Ok, first I have a confession. I was only able to spend Friday morning in the turkey woods. The holiday weekend took me out of the state to spend time with family. However, my brother spent three straight days chasing gobblers this weekend in eastern Nebraska and reported identical experiences to my lone endeavor – we are smack dab in the middle of the peak breeding phase. Now this may sound like a good thing, but it can be the cause of a challenging hunt. However, some great hunts are still possible and it is not reason enough to quit the chase.
During the peak breeding phase a majority of hens are quite receptive to the propositions of the tom – yet not very willing to share him. With so many hens responding to their gobbles, toms have little reason to investigate the yelps and clucks we hunters are offering up. They may respond enthusiastically to our calls, but often it is an attemp to draw in yet another hen. But there are ways to use the pecking order to get a tom into range and punch your permit.
In my experiences when the toms are covered up in hens they become “more lover and less fighter” so playing the jealousy card against the long-beards (i.e. use of a jake/tom decoy) can be less effective. However, the same cannot be said of the hens. The ladies are now competing for attention and if you can convince a dominant hen that she needs to come demonstrate her status atop the pecking order there is a good chance she will drag her suitor(s) along into range. Figuring out which is the top-hen is usually pretty easy. She’s often the most vocal of the group and is the one all the boys gobble to when she talks – especially when still roosted. Once identified your job is to make her mad or at least convince her to come check you out. If using decoys make sure you have at least one hen in an upright position as this is a more aggressive posture and more likely to get the desired attention from real birds.
Another method is to seek out the shy guys. In areas and years of healthy turkey populations there will always be a gobbler or two that is missing out on much of the fun of peak breeding. These males may be less dominant birds that had their tailfeathers handed to them by higher ranking gobblers recently or simply birds unsure of what’s taking place. Whatever the reason these birds are usually less vocal, to avoid drawing attention to themselves, and can appear suddenly as they cautiously approach your setup. To up my chances at one of these birds (which are welcome to ride home in my truck) I use only 1 or 2 hen decoys and restrain my calling a bit to avoid creating an uncomfortable situation for these shy birds. Stay alert as these gobblers may give you no indication they are around until they are already in range.
Do these tactics work. Yes. Are they fail-proof. No. However they are much more productive and fun to the turkey hunter than lawn care or other such items on the honey-do list. Not to mention some of the best hunting immediately follows this peak breeding phase as the hens begin sneaking off to lay eggs. You want to be there when this starts in the days to come.