosaurs. Imagine you're hunting this
ancient bird, the feared velociraptor. Whose main
characteristics include three toes facing forward, scales
on its legs, a backbone parallel to the ground and its
neck is S-shaped. Will this theropod
be your familys thanksgiving dinner, or will you be the raptors? Another 160 million year old forest dwelling bird-like creature named Aurornis, lived in the Jurassic and Cretaceous times before Archaeopteryx, looks like the ancestor of todays wild turkey.
...chickens and turkeys are genetically the closest dinosaur relatives (The Wonder of Birds by Jim Robbins).
|National Geographic - Man
Partnership (49 minutes), compliments of Hulu.
Dr. Henry Mosby, a noted wild turkey researcher and teacher at Virginia Tech, wrote about fall turkey hunting with dogs in his 1943 book entitled ‘The Wild Turkey in Virginia”: "The turkey dog, usually a pointer or setter, is trained to trail a flock of turkeys, burst upon the flock at full speed, thereby scattering them so that the individual turkeys are flushed in all directions. Unless the birds are well scattered by being suddenly frightened, most of the flock will fly in one direction and may reassemble elsewhere, rather than the point of the flush. The majority of fall turkey hunters prefer to use a silent trailing dog that does not bark until it runs into the flock. The barking at the flush serves several purposes: first, to scatter the turkeys, second to notify the hunter of the flush, and third, to advise him of the locality where the flush was made. The well-trained turkey dog also must be taught to remain quietly at the feet of the hunter when he is yelping. The advantages of using a trained turkey dog are: (1) it permits the hunter to cover a much larger area and to do so more thoroughly; (2) because of the tendency of the wild turkey to run rather than to fly in eluding its enemies, the use of a dog is desirable if the flock is to be well scattered, and (3) a well-trained dog is of much assistance in recovering wounded birds. Severely wounded turkeys are often capable of traveling a considerable distance and are very clever at hiding themselves. Without the use of a dog such turkeys often are lost. In addition to these materialistic advantages, many hunters obtain a good portion of their sport from training and observing the dogs which they work in the field. It cannot be denied that it is a real thrill to hear a turkey dog make a flush and to see him return to the hunter in the field, panting and hot from the chase, and tail wagging and a demeanor that clearly shows he is as proud of himself as his master is of him. It is of equal pleasure to the hunter to observe the dog at his feet, quivering with excitement and anticipation, when the long awaited turkey is heard answering the "yelp" of the hunter as it approaches the blind."Excerpted from The Wild Turkey in Virginia 1943 by Mosby and Handley, and the Turkey Dog Presentation to the Missouri Chapter of The Wildlife Society by Gary W. Norman, Biologist - Virginia Department of Game and Inland Fisheries.
The Wild Turkey Population Dynamics Research Project transcript available upon request.
Photos courtesy Steve Turpin.
Ben Tennison of Western Mule Magazine hunts turkeys in the fall with his Missouri Jumping Mule. "When I see a flock across a field I just ride slowly towards them. Generally the flock will go into the woods where they're all bunched up. That's when I run my mule at them full speed, and if we get a good scatter, I tie up my mule a ways away, sit down and call the flock back. It doesn't always work, but it sure beats trying to run at them myself, especially at my age."
Ben fully agrees Missouri should allow dogs in the fall. Photos © Western Mule Magazine.
Starting in the fall of 2005 Missouri will have a longer season, and hunters can take both birds the same day.
|"The hens have recovered
their flesh which they had lost by sitting, the gobblers
have regained their plumpness by feeding upon nuts,
grapes, and a thousand and one good things picked up in
the forest. When all are fat and strong they gradually
form themselves into flocks, or gangs as the forest
settlers and hunters call them, frequently as many as a
hundred birds being in one group. This feathered '
gathering of the clans' has given the Indians their name
for the month of October, which they call Turkey month."
"But there is another kind of sport better suited to the winter months before the gobblers would answer a call: and that is, hunting them with a properly trained turkey dog. A well-trained dog will never range very far from his master till he finds the warm scent of a single turkey or a flock. Then he will start upon the trail without giving tongue until he finds the game. He will then run on, and by continual yelping, compel it to ascend some tree." 1866 A Hunter's Experiences in the Southern States of America
"In the country of the Chickasaws, a dog is necessary to hunt them.
There are a great many in the same place,
but he could do nothing without a dog."
