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Author: M.D. Johnson
Modify your hunting strategy this season for more birds regardless of the conditions.
Many years ago, Mother Nature decided that turkeys were going to work this way - "The tom will gobble, and the hen will go to him." That's the way it started, and that's the way it's been for centuries.
Enter Man. Humans, being the intelligent individuals that we are, decided we would do just the opposite. Basically, we humans said - "No, Mother Nature. It's not going to work that way. We're going to call like the hen, and the gobbler is going to trip over himself to come see us." And so it was done.
As many turkey hunters know, sometimes this role-reversal works. We call, and the tom actually does fall over himself. Often, however, this clever ploy fails. And at no time is this charade more likely to fail than when the gobbler in question has all the female company he can handle. In the turkey hunter's vernacular, such a bird is said to be 'henned-up'. To some, however, this situation is known simply as impossible.
But are these henned-up gobblers really impossible? According to some veterans of the spring woods, there are gobblers that no one, regardless of their experience, will ever coax into shotgun range. Such woods-wraiths are the exception, though, as henned-up toms can be had - the difference being that these toms with company require an even bigger dose of patience, persistence, and self-discipline that does a lonely longbeard. Oh, and a basket full of tricks doesn't hurt either.
Find Another Bird
Sounds good, eh...but unfortunately, this one's often much more easier said than done. Yes, I have found myself in situations where I could turn 'round and stop in any of 360 degree compass directions and be facing a hard-gobbling bird. Has it happened? Yes. A lot? No.
That said, I'll put it this way. If you have the choice between a henned-up tom and a gobbling, but as yet unseen bird, maybe the best move is just that - move. Or if you know that there are plenty of turkeys on the ground you're hunting and you have plenty of ground to hunt, there again the best decision might be to leave the henned-up gobbler alone for the time being and try your luck elsewhere; however, if you're like most of us - myself very much included here - who has a finite amount of ground and a limited number of opportunities, you're going to have to try something else. But don't fret just yet. Read on.
Hunt 10 to 2
So you left that first light, henned-up longbeard alone and ventured off in the opposite direction hoping to cross paths with a bird that didn't have so much company? Well, if you weren't successful in locating another more willing bird, perhaps the best chance you have is to go back to the original gobbler and pick up where you left off. Hopefully, the hens that were with him at first light are now tending to some housekeeping or clutch-building chores. The gobbler, on the other hand, has been alone for five minutes, and in gobbler time....well, that's a heck of a long time.
Go back to the same spot where you worked him off the roost, but be careful. He may already be there waiting on that 'hen' he heard squawking at daybreak. I don't know how many times I've walked away from an impossible, henned-up situation, only to return three or four hours later to find a very amorous longbeard standing in the indentation my backside had made earlier that morning. Take your time as you move back into position. Use a crow call or an owl hooter instead of a turkey call as a way of probing what's now his perimeter. The biggest key here is not to rush. He has all the time in the world; so should you.
Pattern Your Gobbler
Okay, so I'm a slow learner. During the 2002 spring season in Iowa, I had not one or two, but four big gobblers, all of whom frustrated me day after day after day. Only after the season ended did it strike me that these same toms that were frazzling my nerves also were in the same place at near the same time day after day after day. Can you say ground blind and a good book? That's all it would have taken; that, and a little patience. Still, I eventually did learn, and these bad boys will have a surprise waiting on them come late April this year.
The moral of the story is this - patterning turkeys can and does work; that is, IF you pay attention and learn what the birds have to teach you. In these instances, I was dealing with a single gobbler with his four or so hens, and a trio of longbeards, typically strutting around one or two girls. Same point and knob, every day. Here, the ticket would have been simply to set up a blind within shotgun range of the boys' dance floor, get in well before daylight, and be ready when he - or they - stepped out. No calling, you say? That's all right. It's important that you remember you don't have to get $20 out of your $20 box call each and every time you step into the field. My theory is simple - If I can pattern him and kill him without calling, I'm okay with that. I can always call on my way home.
Bust the Roost
Eastern Iowa, and the sun's just barely beginning to make an appearance. Julie, my wife, and I are 'guiding' her eldest son, Adrian, on one of his first turkey hunts. At the fence that separates the pasture from the small timber, we stop. Suddenly below us, a bird gobbles. "This is a good thing," I tell the boy, already on my way over the fence. Adrian and his Mom follow suit; however, before we go 12 feet, a hen erupts out of one of the maples above us. My thoughts are cut short as the bird below us gobbles. Then another hen flushes, cackling. More gobbling. Another hen. More gobbles. Another. Gobble. In all, eight or 10 hens flush into the darkness, each departure met with a burst of gobbling. "This is either real good," I tell my partners. "Or real bad."
A long story short, it was REAL good. Now tremendously alone, the old bird hit the ground and wasted no time walking up to our position. The boy, after multitudinous contortions and the Seven Basic Gymnastic Movements, finally got turned around and killed the big old three-year-old at about 18 steps. It was, as everyone agreed, very - very - cool.
Honestly, I believe the only reason we were successful that morning was the fact that we had inadvertently chased all that old gobbler's hens away. Elemental? Yep, but it did teach me something. When all else fails, separating a tom from his hens, either at night or in the morning and under cover of darkness, can be an effective way of dealing with an always henned-up bird.
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