How to Avoid Trouble with Hens

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When a gobbler gets focused on a hen it’s tough to pull him away, so get his attention before he devotes himself to her. Photo by Steve Sorensen.
When a gobbler gets focused on a hen it’s tough to pull him away, so get his attention before he devotes himself to her. Photo by Steve Sorensen.

Contributing Writer
Steve Sorensen

If you can’t beat the hens, here are three ways to join them.
It’s going to happen again – too many hens for the gobblers to get lonely. Hunters complain year after year that gobblers are “henned-up” and won’t respond to a call.

That can be a problem, but it doesn’t need to be. Here are three scenarios that taught me a lot about how to deal with hens when you’re trying to take a tom fresh off his roost.

Scenario One: I was reeling in a nice gobbler just after daylight. He had been roosted about 80 yards away. When he had almost halved the distance a hen dropped from a tree and landed smack in front of him. “Nuts!” I thought. But he walked right by her and continued his full strut approach. Then another hen touched down in front of him, this time at 35 yards, and he walked by her, too. At 30 yards I introduced him to a load of Number 5.

Why would he bypass two hot, flesh-and-blood hens for a bird in the bush he couldn’t see? He probably wanted to round up all the hens, even the one he couldn’t see.

Scenario Two: A gobbler sounded off at 5:40 a.m. about 60 yards away. I waited for him to gobble the second time and quickly answered with a couple of quiet tree yelps. He gobbled right back and flew down. Then I heard a couple of hens as I called their suitor into shotgun range. One flew down from my left, walked by me at about 20 yards, and strolled into the field on my right. Then a second hen flew down a little farther away. When she was at 30 yards the gobbler was at 45 yards and coming to my call. I worried that the hen would enter the field too quickly, and he would follow her before coming into range. So I sent a couple of notes her way, and she stopped.

She became a live decoy, and the big boy kept coming. He fanned out, then stepped behind a tree. That second hen entered the field and I raised the gun. He came out from behind that tree to follow her, and that’s when it turned into a bad day for him.

Scenario Three: Last year I was scouting a spot with two girls for every boy – 11 hens and four mature gobblers. I was expecting hen problems.
I got to the woods at 5:00 a.m. on opening day, found a tree to sit by, and settled in. The birds had to be somewhere close. I peered into the treetops and could see four turkeys. Gobblers? Nuisance hens? If they were gobblers, the hens couldn’t be far away.

At 5:35 a gobble shook the treetops and a hen answered with a lurid tree yelp. Once again, it was shaping up to be a contest between real live hens and me. As soon as I heard his next gobble I answered with the exact same call the hen made. A minute went by and he gave another shout-out. I answered simultaneously with the hen. Next gobble, same thing.

I didn’t want to act too committed and make him wait for hens to arrive under his tree where he could fly down to meet them, so I didn’t answer every gobble, but my invitations were good enough to get two gobblers to investigate this hypothetical hen in the bush. They flew down from trees about 60 yards away and landed 22 yards from me. A few minutes later I zip-tied my tag to the leg of a mature gobbler.

Is it always this easy? No, especially not if a gobbler hits the ground and immediately hooks up with a hen or two. Good luck prying him away because he’ll follow the girls anywhere, even if they don’t let him breed. Calling is one way you mimic a hen, but when hens are ready and willing, calling by itself may not be enough.

Proper positioning is what makes the difference. Get close. 80 yards. 70 yards. 60 yards. Even 50 yards is sometimes possible. If you can get that close to a roosted gobbler, he will think you’re a hen not just because of the sounds you’re making, but because you’re right there with the others. When he mentally adds you to his harem, you’ve gained a big advantage.

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When “The Everyday Hunter” isn’t hunting, he’s thinking about hunting, talking about hunting, dreaming about hunting, writing about hunting, or wishing he were hunting. To read more of Steve Sorensen’s thoughts about hunting, please visit www.jamestowngazette.com.

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Steve Sorensen
Steve Sorensen of Russell, PA is an award-winning outdoor writer whose column, The Everyday Hunter®, offers hunting tips, strategies, and insights on how to think about hunting. His byline has appeared in the nation’s top hunting magazines including Outdoor Life, Sports Afield, Deer & Deer Hunting, Pennsylvania Game News, Fur-Fish-Game, North American Whitetail, Bear Hunting Magazine and more. He contributes regular website content to Legendary Whitetails and Havalon Knives and is a field editor for Deer Hunters Online. Steve is also in demand as an event speaker, presenting programs on do-it-yourself Alaska moose hunting, whitetail deer, wild turkeys, and eastern coyotes, with new programs coming. E-mail him at EverydayHunter@gmail.com to invite him to speak at your next sportsmen’s dinner (or to tell him where your best hunting spot is).