female turkey hunter

The biggest communication problem is that we do not listen to understand. We listen to reply. Stephen R. Covey

Have you ever noticed that turkey hunters always talk about the gobblers and rarely mention the hens? It’s interesting because we are all actually trying to be like hens, working our calls to attract a big gobbler. Still, little has been written or discussed about the most essential aspect of turkey hunting: understanding the hens, affectionately referred to as jennys!

For those unfamiliar with turkey hunting, it is important to understand that the toms typically gobble when the breeding season begins, and hens get excited and are drawn to the gobblers’ beckoning calls and impressive strutting.  Notably, the hens tend to be very indifferent during the breeding season, and it is a relatively short window when they are “in the mood.” Acting completely in contrast to what happens in nature, we, as turkey hunters, take the role of the hen and try to get the attention of the toms by using hen sounds to get them to come to us. Reversing the roles of normal animal behavior is the best description of turkey hunting. Understanding the hens is more important than you might imagine.

female turkey hunter

I’m a female turkey hunter, so I can say this!

So, let’s talk about the hens… Hens are not so different from us women. Yes, I said it, so hold on and allow me to explain: Women and hen turkeys have some similar personalities and commonalities. There are always boss hens (you know the type), subordinate hens (their posse), and rogue hens (loners who work better alone). The boss hen and several of her “followers” select the most imposing gobbler,  attracted to his powerful gobbles and irresistible strutting. Once he is selected, they keep him very “happy,” especially at the beginning of the breeding season.  We also refer to that in human life as being “henned up”—when women keep their men busy and away from other distractions. It is challenging, but tearing a tom away from his hen harem is possible. Your heart breaks when you see your gobbler led away by a group of bossy hens, and it is thrilling when you can use your call to pull them away from those very willing hens.  Then there are the rogue hens ( I can relate to these hens), roaming around by themselves during the day and returning to their group later to roost. They work the toms with their seemingly aloof attitude. You might say they are moody because they can get aggressive and kick up a storm when you try to call in their tom. 

Calling Tips: What turns on a tom and turns him away?

female turkey hunters

Speak Softly- 

Now that we have identified the different hen personalities and the gobbler’s desire to mate let’s discuss our calls. Slate calls are my go-to, but this tip applies to any call you use. Whether you are sitting up against a tree or in a blind, I always recommend starting with soft purrs, yelps, and combinations of both. Clucking is also good; it signals to the tom that a hen is waiting and all is good. Soft calling, initially, is always better so that you can find the sweet spot if you are using a slate call, and it also prevents you from making a loud, sour note. If you use a box call, ensure it doesn’t fire off when you pick it up; we all have experienced that cringeworthy, unwanted screech.   It seems impossible, but gobblers can hear and find you at distances as far as a half mile, depending on weather and terrain conditions, so you don’t need to be loud with your calls. 

call turkeys with a slate call

Coming in Quiet…

Turkey hunters will all tell you that hearing a gobble is the most thrilling part of the hunt! When the birds go quiet, this sets the stage for the most challenging hunts. If you have a gobble, you have a direction. If you have no gobble, the birds can virtually walk beside you. A common mistake among impatient hunters is to resort to overcalling, hoping to hear that elusive gobble. But that sounds much like gobbledygook, essentially meaningless to the tom! If you think about it, it is logical that if the birds are coming in silent, and you are yakking your head off with loud calling, the gobblers will be leery since the other hens are not vocal—another reason to keep your yelps, purrs, and clucks on the softer side.

It’s a solo performance, not a choir.

turkey calls

Many hunters arm themselves with many different calls when they hunt turkeys. When you get to your setup, being realistic is essential, even though you’re dealing with birds with pea-sized brains. My best advice is to use your favorite call or two. Don’t put the whole shebang into calling because that is, again, unrealistic. The gobbler is looking for one hen, and if you have a complete chorus of different-sounding calls, you may lose out on seeing that tom—there are better strategies. Your cadence can change, but not so much your call. You can go from shy and seductive to juicing the gobbler with exciting cutting and yelping calls. Visualize Lauren Bacall with her throaty, sultry voice (deep, scratchy yelps) or Marilyn Monroe with her seductive, sexy voice (soft purrs and clucks). Again, calling versatility in the form of using different kinds of calls can be very advantageous, especially on windy days, when your best choice is to use a high-frequency call, such as a box call, to cut through that wind.  If you are proficient with a mouth call, it is ideal for a hands-free last-second sound to get the tom to commit.

