Or maybe easier. Hens will begin laying eggs, so there'll be more competition for those that remain. By then, toms have been hunted hard in many places and have become very wary. So, the answer is simple — you hunt them with decoys. Many hunters believe that decoys are an answer to everything, and they do indeed cause the death of many a gobbling tom. But there are times when birds that have been ambushed before become very cautious about approaching decoys, and times when they don’t work at all. So, what do you do?
One veteran hunter who gets his bird every year often does his hunting without a single decoy. He looks for open land, often pasture, on top of a hill or in a flat area with plenty of timber around it and watches it for birds coming in to strut and look for hens. He checks the direction they usually come from, sets up a quick little blind close by and just waits. If toms arrive, he’ll cluck a time or two, then shut up. Usually, they’ll come looking.
Another hunter likes to place a single hen in the open, usually about 20 yards out and to his left or right. Then he calls just a little, and if nothing happens soon, picks up his hen and moves elsewhere. Another option is to use a jake and hen fairly close together. This can draw a tom not used to decoys in a hurry, even send them thundering across the field to flog the offending jake. But if they’re decoy wary, it may not be enough, and then the ante might be upped with several hens and a couple of jakes.
It’s worth pointing out that big toms are accustomed to having hens come to them, and frequently hang up 50-100 yards away gobbling their brains out and demanding the hens come visiting. If the hens won’t, he might decide to chance the motionless birds or he might become suspicious and leave. Some hunters have begun to make birds angry by including a mature tom decoy in full strut with the jakes and hens, and frequently this will bring even a super wary tom charging in. But such decoys are clumsy to haul to a hunting spot, especially when the gunner is packing some other birds, too. The choice is yours here.
Here’s a final tactic that’s becoming popular. In mid-to late season, and in places like public lands where they’re hunted hard, it’s not unusual for a tom to refuse to approach even a half dozen decoys in a field that are standing motionless. So, the trick here is to make them move. Anchoring them carefully so any wind will turn them occasionally helps, but the ultimate for one veteran has been to detach, then loosely re-attach a hens head and neck, add a spring and a couple of long pieces of monofilament fishing line.
Then occasionally pull the string when a distant tom shows interest so the hen appears to be feeding with head bobbing up and down. If that’s too much trouble at least use a couple of hens with their heads down apparently feeding instead of heads up as most decoys are. Much more realistic. It sums up to the fact that there are no easy answers. Hunt without decoys in a good spot, hunt with a single hen, or a hen and jake or a whole small flock including a mature tom. And whatever you do, don’t make the amateurs mistake of calling too much. You can still get a bird if you make the right moves, but it’s going to be a little tougher.
Dick Martin is a free-lance writer from Shelby. Reach him at firstname.lastname@example.org. You can also visit his blog at outdoors withmartin.com.