Spring turkey hunting tactics rarely explore the idea of calling other hens as a viable option to kill toms.
Give me a diaphragm call and it’s game over. As in game over, the turkeys won and I lose . . . Turkey calling has never been my strong suit but that has never stopped me. Like many hunters, I rely on my stronger suits like scouting, understanding the lay of land, natural movement, and anything else that works better than what I suck at.
My turkey calling skills have all been built on mimicry. And a friction call like slate or glass has been my go-to for just about all of my turkey hunting years. Back when I learned to call I would spend countless mornings trying to replicate the same sequence and pitches of sounds hens would make. To my surprise, as I got better with my slate call the hens would even come into my calling!
As the years progressed I started to see behavioral patterns that made more and more sense as to what I could do. I know I cannot out-call a hen, that was for sure. But what if I could call in a hen that out-called me? That is like having a real-life decoy hanging out around me. This gave birth to a few methods in the “fighting hen” genre of calling. The name may be a little bit deceitful as in some of these cases hens may be coming out of a sense of wanting to flock up. Which brings up the most basic version of this turkey calling technique: calling in a hen with mimicry.
How to Call in a Hen
Be familiar with “desperate” as that is where this tactic came from. “Desperate” grants freedom to do things outside the norm. It makes it easy not to care if you fail. It more importantly makes you ignore years of DVD series on monster turkeys and turkey calling champions, who although talented, have left the less talented and under-equipped to hunt successfully.
The first method is to start by mimicking a live hen. When she calls, you do the exact same call back. Repeat and repeat. In many cases she will eventually find her way to you. I am sure some turkey expert may be able to say which call among a sequence like this is the “hey come over here.” Do not mistake that for a fall assembly call, as I am sure that is where many minds will travel.
That hen gives you a couple of amazing things we cannot provide for ourselves. First, an actually noise that is exactly the same as living bird. Second, a living hen that is coming to us making noise and hopefully with toms in tow.
Picking a Fight with Hen
Have you ever heard a pissed-off hen? They are loud, raspy, angry, and that is a lot of motivation (and sound travel) for toms and jakes to hear. This sound is often refereed to as a “cutt.” As the caller, we need to piss the hen off which sometimes means we need to initiate the fight. This method has come from equally desperate tactics like over-calling, calling too aggressively, and who knows what else. But with a hen involved it certainly works well.
Below is a turkey hunting clip of an angry hen conversing with a hunter. In tow came a somewhat silent tom as the hen racket dominated the sequence with only two gobble sets before contact.
In this case the hen started angry. And as hunters we should 100 percent capitalize on those olive branches when they come. But it does not mean that we cannot start as the angry hen and call as aggressively as the hen above to force a hen into a fight-calling situation. That racket will travel long distances and you bet most birds are going to come and see the fight.
There are times I use this tactic without knowing if there is a hen nearby to hear my calling. Sometimes it sparks an interaction and even without another hen involved it can still pull a tom in (more on this later).
Understanding Why Hens Get Mad
I had always wondered why hens would display a fighting behavior towards another. For years I was convinced it was because once hens are bred they go to nest. And when they go to nest they become territorial.
Eventually I came across a passage in a book published in 1992, The Wild Turkey: Biology & Management, a book published by the National Wild Turkey Federation and compiled by James G. Dickson. It confirmed my suspicion with science via research biologist William M. Healy who stated:
“The behavior of hens changes dramatically when they begin to nest. Most hens disperse from their winter range and actively avoid other hens while searching for a nest site and laying eggs. The secretive, antisocial behavior of nesting hens contrasts sharply with their usual gregariousness, and it is most evident near the nest.”
The Pitfall of Calling in a Hen
There is one major downside to calling in hens with this method. If you are aware of the challenge of movement and the keen eyesight of turkeys you recognize that hens can sometimes be more difficult to not get busted by than male turkeys. I have had countless hens come into my calls silently only to bust me and in return spook the tom in tow.
The greatest way to combat this is good cover. Make sure you set up with a big tree to your back, foliage on your sides if possible. Make sure you are not silhouetted. And past that, minimize movement. That is not easy if you rely on things like a friction call that requires a fair bit of movement to operate. Keep it low, close to your body, gun in your lap. All of these things will minimize the visual movement needed to operate the call and allow for the least amount of movement when you need to lift your gun for a close-quarters shot.
It’s tough to do, but try to be mindful of all movement sounds that surround you. A frustrating feat that every squirrel in the county will drive us mad with.
Mimicking A Hen Fight with Friends
We often use calling as if it is a 2D process. A single caller, one location, and one style. The reality is hens are often in groups (until they go on nest), moving as they call, changing pitch and tone. I often find myself citing the importance of creating movement with sound like in the article: The Last Turkey Hunting Tactic You Will Ever Need. These tactics add depth to our calling and turn things 3D and even 4D in the process, making them more convincing.
In a full-on method of mimicking a hen fight, two callers from separate locations call back and forth to each other as fighting hens. The loud, raspy and aggressive yelps answer in report over and over again with some small breaks of silence and lower pitched calls. As in all fight hen calling methods, the loud calling will travel–hopefully pulling in some interested toms or maybe even another hen to add to the fight.
Like all things worth learning, trying this over and over again in practice will make you and your friends better at this tactic. When real hens respond, it’s a great chance to learn to replicate a fight for future calling events when it’s up to you and your friends to be the only calls in the game.
A.J. DeRosa is an American filmmaker and the Founder and Creative Director of Northwoods Collective. While he is most widely known for the award-winning Project Upland series, he made his first mark in the hunting industry as the critically-acclaimed author of the cult classic The Urban Deer Complex and, more recently, The Urban Deer Complex 2.0. A.J. expanded his work toward the larger mission of recruiting and welcoming millennial hunters by conducting and applying cutting-edge market research across the Northwoods Collective brands. Now a passionate bird hunter, you can find A.J. following Grim, a Wirehaired Pointing Griffon, through the uplands with his wife, Sabrina, and oldest son, Marty McFly.