Turkey Rifle

Gun terms in appalachia

The Deer Hunter is…well…a hunter. He literally lives to hunt. He is a meat hunter-meaning we eat what he harvests on his hunting trips.

Recently I came across a quote in my Dictionary of Smoky Mountain English that reminded me of The Deer Hunter and his gun talk that I’ve listened to for the last 20 years.

turkey rifle noun
1941 Kendall Rifle-Making 22 The calibre of the mountain rifle deserves a word of mention. Strictly speaking, these rifles had no calibre in the ordinary sense of the word. Usually, however, four kinds of rifles were made: one of about .35 calibre (0.35 inch) which was called a squirrel gun; one about .40 calibre (0.40 inch) called a turkey rifle; one about .45 calibre (0.45 inch) called a deer rifle; and one of approximately .50 calibre (0.50 inch) called a bear gun.

The quote above is referring to black powder guns. Needless to say, guns have come a long way since 1941 and most people now use center fire rifles. Even though The Deer Hunter only hunts with a muzzleloader occasionally, he still refers to his guns individually as: his deer rifle; his squirrel gun; and his turkey gun.

Sometimes in Appalachia nouns are used in pairs like: biscuit bread, widow woman, and bear meat. The manner in which The Deer Hunter refers to his guns is a good example of how nouns are used in Appalachia.


*Source: Dictionary of Smoky Mountain English

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  • Reply
    Richard Moore
    November 22, 2013 at 9:49 am

    Turkey hunting with a rifle is still legal in Virginia. Even so, I’ve always used a shotgun. But some of the older mountain folks around here swear by their .22 Hornets.

  • Reply
    Dan O'Connor
    November 18, 2013 at 10:44 am

    Seems to me it is not really double nouns but an adjective and a noun. The first noun describes the second noun making it an adjective.

  • Reply
    Karen G.
    November 18, 2013 at 10:26 am

    Speaking of guns, has anyone ever had success using guns to drive Canadian Geese out of a freshly planted millet, wheat or (insert your choice grain) field? Every year bar none the freshly cultivated field directly behind my house & lake looks like an I-75 rest area on 4th of July vacation week. Sometimes I’ve counted 50 or more gobbling up the tender sprouts. My hubby has tried several times shooting his varmint gun over their heads to scare them off but they’re obviously jaded travelers used to being shooed-off by humans bc they just stop eating & politely waddle down to the lake for a mid-morning swim! Next morning they’re right back out there. We don’t want to kill them only discourage their appetite. Thanks for any advice. Guess all God’s creatures gotta eat something 🙂

  • Reply
    jose luis
    November 17, 2013 at 8:12 pm

    Tipper, I made a comment, as I am also deer and wild boar hunter here in La Pampa Argentina.
    Maybe he was not according to the theme that it was because I did not see it as accepted.
    I apologize if I did not conform to the subject for you that day, I’m sorry. A big, warm greetings to you, José Luis.

  • Reply
    November 17, 2013 at 4:33 pm

    And in my world there are also pistols. Yup — we live in very similar worlds. Tell Miss Cindy we said hello.

  • Reply
    November 16, 2013 at 7:19 am

    When I was growing up quail, rabbit and squirrel was our game of choice, mainly I quess because there were no deer around, but over the last 10 to 15 yrs the deer population has exploded, you see them every where now.. never referred to my guns as quail gun or rabbit gun,, funny tho I do remember the rifle being called a squirrel gun.. Havent been hunting now in over 10yrs,, all just memories now….

  • Reply
    Ed Ammons
    November 15, 2013 at 8:24 pm

    Did somebody say turkey shoot? I went to a turkey shoot one time. We paid our $10.00 and got to shoot at a paper plate. There wuddened a turkey in a hundred miles of the place. The shooter with the most holes in his plate won a prize but it wuddened a turkey ‘er even a chicken. Why do they call it a turkey shoot anyhow? I guess it’s easier to say than a paper plate shoot. Reckon?

  • Reply
    Larry Proffitt
    November 15, 2013 at 7:04 pm

    I wholeheartedly agree with Jim’s assessment of turkey hunting. I am in the process of teaching 3 young grandsons that our people eat what we shoot other than varmints . I still “take the shakes” after a long episode with a troublesome old gobbler. A week ago Wednesday on a steep mountain in SW VA I took the shakes with an old adult gobbler lying at my feet . I have him plucked , cleaned , and frozen awaiting his appointment with Norma’s oven on Thanksgiving.
    I continue to be fascinated with the peculiarities of our version of the English language that Tipper so aptly describes such as double nouns which are common in our vernacular . We certainly enjoy Tipper’s work. Larry Proffitt

  • Reply
    Like a hog rifle at a turkey shoot
    November 15, 2013 at 3:03 pm

    Ruth – set a live trap, up a step or two, so you don’t catch a skunk (they won’t climb up a step). Brace the live trap on each side with a concrete block and put a heavy rock on top, or the coon will shake the trap and set it off. Bait with marshmallows.
    Now, here’s where the deer, turkey or squirrel rifle comes in. Better yet, use .22 shorts so you don’t put a hole in the trap cage. One coon stew coming up.

