April 26, 2022
To listen to a flock of turkeys, it’s natural to assume the tom is in charge, with a bunch a hen chatter interrupted periodically by a big, boisterous gobble. But really, the tom just goes wherever the hens go—and they go wherever the old boss hen leads them (and more times than not, she’s not leading them where you’re sitting).
So, why would a gobbler leave what he’s got to check out somebody new? He probably won’t. The key is to quit talking to him and start talking to Big Mama. If you can get her to come your way, the entire flock will follow.
In the spring turkey season, a gobbler’s only thought is to breed that boss hen. If another longbeard or rowdy gang of jakes show up, he might fight them off. Mostly, he gobbles on the roost and waits for the boss hen to call back. They’ll fly down and then, quite often, the gobbler will go silent.
Meanwhile, with nesting about to get underway, the boss hen has established a home ground. She’s aware of other turkeys in the area and will contest a new hen’s presence, even if it’s just a vocalization. Breeding occurs as daylight lengthens and true spring arrives. That’s the moment the gobbler is waiting for. Knowing what that longbeard wants and what makes the boss hen tick is everything.
If you’re set up near a roost when hen chatter begins, start off slow with a few soft yelps, just to let the flock know you’re there. Plant the seed in the gobbler’s head. As the volume of limb chatter increases, don’t be afraid to slowly match the boss hen’s intensity.
If they fly down and head away from you, use your knowledge of the terrain (you have scouted, right?) to circle ahead of the traveling flock and let them come to you. If they come your way after flydown, it’s time to get to work.
SWEET TALK HER
Start with soft, friendly, non-aggressive yelps, clucks and purrs. If the hen responds, you have the green light to strike up a conversation.
I like to use several different calls to sound like a little flock myself. The boss hen just might bring the troop over to see what all the fuss is about. If you have decoys in place, so much the better. If the soft chatter doesn’t work, employ more aggressive cutts and yelps and make her mad.
When that hen calls back, don’t hesitate. Call back aggressively before she finishes her call. Let her know that you’re just as mad as she is. Talk like you want to fight her for her man. Then, when she starts to come, tone down your calling to make her think you’re not as close as she had thought. Turn your head and call in the other direction.
The key is to take her temperature. If the birds have gone silent and you need to find them, move slowly through the woods, glassing as you go so you don’t inadvertently bump them. Instead of being aggressive with the cutting to get a hen fired up, slip along and call softly.
“Unless she’s cutting me off, I’ll go with softer calling,” former world calling champion Chris Parrish once told me. “Soft walking yelps—three notes, with soft clucks—as you move along will sometimes work. You’ve got to gauge that turkey’s mood. Once she responds, match her disposition. If she stays soft, you might too. If she is cutting hard, you should do the same.”