Walk on the Wild Side

Brad Harvey: Battling with henned up birds

April 9, 2014 

The S.C. Department of Natural Resources said several weeks back there was a decrease in turkey reproduction last year, so I’m not surprised at the reports from hunters.

There are fewer turkey roaming our woods than last season.

It also appears the turkeys got an early start on us this year and everyone has been dealing with henned up gobblers from the outset of the season on April 1.

Toms that are already well attached to a hen when you get out there, makes hunting them much tougher and many hunters give up.

The better choice? Learn how to deal with them.

The biggest tool a turkey hunter can have in his arsenal when going after henned up birds is a simple one far too many lack.

It’s called patience.

Earlier this week, I hit the woods about 40 minutes before daybreak with plans to take a shot on a longbeard with my bow. I set up in a pop-up groundblind along a long established strut zone on our place and waited for the sunrise that signals flydown time to the roosted birds.

When they first hit the ground, I was happy to hear plenty of gobbling in the misty woods but the smile didn’t last long. All of the gobbles I heard were coming from Toms that already had female company. Knowing that bowhunting turkeys is a far less mobile activity than when using a shotgun, I settled in for what I knew would be a long sit.

I saw the first turkey, a hen, after 1 p.m., and finally got a nice gobbler about an hour and a half later.

I came out of the woods that day about 3 p.m. Staying still right there in that blind was the only reason things worked out.

Some would have given up by 10 a.m. and I doubt those folks are bagging too many birds.

There are tactics you can employ to speed things up.

First, as soon as you realize these attached birds are the hand you’ve been dealt, get it in your head that your best chances are going to fall between 10 a.m. and 2 p.m. Many of the hens will head for their nests later in the morning, leaving the Tom they’re with alone and looking for a new mate.

Obviously, your chances are rising but let’s take a gander at ways to coax a henned up gobbler to you.

Too many hunters deal with henned up turkeys by calling them too much. The likelihood of simply getting a gobbler to break away from his girlfriend because he thinks you sound sweeter is about as good as hitting the lottery. Forget about him and consider attracting the hen instead.

With several decoys in front of you that give the appearance of a relaxed, safe feeding area, start calling with soft clucks and purrs. Don’t be too aggressive and don’t bother with yelps.

Although this approach takes some time and it’s doubtful this will lure them into your set-up, many times it gets her to wander in your direction and when she does the gobbler is sure to follow.

If you can use both a mouth diaphragm and a slate, it can speed things up by giving the illusion of several contented hens, which will get her curiosity up even more.

Once you’ve given that a shot for a good long while and nothing has happened, only then would I call more aggressively with yelps, as this will sometimes offend a dominant hen who will come looking to whip up on whomever has the audacity to invade her territory so openly.

I’m always amazed at how many hunters don’t realize the yelp is a call given off by hens and Toms, too. For whatever reason many seem to be under the impression that gobblers are only capable of, well, gobbling along with the dreaded putt when he is alarmed and fleeing.

But understanding the difference between a hen’s yelp and one from a male bird can be the difference between getting a shot and not.

Just as when you try to get the hen ticked off at an intruder, the same tactic can be applied to the boys since the last thing an old Tom wants is a year-old Jake running around with a hen he could have to himself.

Occasionally, that’s enough to pull him away from the hen he’s already courting.

A Jake’s yelp is lower in tone, a little louder and slower than that of a hen and can be easily imitated on a slate pot call. Good callers know the yelp of a hen is usually best made on the outer edges of a pot because it offers a higher pitch.

Accordingly, the middle of the friction surface drops that tone substantially and is where you’ll scratch one off that sounds like those made by a Jake.

If you’re going to apply this approach it’s best served when including a Jake decoy into your spread.

Also, if you’re not familiar with what a kee kee sounds like, it would make sense to learn how to replicate it since an excited Jake will often break out into a kee kee when yelping.

It should be noted, however, that sounding like a Jake will often attract other Jakes. If that happens please resist the urge to shoot one.

Although a Jake is a male, he needs another year to grow. With our numbers as low as they are, we need to only harvest mature birds if we want to have anything to hunt next year.

Brad Harvey is a freelance writer in Clover. Visit his website at www.bradharveyoutdoors.com or follow on Twitter @BHarveyOutdoors.

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