After two or three trips, your first bee probably will bring some companions with him from the home hive. Capture several more bees, say half a dozen, mark them, and let them go as before. If they all go in the same direction they belong to the same hive. But you may get two or more lines working from the same bait, in which case select the more numerous one, as it is likely to be nearest.
When once you get a line of bees working back and forth it is time to bestir yourself. Now you can choose between two schools of bee hunters: those who cross-line from the start, and those who claim that this is a waste of time and that no cross-lining should be attempted until the hunter has passed beyond the treasure tree and finds the bees back-tracking. I incline to the latter school; but I will describe the working methods of both.
To cross-line at the start; leave some bait at }T»ur first stand, take your box, capture a number of bees, cover the top and bottom of the box, to exclude light and thus keep them quiet, and go away at a right angle to the bee-line, about 200 or 300 yards. Here set down your box, uncover, but do not open the top; leave the box alone for a minute or two until the bees recover from their surprise and begin feeding; then liberate them, and note their course as before. This gives you the base of a triangle, the apex of which, where the two lines of flight converge, is near the hollow tree that contains the wild bees' hoard. If you do not see where the lines meet, the hive is beyond your present range of vision.
Whether you do this or not, as soon as you can follow the line for a considerable distance, clean the feeding tray, capture a number of bees in the box, and take it with you as far as you are sure of the course. Then put a little more honey-water in the feeder, and start your bees again. Thus work progressive^ toward the goal.
Sometimes the kind of tree that the hive is in can be foretold from the color of the insects themselves, which is modified, after a few months' residence, by the nature of the timber: light colored bees in pine, poplar, chestnut; darker ones in oak, beech, maple. But it is not likely that you will find the hive by merely following the bee-line and examining such or such trees along the way. Look for an old squirrel hole or knot-hole where the bees fly in and out.
Not infrequently bee hives are in rock crevices* I remember a hive that was well known for years to nearly everybody in that part of the coun* try, but which had never been disturbed, because it was deep in the cranny of a big rock ledge that overhung the public road.
Occasionally a hive is found in a fallen tree or in an old stump, but this is exceptional. Bees have trouble enough, as it is, from squirrels, 'coons, bears, and other climbing marauders, to say nothing of men.
In searching, it is well to remember that bee-trees seldom are found far from water.
If the bees that you liberate finally turn back on the course, or if they do not return to the bait, it shows that you have passed the hive and must "back-track." Then make two stands close together, only 50 to 100 yards apart, lining them carefully. You may now have two squads of bees flying from opposite directions into the tree. If this fails, take a stand 50 yards off* to one side (the distance depends upon how thick the woods are), and examine every tree in the neighborhood with keen scrutiny. Pour out a liberal amount of feed, so as to get a large number of bees at work. If still you do not find the bee-tree, try again in this place a day of two later, or whenever the weather is favorable.
In settled regions, where statute-law prevails, a hive of bees in a tree belongs to the owner of the soil, unless a former owner proves and reclaims them. In the wilderness, by law of the woods, ownership is to the first comer who makes a blaze on the bark and cuts or pencils his initials on it. Anyone else meddling with the treasure, unless it be claimed in time by the owner of the land himself, is a trespasser, like the interloper who sets traps along another trapper's line.
Having found a bee-tree, and marked it, then, unless you are very well acquainted with the woods, mark your trail outward with bush-signs; otherwise you may easily miss it on your return.
Now you are ready to declare war. Men who have had much experience Wth bees disdain to wear armor; but I would not advise a novice to emulate their boldness. Get a broad-brimmed nat, say a farmer's straw hat, and fasten to it a head-net of mosquito bar long enough to come well down over the shoulders. A pair of long gloves or gauntlets is needed. Cut two sticks five or six feet long, and bind to one end of each a ball of cotton about as large as a hen's egg. Soak these cotton balls in melted sulphur. Get a sharp axe, and some pails to receive the honey; also a lantern, for your burglarizing is to be done at night. If you are not a good axeman, take with you a man who is.
When you reach the tree, decide which way it should be thrown, and attack it on that side. The bees will not disturb a man while he is felling the tree, as they do not realize what is going on. When the tree is almost ready to fall, put on your mask and gloves. Button the former under your coat, or draw it under your suspenders. Tie your trousers round the ankles, and the gauntlets round your wrists.
A companion should light one of the sulphur balls and have it ready; if the tree is hollow at the butt, he should light both balls. When the tree falls he must quickly apply one of the burning sticks to the bees' doorway, and the other to the hole in the butt, if there is one. The fumes will stupify the now angry insects or at least enough of them to make the work easier.
Chop into the tree until you have located the honey. It is now that the fun begins, for the bees understand by this time that they are being robbed, and the able-bodied ones will pounce upon the offenders, perhaps rushing upon the axeman in a mass so thick that he cannot see through his veil and must brush the fierce little warriors away. On a cold night they will be less active than if the weather is warm.