Having found the honey, cut through the trunk both above and below it, split out the slab, and thus expose the hoard, being careful not to "bleed" the comb. The bees will now stop fighting and will bend every energy to the work of carrying away all of the honey that they can, storing it in some hastily chosen retreat. You now may help yourself without fear of renewed attack.
Backwoodsmen, when they have no sulphur, use a smudge of punky wood, the acrid smoke of which suffocates the bees or renders them helpless for the time. They take the punk from a log or stump that is rotten enough to break easily in the hands and dry it near the fire. It will not blaze, but neither will it go out. It burns slowly and will give out a dense smoke for several hours. Of course, it kills many bees, and such a method should never be employed except in the far-back wilderness when there is downright need of something to take the place of sugar. Woodsmen who have no mosquito netting sometimes smear themselves with tobacco juice, or with water in which tobacco stems have been steeped, to protect them against stings. In any case they take chances boldly. Bees respect courage, but are quick to detect a wincing timidity and give it its deserts.
If, in spite of precautions, you are stung, apply some honey to the spot. Wet clay, oil of sassafras, ammonia, or onion juice, will relieve the pain and swelling; but honey is at hand, and it is about as good a remedy as any.
If you wish to capture the bees themselves, fix the broodcombs (those containing pollen or "bee-bread") the right distance apart in a bucket or basket, and set this to one side. The bees will collect about them, after their panic is over, and the next evening, when darkness begins to fall, they may be carried home. There are better ways, described in bee-keeping books, but they call for special appliances.
The amount of honey in a tree may vary from almost nothing to 100 pounds or more. There is record of 264 pounds being taken from one tree. Bees work with great zeal where there is a good supply of nectar, and will fill a hive in a short time.
Basswood bloom may be placed at the head of honey-producing plants. The apiarist, Root, says that during a period of twenty-two years he never knew basswood to fail to yield nectar, the shortest season yielding for three days, and the longest twenty-nine. In one of his hives the bees stored 66 pounds of basswood honey in three days. Ten pounds a day was the best recorded from clover.
John Burroughs has stated that there is no difference in flavor between wild honey and tame. Of course there is no difference in regions where wild and tame bees gather nectar from the same sources; but in the wilderness, where bees can forage only on the blossoms of wild plants and trees, with no access to fields and orchards, the honey has a distinct flavor, or flavors, of its own, as different from that of commercial honey as the flavor of pure, old-fashioned maple sugar is from that of the modern adulterated or "refined" article. To my taste, the honey of the wilderness is as much to be preferred as is the honest, kettle-boiled sugar of "the bush".
The bouquet of honey varies, of course, according to the kind of nectar gathered by its makers. The minty flavor of the linden is quite distinct from sour-wood. Anyone can tell buckwheat honey from that which comes from the clover field. As a rule, wild honey has a pungent taste, not so cloyingly sweet as tame honey, and nearly always it is darker colored, even if the hive is new.
Honey gathered from the bloom of rhododendron or mountain laurel, or from the catalpa or catawba trees, is more or less poisonous to human beings. Root says that it causes symptoms similar to those exhibited by men who are dead drunk; or, in less violent cases, a tingling all over, indistinct vision (caused by dilation of the pupils), an empty, dizzy feeling of the head ,and an intense nausea that is not relieved by vomiting. The effects may not wear off for two or three days. We recall that the Ten Thousand of Xenophon were made ill by laurel honey. However, I doubt if anywhere in the world there is a more luxuriant bloom of laurel and of rhododendron than where I live in the Great Smoky Mountains, and yet I have not heard of a single case of poisoned honey in this region. Doubtless this is due to the profusion of other nectar-bearing trees and plants. Bees will not work on laurel when there is plenty of basswood and tulip and sour-wood, which bloom in the same months.
Wax is a valuable commodity in the backwoods. To prepare it, break up the honeycomb, press out the honey, then boil the comb until melted in a small quantity of water, squeeze it through coarsely woven cloth, and cool it in molds.
There is an element of luck in bee hunting, and a spice of small adventure, that entitle it to rank among field sports. One must match his wits against the superior agility of the game; he must keep his eyes skinned, follow a long chase, and risk the stings of conflict if he would enjoy the sweets of victory.
The most unlucky thing that can happen is to spend half a day pursuing bees and then line them up in some farmer's hives. As Robinson's "Uncle Jerry" said: "I've lined bees nigh onto three mile, an' when a feller 's done that, an' fetches up agin a tame swarm in someb'dy's do' yard, it makes him feel kinder wamble-cropped".