Nobody likes a Chatty Kathy!  –   My mentor, Jim Casada, put it perfectly, “Get his attention and lay a heavy dose of silence on him.” 

Remember to take a pause. Make a run and then pause as if waiting to hear back from the gobbler. Don’t monopolize the conversation. Overcalling is a common mistake that hunters make. Between yelping and pausing, you might use purrs and clucks to signify that you are still there and interested. A good rule of thumb is to call every 15 minutes, but if you have engaged a gobbler, it is time to get quiet.  If the tom is on his way, the minute you move, peek, or leave, he will probably spot you. From my research, wild turkeys can see three times sharper than humans and nearly eight times farther, and their hearing is pinpoint accurate; thank goodness they don’t have a good sense of smell!

Maybe the “rogue hen” ????

It is human to want what you can’t have, which is true in the turkey world. Like the rogue hen, be quiet, mysterious, and unpredictable. The gobbler can’t figure out why you are not coming to him, and he becomes more determined. Sometimes, making your calls seem as if you are moving farther away can be enticing. This is the same if you think of a woman playing hard to get. Indeed, this is the classic takeaway close! If you have engaged a gobbler, self-restraint by not calling and sitting without movement will determine whether or not you will be the winner in this most exciting hunt that will get you forever addicted.

female hunter

So, “identify” as a turkey hen and have a great hunting season!

Thank you, Lisa Young, for the fun photo shoot in your woods! You are the best!

PART TWO:  MY 2024 TURKEY HUNTING SEASON: I hunted for four days! I chose not to fill my third tag,

FEMALE TURKEY HUNTER

FILLED MY FIRST TAG!

The season started on private land on March 22. Day two: Eight hours of solo hunting: spotting, stalking, and calling gobblers. It was the most arduous hunting since the turkeys were not vocal! When the day was ending, and I thought my hunt was over, I spotted this turkey strutting about 400 yards away. I slowly worked through the pine woods and found a good tree to sit and call. I was not optimistic because he already had a hen. I put out some soft calls, and within a few minutes, he was looking for me.

Since I had no decoy, he let out a loud gobble, hoping to find his hen. Instantly, my heart started racing, and seconds felt like hours, and just like that, he came into range. My heart is so grateful, especially since I was using a new slate call, custom-made for me by my brother, Jim. (More to come.) Using my tripod, I snapped a quick photo, thinking about the ride home and the need to clean my bird as soon as possible. I was so grateful for this beautiful turkey!

FEMALE TURKEY HUNTER

FILLED MY 2ND TAG!

Third day of hunting: I am so happy to fill my second tag! It was another “spot, stalk, call, kill” solo hunt, but this one was the most challenging yet. This bird was so far away that I wasn’t sure if it was a turkey or a stump on the edge of the dirt road since I’d left my binos in the Jeep. I hid in the brush—their branches covered with thorns—calling with yelps and clucks. The thick cutover was punishing, and I could only gain about 100 yards moving slowly, but the gobbler was still far away.

I continued to call, but I almost messed up after what seemed like a lot of time had passed. I made the mistake of standing up to take a peek, and there he was—I saw my tom down the dirt road. I was so worried he’d seen me! I sat down slowly and got still for what seemed like forever, and my arms and legs burned. I pretended I was a mannequin in a hunting store, hoping I hadn’t ruined the hunt.

I decided to hit my call with a few purrs, and he came in silent, and I was ready. It was about 1 p.m. when I closed the deal, so it had taken me about an hour and a half to get this beautiful tom, graced with a 9-inch beard. I am so thankful for this bird.