Yamaha Outdoors Tips — Dealing With Henned-Up Toms

Photo by Bob Humphrey

Photo by Bob Humphrey

By Bob Humphrey

It’s April and over the next two to three weeks turkey season will begin across much of the country.  And while hunters will be anxious to get their first licks in, many will come up against a common early-season malady, henned-up birds.

Though the majority of breeding has already occurred, many spring turkey seasons begin while toms, particularly the dominant ones, still have their harem of hens.  Calling them can be especially difficult when they’ve already got what they want.  But all hope is not lost; there are several ways to overcome henned-up toms.

Work the Satellites

Turkeys are like elk.  One dominant male does most of the breeding while potential rivals constantly tag along, hoping to get a little side action. 

These “satellites” can be called, but it requires a little finesse.  Call softly.  Aggressive calling might intimidate a subordinate satellite.  Think of yourself as a young hen who wants to join the flock but is timid.

Wimp Out

Though Jakes can be a constant bother to older birds during the breeding season, they’re also at the bottom of the pecking order.  Like a herd bull chasing off satellites, a longbeard may come charging in if he hears (you sounding like) a precocious jake calling his hens. A jake's yelp is slower, louder, and usually somewhat deeper in tone than a hen.  These younger birds, though excited, are still aware of their social position and when yelping, may often break into kee kees.

Scout and Sit

Unless disturbed, turkeys often follow fairly regular patterns.  If you watch a particular flock long enough you may be able to figure them out.  Then just get there ahead of them and wait them out.  Call sparsely, if at all, and be patient.

Irk the Boss

We call dominant longbeards boss toms but often it’s the older hens who really rule the roost in these big spring flocks.  Sensing competition from your calling, the boss hen may pull the whole flock away from you.  But, if you can really wind her up, she may do just the opposite, dragging the flock and the dominant longbeard right into your lap.