HOW TO HUNT HONEY BEE
The Indians say that the honey bee is the white man's forerunner, and it is to be found wherever the pale-faces have settled. In many parts of the country they are quite plenty, and honey is excellent eating. Still the honey of wild bees is not so good as tame honey, because the latter is made from white clover and buckwheat. However, when wild honey is made from bass-wood blossoms and leaves, it is almost as good as that made from buckwheat.
The bees are in our forests, and if you will have a little patience, I will tell you how to find them, and to get their honey.
First; in early spring, before the snow goes off, after a warm day or two the bees come out and fly about in the air, dropping their filth in the shape of dark yellow spots all over the snow in the neighborhood of their tree. "When you see this upon the snow, begin to look for a bee tree. As the spring opens, and the snow goes off, they get very hungry, and if you offer them honey they will take it very soon, and you may line them directly to the tree.
I now propose to tell you how to get a true line of bees. "We will say it is in the month of July. This is early for hunting bees, and they don't care much about your honey, because there are so many swamp flowers for them to gather from, and you must get something they like better. Take corn cobs (without the corn,) and lay them lengthwise in a trough, and pour a little chamber lye or urine upon them, and let it stand out of doors for a day or two, when the bees will come to it and fill themselves at this season more eagerly than with honey.
Now lie down on your back so that you can see them against the sky, and watch which direction they take. After they have taken a turn or two they will strike straight for home. The point of a swamp, or a high hill, will sometimes make them curve a little, but otherwise they will strike a bee line, as the saying is. When you are sure which way they go, set one stake with the top painted white, to enable you to see them better, at the place where you stand, and another at the point over which they disappeared. By these two you can take the range for the third, and so on, and now you have your line started, and have only to follow it straight on to strike the bees. Two men can set the stakes much faster and more easily than one.
A surveyor's compass, if you know how to use it, will answer the same purpose, but staking is very correct,— only start right, and don't doubt the bees, for they will fly straight, I assure you.
Another plan is to set the trough farther on in the line of flight, from time to time, until you reach the tree.
The usual time for hunting bees is after the first frosts in the fall of the year; and now I will try to lead you into a regular bee hunt.
Provide yourself with a tin pail, or a wooden box, (with a bail and cover,) having a capacity of about two or three quarts; also a nice plain glass tumbler; a piece of a shingle with a handle to it (this is to cover the tumbler with); some new, good honey; a piece of clean honey, comb, and a piece of refuse comb that the honey has been pressed out of.
Now start and go where you have seen bees at work; some winter blossoms may be there in bloom, on which you may find the honey bee.
Then take your piece of clean comb and fill it with honey (made thinner, if necessary, by the addition of water or urine, which is better) and set it on the top of a stump or some place fixed for it. Next proceed, in the following manner, to catch a bee: Take the tumbler in one hand and the shingle in the other. When you see the bee on a flower hold the tumbler in such a way that you can knock him into it with a very light blow, and shut him in with the shingle. Carry him to the prepared honeycomb and turn the tumbler bottom side up, when he will rise up, and you may withdraw the shingle and set the tumbler over the honey-comb. Then take a handkerchief or your hat, and cover the tumbler with it, and the bee will at once settle down and commence to fill himself; when he gets steadily at work, take the tumbler away so that he will be at liberty to start for home as soon as he is satisfied. Now watch closely which way he goes, and for this you must be where you can see all around, for when he first rises he will swing around in a circle several times until he is thoroughly acquainted with the ground, and then he will strike his bee-line for home, and you ought to be able, particularly under the morning sun, to see him fly for twenty rods.
Presently more will come, and they will fly back in the same direction; then set your tumbler over such as may be on the comb, slip under the shingle, take up the honey and start on the line as far as you could see or had the range. There make a stand again, and proceed as before; so continuing, you will come to the tree, or to where they will fly so crooked as to baffle you completely, when you may make up your mind that you are in the right neighborhood. They will swing around and rise very high to pitch down to their nest, or they will fly past the tree and turn and come back toward it. You should have a small pocket spy-glass with which to examine the tops of tall trees, or to examine any suspicious looking one.
If you should not succeed in finding blossoms with bees on them, you should make a fire and heat some stones red hot, and lay on them some of the refuse comb I spoke of, and when this begins to burn, it will raise quite an odor of honey and beeswax, which the bees will smell out from quite a distance. When they come to it, catch them under your tumbler, and proceed as before directed.
Sometimes the bees will come from different directions, in which case you must mark the back of one of them with chalk, so that you can see which way he goes.
Sometimes they don't seem to like honey, and then it is a good plan to put in a little oil of anise,—say two or three drops to a gill.
When you have found the tree in which the bees have their hive, and are ready to cut it down, fell it so that it will strike on some small tree that will let it down easy, and if you want to save it for a skip or breeder, saw out the piece that the bees are in; first, if it is much shattered, drawing it together with a chain and putting hoops around it. The bees will repair any damage that may be done inside, if they have warm weather enough to do it in.
If you want to save it, it is best to mark the tree and let it stand until spring, and then cut it down and take it home, when the bees will have plenty of time to commence the season of honey-making. If there is a large, rough hole for them to stow away in, they will make as much again honey during the season as they would do in the woods. If you want much honey, have a large place for them. If you set one hive on another, and leave no open • space, they will work on and fill up and breed, and never swarm. In this way two hundred pounds of honey may be obtained.
You must have the hive so well fixed, top and bottom, that mice and pismires will be excluded, leaving only a suitable aperture for the bees themselves to go in and out. This they will guard against all intruders,—moths, hornets, or robbing bees from other swarms. My experience is, when you see a robber come to the bee hole in the hive, you will know him at once by his fine singing noise and the manner in which he alights on the board to avoid the sentry. Have your knife ready and cut him in two; they won't do this many times before they will stop it altogether.
In the month of July the bees make a loud, humming noise at their hives, and in walking through the woods you may hear them fifteen rods. Many are found in this way, and it is about the best way to hunt them when they are plenty during this month. About the middle of the afternoon the drones are out, and you may hear them for twenty rods.
It is at this season that it is best to use stinking bait, as we call it. I told you before how to make it; they like it better than honey.
Another way to make this bait is to take a wooden trough that will hold about six quarts, and put in it about four quarts of rotten mould or muck earth, a small handful of salt, and two quarts of urine. After two or three days the bees will commence to work in it, and they will fill themselves about as quickly as they will with honey.
Thrasher, Halsey. The Hunter and Trapper. New York: Orange Judd and Company, 1808.
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