Henned-Up Turkey Hunting Tactics
Henned-up? Yep, been there. There's no bigger excuse — or greater redundancy in the turkey hunting world — than the notion of henned-up spring gobblers. Without going into some obvious biology, that's what they do.
Henned-up turkey hunting tactics in places like Nebraska, where flocks can number over a hundred early in spring, might include simply being between where they roost and where they want to be.
It's tough to call one longbeard away from a wad of birds like that, unless of course it's a subordinate gobbler; even then you might hit some snags. A good example is the turkey I struck a quarter-mile away earlier this month. It came that distance, gobbled, strutted, spit-and-drum the way they do, then saw our hyper-realistic gobbler fake and sprinted away as if its life depended on it.
I've hunted some henned-up Maine turkeys this week. The season just opened days ago on Monday, April 29. Though this is still early, they've already gotten under my skin. I'm up before dawn at the appointed hour writing this, and may even hunt the mid-morning shift, but not fly-down; if only to gain some clarity and keep the bills paid.
Anyhow, the group is thirteen birds strong: 7 hens, two longbeards (one bossy; one a bench warmer) and four rowdy jakes. One of them even struts in the presence of the tom shadowing the hens, and comes back even when the longbeard tries to briefly run him and his running mates off. They're a distraction to both of us.
I almost killed the boss just minutes after fly-down. Brush was in the way and I thought better of it. My setup positioning had been off and you know about second thoughts. An hour later the bench warmer came tentatively and without a sound from another direction as if he didn't want a fight, half-strutted and muted his gobble right in front of me (just out of range), then drifted away like a wary duck on an outgoing tide.
A guy in a ghillie suit stalked our position later that morning when I got everybody fired up again and that's how my misery ended. It's all good, right? Right.
DAY TWO WITH HENS
Yesterday went like this: I found the hens a football field away from the gobblers, so naturally set up between them.
We all got the gobblers fired up when the hens flew down and followed with wild barnyard cutting, adding to mine. This drew the males in. A wing-whacking gobbler fight ensued just to my right side but out of sight. Then I watched them for three hours in the field right in front of me: strutting boss with feeding hens; sub-dominate tom some distance off but also fanned out. The four jakes strode by well within range not long after — the one bad boy strutting with his wedge of upraised middle tail feathers taking the morning light — and I let them pass. They ran right to the bench warmer and tried to beat him up. Turkey nuggets be damned.
I'd had enough. As the flock eased to the field's far corner, I made like a snake to my hen deke. Belly-crawling half the distance to them while staking the fake ahead of me as I went, and turning it slightly as they looked to impart movement, both adult gobblers wheeled and came. They'd strut and the boss even gobbled hard when I softly mouth called on the approach, even though he had girl turkeys nearby. I almost got it done (50-55 yards?) but the hens didn't like the deal and went far around me and he followed.
The fall turkey hunter in me stood, hustled to the birds and scattered the group. Boss bird ran off. I followed, made my setup. Within the hour he gobbled behind me as I softly lost yelped, then drifted, never to be heard from again. I saw a turkey enter a far pasture and called him the distance to the woods edge. Then he vanished.
But what was that red blotch and black wedge a yard off the ground in wooded deadfall? We had a 20-minute stare down until I convinced myself it wasn't a turkey and slowly turned my head right. When I looked back it was gone.
Check out more turkey hunting tactics here.
Steve Hickoff is Realtree's turkey hunting editor and blogger.