Turkey Hunting: Henpecked

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Let's be honest.  We have all been in love at some point in our lives.  It is a feeling and emotion that is hard to put into words, and one that leaves us seemingly at the mercy of the person our affection is centered on.  We send them roses on Valentine’s Day, write them sappy love letters, and answer to their every beckon call.

Consider the situation a spring gobbler finds himself in.  He is put on this Earth for one reason-to procreate-and has a very narrow window in which he is biologically allowed this opportunity.  He must service not only one hen, but the majority of the time multiple females, all the while trying to avoid the fatal spray of a hunters’ shotgun.  As bad as he wants his thoughts to remain clear in order to survive another year, he simply cannot help topping the ridge in front of him to greet his new lady friends, which claims his life.  In many ways, this hopeless romantic finds a glimmer of pity for my winged adversary. 

For the gobbler, like the man, the female calls the shots.

We have all experienced a morning in which a hot gobbler was headed our way and was intercepted by a harem of hens.  It is the most common lament in local pancake shops around rural America, and one that is largely out of the hands of the hunter.  If a turkey gets hung up by a briar thicket, many times we can loop around that thicket and resume the game.  But how do we compete with a half dozen hens?  It is a challenge that drives us all to insanity.

Many times we blame the gobbler for something in which the hen was primarily responsible.  As hunters, we falsely accuse the gobbler for being hard-headed when he refuses to answer our calls and walk away.  While some solo turkeys that have been pressured will certainly do this, more often times than not, it is the hens who are in fact call shy, says Mossy Oak’s creator Toxey Haas.

“We typically think of gobblers being the ones who get pressured and thus call shy, from watching one of their buddies get shot or whatever it may be.  But a gobbler may watch one of his buddies get shot one, maybe two times,” says Haas.  “Think about how many times a hen watches a gobbler get shot-it would be have to be significantly more.  Odds are that it is the hen that hears yelping and makes the decision to go the other way as a result of a bad experience they had in the past.”

The silver lining with hens is that with each passing day of the spring season, we deal with them less and less.  As they begin to leave the flock to nest, we often times find ourselves bearing down the bead on a love-crazed gobbler who is addicted to love and is running at a break-neck pace (pun intended) to our romantic sonnets.  But until “Mama” leaves the house, we are playing the game under her pretences.

“Every flock of turkeys is going to have a boss hen,” said two-time World Champion Caller Larry Norton from Pennington, Alabama, “and you have to identify which one is the dominant hen and learn to pattern her.  I like to take a topographical or aerial map and figure out the route between where I normally find her and the flock and the nesting areas.  It may take you a few hunts to figure it out, but once you do, find a call that sounds like her and once she comes by you, run her off.  You’ll be able to reach out to that gobbler more effectively by mimicking her, and many times, he will come in looking for her.”

Billy Yargus of Ewing, Missouri won the 2008 Grand National calling title, and like all spring turkey hunters, deals with hens on a regular basis.  He says that one key to being successful in the spring woods is to match your calling with what the hens in the area are doing.  “I am guilty of calling too much and too loud,” laughs Yargus, who has hunted turkeys for over 35 years and is a Mossy Oak and MAD Calls pro-staffer.  “But I really try to let the hens dictate how much calling I do, in addition to the gobblers’ behavior.  If the hens are not being vocal, then I try to tone things down.  If the woods are alive with hen talk, then you have to call as much as they do to let that gobbler know that you are available as well.”
Author:
Wild Turkey Report Staff
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