M. Le Page Du Pratz, The History of Louisiana 1724.
Receive a Native American Name for your new turkey dog, from 47 Indian Tribes.
|Yet in 1804 to 1806, the
& Clark Expedition ate 1001 Deer, 375 Elk, 227
Bison, but only 9 turkeys. The turkey population may have
succumbed to blackhead,
from the introduction of chickens into the new
"In the early 1900's hunting turkeys with dogs in Alabama was a legal and accepted way to hunt, and pretty much the standard at that time." Uncle Roy Moorer told me, "A man had rather be caught rustling cattle, than shooting a turkey on the ground and not flushing it first, and giving it a sporting chance to escape." John E. Phillips
Read about Alabama's turkey dog history in John's
Outdoor Life Complete Turkey Hunting
|'I sold a man a dog in
Alabama. Now it is illegal in Georgia, by the way. I sold
him a pup, and he wanted it for a turkey dog, to tree wild
turkeys. I said 'Man, you’re crazy, and he told me how it
was." “ He says, you walk in the woods, and you come up on
a bunch of wild turkeys, a person does, they’ll fly to the
next ridge. I mean, they gone! But a dog comes up on a
bunch of turkeys, they’ll just fly up in a tree. That
dog’ll move on the other side of the tree, and he’ll just
bark every once in a while to keep the turkey’s attention;
the man just walks up and picks out the one he wants and
shoots it. They just stay there ‘cause the dog has got
their attention, and the hunter just real quietly sneaks
up and shoots it out of the tree.” That is illegal in
Georgia, to hunt turkeys with dog. I checked on that. Now
whether it is in Alabama or not, I don’t know. But the man
bought the dog to turkey hunt with.' Ronia’s Hunter’s
Tales of the Cur by Austin Bauman pp. 142-143 (year
Foxfire Magazine, Volume 34 Issues 133 & 134
Fall/Winter 2000 (Note to Readers: It rarely works like
that, most times the birds see you coming and fly away. If
the leaves are on the trees or they're in evergreens, you
can't see them. Good story when selling a dog though. Ed.)
In New Hampshire or Maine you couldn't use a gun (or dogs either) for fall turkey hunting.
Outdoor writer Steve Hickoff travels from Maine to New York to hunt turkey with his dog.
Update March 2006 NH is proposing a fall shotgun hunt, details on the Legislation page.
UPDATE June 2007! DOGS ARE NOW ALLOWED during the NH fall turkey season.
Update August 2007: A new fall shotgun season and with dogs approved in Maine for fall 2007.
Steve's latest book features dogs, and is a must read: Fall and Winter Turkey Hunter's Handbook
|A hundred years ago, you could get arrested, or fired, for doing the Turkey Trot. |
Since 1987, it gets a lot more outrageous than that at Turkey Trot Acres, the NorthEast's Premier Hunting Lodge.
'Indian children had to learn the different calls of the turkey,
to communicate among hunting and war parties.'
A HISTORY OF THE VALLEY OF VIRGINIA
A history of the valley of Virginia 1833
"In some states... hunting turkeys during the fall is a bigger tradition than hunting them in the spring. Most southerners would classify fall turkey hunting as a northern or “Yankee” tradition... The bottom line is that fall turkey hunting can be a lot of fun without harming turkey populations. Fall turkey seasons are a great opportunity to introduce youth hunters to the sport that we all enjoy so much."
Fall Turkey Hunting: Chasing that Elusive "Thanksgiving Butterball" By James Austin and Ron Seiss (see last page of the pdf).
Mississippi expands their area for the fall 2006 turkey hunt, but dogs are not allowed. See details on the Legislation page.
Pennslvania raised more turkeys for release than anywhere, and for years you couldn’t use a call or a blind in the fall. Hunting turkeys in Pennslvania in the fall is a longer tradition than in the spring (it was closed for 95 years). All of which makes it particularly odd they don't allow dogs, and now they're surrounded by States that do! And as of 2006 you can take a 2nd gobbler in the spring, but still only one bird in the fall, and not with a dog.
As of June 30, 2007, after 15 months of hard lobbying by the PA chapter of the AWTHDA, PA once again allows turkey hunting with a dog, like they did in the 1800's.
|"Lieut. Henry Timberlake describes
Cherokee children in 1765 using a “sarbacan, or hollow
cane” to blow a small dart into the turkey’s eye. They
seldom missed." John D. Hunter, Memoirs of Captivity among
the Indians of North America 1823
Memoirs of Lieutenant Henry Timberlake (The First American Frontier) by Henry Timberlake. The Cherokee Chief Standing Turkey went with Henry Timberlake to London in 1762-1763. Standing Turkey's nephew, Chief Stalking Turkey, was half Shawnee and half Cherokee.
