Ask Dr. Tom: "Henned Up" in the late season

I hear from hunting shows, magazines, podcasts, videos, books, etc., that later in the spring turkey season, hens leave the gobblers. I generally hunt field turkeys in northeast Alabama because that is the hunting access I have. Over and over, in the almost 30 years I’ve been chasing turkeys, I have seen a lone gobbler in a 100-acre field of mowed cotton stalks with hens when the season opens on March 15, and I continue to see them until we killed the tom, even if it was late in the season. 

Sometimes, the last time being in 2018, a gobbler has beaten our efforts all season. That year, I saw a gobbler with three to four hens on opening morning, hunted him all different times of day 10 to 15 times over the season, including the very last day of our season on April 30, and EVERY time I saw the turkey he had three or four hens with him. They never left him. What gives? -Clinton Eubanks, Centre, Alabama

It is easy for a speaker or writer to make statements that are too general or that provide a summary without covering all the important details. I disagree with anyone who states that late in the season the hens leave the gobblers. It’s not true. Instead. I would say that there tend to be fewer hens available for gobblers as the season progresses. Many hens are either laying eggs or incubating their clutches late in the season so there may a better chance of finding a lonely gobbler. There are a lot of reasons why a gobbler might still be “henned up” even on the last day.

Juvenile hens hatched a year ago are less successful nesters than adult hens. So, there are always a few jennies around to occupy gobblers late in the season. This is especially true the year after a good hatch. We all want to see a good hatch every year, but the down side of a good hatch is the abundance of young hens to hang with the toms.

Most adult hens try to nest, but more than half lose their first clutch to nest predators. Wild turkeys are well adapted to deal with the loss of a nest and most adult hens will attempt to re-nest. Hens that have lost nests and hens that, for any other reason, are late nesters often tie up gobblers throughout the season. 

There are places that wild turkeys feel comfortable and are prone to visit. Field edges are places where wild turkeys like to find dates. That is another reason you have experienced frustration with henned up gobblers. Your experience in Alabama is not unique to the southeast. As spring gobbler hunters, we must keep after them in the hope that tomorrow his girlfriends might sleep in.   

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