  • Reply
    Ed Ammons
    November 15, 2013 at 12:37 pm

    B. might could also try a Treeing Walker or maybe rent a Redbone.

  • Reply
    Ed Ammons
    November 15, 2013 at 12:33 pm

    Sounds like B. needs to barrie a Bluetick or a Black and Tan. Or, if it’s as bad as she describes, maybe a Plott.

  • Reply
    Ken Roper
    November 15, 2013 at 12:25 pm

    About the only thing I care to hunt
    for anymore is Deer. A lot of those
    I got were in Putnam County, Ga.
    where we use to camp. But hunting is so much more fun when you have to climb the rugged mountains just off the Rainbow Springs Road above the Nantahala Lake.
    I have never cared for Bear hunting, but friends usually bring
    me a big mess every year. That
    makes the best barbeques ever!
    And turkeys are another thing I’ve
    never wanted to hunt. But they’re
    fascinating creatures in the woods.
    Many years ago I thought squirrel
    hunting and rabbit hunting was the
    only Thing, but now it’s mostly
    just a memory…Ken

  • Reply
    Ed Ammons
    November 15, 2013 at 12:21 pm

    Around my neck of the woods we don’t kill deer with guns. We kill them with our radiators.
    My son called me just a few minutes ago and said that when he went out to get in his truck there was a big doe curled up behind it in the driveway. He said he saw it yesterday but it ran off.
    I see turkeys around here all the time too, but so far ain’t none of the tried to move in with us.

  • Reply
    Julie Hughes
    November 15, 2013 at 11:58 am

    I never really thought of it as odd; I have spoken and heard double nouns all my life. Widow women, deer meat, bachelor man, beagle dog, preacher man (not as accurate now) are a few that come to mind. If I had time, no tellin’ how many more I could come up with.

  • Reply
    b. Ruth
    November 15, 2013 at 8:42 am

    Funny this gun talk should come up this morning. I was wishing I had me one of those spacial gun rifles just this mornin’ around 1:30! A noise come from outside our kitchen window, hit was a scuibblin’, screachin’, whinnin’,
    irrated type sound! There was bumps, tumbles, scratchin’ sounds with it! I doused the lights! I shornuff thought “big foot” was whailin’ on the wall and winder tryin’ to get in! Screamed for the betterhalf and he got the hotshot deadly mile long range luxury flashlight! Pointed toward the sound, slightly openin’ the kitchen blinds…There was the biggest, ugliest, off-color, nasty-mean raccoon in my big bird feeder. He/She had been wrestling another beast just like itsownself charging King of the Mountain (birdfeeder). We have trapped three bigguns’ and just trapped another small one a couple of weeks ago. Our last trappin’ was a pitiful possum with beady eyes and scared to death that it just rolled over in the cage, put up its paws and said last rites over itself!
    About that time the better half said he would have to set the traps tonight. The theif quickly left or we thought so, it jumped from a 6 ft. pole birdfeeder!
    I come back, sat at my computer,
    turned on the kitchen light to settle a on a craft post I was readin’. About that time over my head I heard what I thought was a piece of log or two by four hit the roof…then it happened again!
    I yelled for the better half…He said forget it! Then I heard feet runnin’ across the roof back and forth…I know that devil knew exactly where I was sittin’ in the kitchen…I am sure he carried a chunk of wood, his mask on and thumped to twice just over my head…To heck with the trap this time…I need a “raccoon rifle”, they done got some chickens and we thought we were shed of we have a super coon…Any idears!
    Thanks Tipper,
    I know yore great hunters and commenters will have a solution!

  • Reply
    Jane Bolden
    November 15, 2013 at 7:40 am

    I remember hearing widow woman years ago. I also remember widow womern.

  • Reply
    Miss Cindy
    November 15, 2013 at 7:30 am

    This noun pair sounds like dinner to me! The Deer Hunter can not only hunt it, he can kill it, clean it, and cook it. The last time I talked to him on the phone he was getting ready to can some fresh meat. He is VERY particular how the meat is cleaned so he does it all himself.

  • Reply
    Jim Casada
    November 15, 2013 at 7:24 am

    Tipper–This is one case where things have changed dramatically. In most states, including North Carolina, it is now illegal to hunt turkeys with a rifle. That’s why Matt refers to his turkey taker as his “turkey gun” (I’m sure it’s a shotgun, and likely one choked tight as a miser’s purse).
    In some ways it is sad that the tradition of hunting turkeys with a rifle is gone, but anything except a small caliber (.22-250, .223, or .22 Hornet)pretty much tore a turkey up to the point of losing a lot of meat.
    One real plus of the modern requirement to hunt turkeys with a shotgun is that it becomes an “up close and personal” sport (40 yards or less) requiring first-rate woodsmanship skills and a great deal of patience.
    Also, turkey hunting is a venture which does mighty strange things to a man’s soul. I’ve killed 290 turkeys in my lifetime, taking them in more than 30 states and 2 foreign countries and retaining the spent shell from every one to hold a little story of the hunt I write up. I still get so wrought up when one is “coming in” that I’m a shivering, shaking mess. I suspect at least one of your readers, Larry Proffitt, who is a true turkey hunter of the old school, feels exactly the same way.
    Thanks for touching on a subject near and dear to me.
    Jim Casada

  • Reply
    Sheryl Paul
    November 15, 2013 at 7:23 am

    Thinking of the double nouns, I have heard them all my life. So much so that it seems odd without hearing them in other people’s speech.

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