(The Native Americans used many techniques for hunting or capturing wild turkeys. Unlike the wild turkey of today, the birds were unwary of humans and easily captured. The Wild Turkey: Biology & Management by James G. Dickson) Photo courtesy Steve Turpin.
'Coursing turkeys with greyhounds, as
practiced in the more open
western country is exciting sport...
Well-trained turkey dogs are useful in chasing winged birds, which a man could never catch.' Audubon (1840)
'The Californian and Texan horsemen course hare, antelope, and wild turkey with their fleet greyhounds.'
Theodore Roosevelt - Hunting Trips of a Ranchman 1885.
Fourteen - A Wild-Turkey Hunt (from the 1800's):
"We can ‘run’ them as we were about to do had they been buffaloes.” “Ha! ha! ha!” laughed François; “run a turkey! Why it will fly off at once. What nonsense you talk, brother!” “I tell you, no,” replied Basil. “It is not nonsense—it can be done—I have often heard so from the trappers,—now let us try it ourselves.”... He saw the dog standing by the root of a large oak. He had “treed” the turkey, and was looking upward with glancing eyes, barking and wagging his tail. The Boy Hunters by Captain Mayne Reid (1818-1883).
While a Southern
tradition back in the old days, today hunting turkeys with
dogs in the fall or winter is no longer allowed in AL, AR,
Now, most of these states allow hunters to shoot up to
five gobblers in the spring, and don't even have a fall or
This photo (from a wood-engraved illustration made from the artists sketch) depicts fall/winter turkey hunting with a dog. One hunter keeps the dog still, while the other calls to the regrouping turkeys. Turkeys in the trees are pitching down to ones on the ground. "Yelping Up Wild Turkeys" from the 1/10/1885 Harper's Weekly (A Journal of Civilization), drawn by W.L. Sheppard (1833-1912). Photo courtesy of America's Oldest Name in Custom Calls
'American Indians would attract the gobbler
by placing a decoy, then hiding behind logs
and imitating the call of the hen.'
John D. Hunter, Memoirs of Captivity among
the Indians of North America 1823
'In the 1950's, Leigh H. Perkins of the Orvis Company hunted fall turkeys in Georgia by driving them off the roost just before dawn to 6 or 8 gunners. They'd shoot for their heads at the height of the tree-tops. Sometimes they only winged them, and they ran off (even wounded they ran faster than a horse through the woods). He began to use his Brittany Leda to find these birds, and was soon invited to go on turkey drives with others. One time Leda recovered a bird 2 miles from where it was shot!' From A Sportsman's Life: How I Built Orvis by Mixing Business and Sport (Paperback) A Sportsman's Life (Hardcover)
"Drive hunting has become very popular in the Southeast... The most spectacular effect is when the great birds come over in their beautiful glide with rigidly bowed wings. Anyone who has seen a flight composed mostly of old gobblers, with lighting effects right to bring out all their georgeous coloration, has witnessed one of the most beautiful and spectacular sights of the sporting world. They may well be excused if they become so absorbed in the spectacle that guns are forgotten and the birds pass by without a shot being fired." The Wild Turkey - Its History and Domestication; A.W. Schorger, Univ. of OK Press
From 1843 to 1845 Captain George A. McCall wrote about his hunting trips near Fort Scott, Kansas. His favorite dog was a setter pointer cross with a nose for grouse, woodcock, or turkey...
The backwoodsmen and western settlers think “The only bird worthy of their attention is the wild turkey.” Wm. Priest, Travels in the United States of America, 1795
"Wild turkeys are relatively easy to catch;
some Native Americans used snares and pole traps to secure one bird at a time."
W. P. Baldwin, Trapping wild turkeys in South Carolina,
Journal of Wildlife Management II 1947
Photos © Monte Loomis
"The best thing about hunting and fishing,' the Old Man said, 'is that you don't have to actually do it to enjoy it.
You can go to bed every night thinking about how much fun you had twenty years ago, and it all comes back clear as moonlight."
— Robert Ruark "The Old Man's Boy Grows Older," 1957
Scouting, Hunting Techniques,
and other Articles from the Wild Turkey Zone.
PBS and Nova special on how dogs evolved from wolves, and the truth about dogs.
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that you know about turkeys, or the dogs that hunt them in these pages,
you can only blame yourself for not having sent it in.
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