18 May 2014

Pigeon Catching - Trappers Work in Maine

Long and Patient Labors

From the Lewiston (Me.) Journal.

Benjamin C. and Reuben P. Allen (father and son) are thrifty, well-to-do farmers of Turner. They also have the reputation of being skillful and successful pigeon catchers, taking each season from $100 to $200 worth of birds. Benjamin, the elder Allen, has had a large experience in pigeon-netting, he having sprung his first trap forty years ago. It was in the State of New Hampshire, and the birds were more plenty than they are now in this country, or any part of the State. One shilling per dozen was what the Concord dealers thought about right for them in those days. Now they sell readily for twelve shillings, and sometimes more. The Allens have two beds, distant from each other about one mile. The necessity, or advantage rather, of two is, that when the birds are driven from one, by netting or from any other cause, they fly to the other, and so loss is prevented. Our reporter visited one of these beds a few days since. He found it situated in the centre of a clearing of about two acres in extent. Upon its sides was the "stand," which is made by stripping small trees of their foliage and smaller limbs, and setting them into the ground. In these limbs the birds light, and remain until they are ready to descend upon the bed for the purpose of feeding. The bed is simply the feeding ground cleared for the purpose of working the net with which the birds are taken. This one is about twenty by twenty-three feet. The turf has been removed and it is as smooth and hard as the cabin floor of a western pioneer. Along one edge of the bed the grain — corn and buckwheat — is scattered, twelve or fourteen inches in width. There is also grain in a shallow trough that is supported by small poles about six feet in length. At once upon the disappearance of the snow in the spring the beds are visited, very carefully cleared of fallen leaves or other foreign substances, and the birds baited by leaving grain; and throughout the spring and summer they are visited and kept constantly supplied with food. But usually it is not until the Allens have harvested their hay crop that they make any attempt to capture them. After haying they devote their time largely to them. Almost as soon as it is light the beds are visited and replenished with grain, and again at noon the birds are fed; while at nearly all hours of the day the men, gun in hand, are hunting their localities to see that no outsiders trespass upon their property, and to shoot the predatory hawks which are the great scourge to pigeons and discouragement to pigeon catchers.

When the birds have gathered a sufficient number, and it is decided to catch them, the net, with boxes for holding the birds, is placed upon the wheelbarrow, and the whole trundled to the edge of the clearing. Here the boxes are left until wanted, and the net taken to the bed. The nets used by the Allens are of their own make, the meshes being about an inch square. They vary in size from twenty to twenty-five feet. One side of the net is attached to a rope a hundred feet or more in length. The ends are gathered upon a smaller and shorter cord, say eighty feet in length, which gives a slack which forms a large bag. In setting the net upon the bed one end of the long rope, as it is termed, is fastened to a little pole five feet high and forty or fifty feet distant from the bed. The other end is attached to a similar pole in the "bough house," which is located about thirty feet from the bed, and directly opposite the first pole. The bough house is just what its name indicates, a small house made of boughs, from which the birds are watched and the net sprung. When the rope is fastened on these poles it is stretched directly across the bed, the length of the net being just the length of the bed. The outside of the net is then pinned across the outside of the bed where the grain is scattered. The inside of the net, or the one to which the rope is fastened, in then carried or pushed back over the grain to the outside, the poles to which the rope is attached being thereby considerably bent. It is prevented from flying back over the bed by two short sticks, called "fly staffs," so arranged that they can be displaced by a quick, sharp pull upon the rope from the bough house. This is done at the proper moment, and the net flies forward over about one-half the bed, and all that portion where the grain is scattered, and where, of course, the birds are feeding. When the inside of the net is carried back over the grain to the outer edge of the bed, it is folded down in as small a compass as possible, and earth or dust sprinkled lightly over to hide it from the sharp eyes of the birds. After the net is arranged the grain from the trough is put upon the bed, which is carefully swept and all scattered grains of corn picked up and placed along the edge behind which the net lies concealed. When every thing is in readiness the bird catcher retires to the bough house, where he has nothing to do but wait for the arrival of the game.

They come by twos, threes, and frequently flocks of a dozen or more. They frequently seem loth to leave the stand behind and go upon the bed, but when one ventures the majority commonly follow at once. When on the bed they are easily frightened, the snapping of a twig in the bough-house, the arrival of more birds, or particularly the appearance of a hawk will create the greatest consternation and scatter them in the wildest manner. The bird catcher, with his eye at an opening in the bough house, closely watches their movements, and when they commence to go down grasps the rope with both hands. He waits until the most of them are upon the bed, or until he fears they will flush, and then giving the rope a short hard pull dashes out from the cover and rushes upon the net. One, two, and even three hundred birds are sometimes taken at one time with a net not larger that the one of which we have spoken, and any one can imagine what an exciting scene it presents. The struggling birds are taken one by one from under the snare and placed in the boxes, the net again prepared, all the feathers carefully picked from the bed, and the same scene enacted. The Allens have already taken from their two beds nearly one thousand birds. After catching, they convey them to their homes, where in one corner of the stable they have a place prepared for them. Here they receive the same food as when being baited upon the beds. They have the best of appetites, and after a fortnight's confinement, will be as fat as seems possible for a bird to be.

Some attribute the success of the Allens to their experience and superior skill; but they claim it is owing largely to the use of what they term "pigeon scent." All pigeon-catchers use, we believe, something which they put upon their grain for the purpose of attracting the birds, and rum, anise, and other articles are among the ones employed, but the Allens have a mixture of their own, which they claim is superior to all others, and which when the birds have once tasted, they will not willingly leave. Whether that be a whim or not it certainly is a fact, and they capture birds by the score where no one else can.

October 3, 1874. Auburn Daily Bulletin 9(1347): 3.