Aiming for the Whitetail Record Book

Aiming for the Whitetail Record Book

What to do and what to expect after shooting a big deer.

by Steve Sorensen

Countless hunters dream of taking a record buck. Few actually do it. If you’re fortunate enough to get a “book” qualifier on the ground, your quest isn’t over. Harvesting the buck of a lifetime doesn’t mean the deer hunting world will parade you around on their shoulders. Some people might show up to discredit you. So what you do after the hunt is as important as all the scouting, setting treestands, and everything that puts you in position to pull the trigger or release the arrow.

The deer hunting world has several record books, each with different standards. The Boone and Crockett Club is the granddaddy. It keeps records of all species of North American big game animals. Only a small percentage of hunters ever kill a B & C whitetail. Odds are I’ll never have one in my sights, but other record books aren’t beyond my reach. Nor yours. So if you ever get a record book buck on the ground, here are some things you need to know.

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Bog D’Angelo is an official Boone and Crockett measurer, and scores many bucks for Boone and Crockett as well as the Pennsylvania state record book. Here he’s measuring the first circumference on a buck’s left antler. (Photo by Joe Kosack, courtesy of Pennsylvania Game Commission.)

Record Book Basics
1. Plan for an official score
Before you get an official score it’s a good idea to get an approximation, so have someone familiar with the scoring system measure your antlers for a rough score. If you think you’re in the ballpark, contact the one of organizations. They’ll direct you to an official measurer who knows the rules and procedures. He is a volunteer, so arrange your session at his convenience.

2. Drying period
Most organizations require a drying period from the date of the kill. Every bone has moisture in it, so the measurements that will be taken — the tines, the main beams, and the circumferences — all shrink as they dry. The spread also shrinks because the skull plate from a freshly killed deer is made up of about 20% water. When the skull plate dries the space between the antlers is likely to contract. Most shrinkage happens during the first 60 days, and the inside spread can easily shrink an inch or more. A drying period puts all bucks on somewhat equal ground; otherwise if you and your buddy kill twin trophies, and his buck is measured the day after it was killed but yours is scored months later after it shrunk, they wouldn’t be twins.

3. Document it
You’ll probably be asked to write up an account of the hunt, covering the main factors involved. The best time to do that is within a day or two after the harvest. When did you shoot it? With what weapon? Where (county and state)? What noteworthy details go with the story? (More about this later.) If the score qualifies your buck for a record book, you’ll probably need to submit a photo along with these notes on the hunt, and sign a fair chase affidavit attesting to the fact that your account is true and that you used legal means to harvest the buck in the state where you were hunting. At this point, the rest is up to the scoring organization. They may come back with a few questions, but the decision is up to them.

Some Do’s and Don’ts
Record book basics are the easy part. It would be nice if that’s all there was to it, but it’s a good idea to think about some other things, even before you drag your buck out of the woods. Why? Because sometimes, even if the issues are unambiguous, big bucks get the attention of armchair deer detectives, people who love to debate, and the ones who raise questions about everything. In a day when virtually everything appears on social media, inaccuracies creep into the stories, and people draw conclusions while leaving out important details. How do you cope with that?

The bottom line is there’s little you can do about what others say, but you can do a series of things that will help establish the truth about your kill, avoid controversy, and get ahead of any stories that may stray from the facts.

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1. Don’t keep secrets.
This is first in importance. If you keep secrets, people will assume you’re hiding something. So, tell someone about your kill — a person with credibility who has no relation to you and nothing to gain. A game warden, a taxidermist, maybe a policeman you know — a trustworthy person who will get the story straight.

In telling your story, stick to the basics. You don’t need to tell everyone where your treestand is, but don’t withhold the essentials. A laundry list of facts isn’t necessary — just make sure the facts you tell are all consistent with each other. Here’s an example. A hunter followed a blood trail until it disappeared. He tells one person he found the buck about 200 yards from the end of the blood trail. He tells another person he found the buck about 400 yards from where he shot it. Which is it? Both. Although these are different facts, and they are consistent with each other, it’s best to tell the same facts the same way.

2. Do get good photos.
Magazine editors have an inside joke that there’s an unwritten rule about deer photos — the bigger the buck the worst the photos, and the fewer of them. Do your best to break that rule. Your buck deserves good photos. The secret to good photos is to take lots of them. Use different backgrounds, different angles, different lighting. Don’t settle for one or two quick cell phone shots. Unless darkness falls quickly, start with a good field photo right where your buck died before you field dress it. Photos detailing the recovery of the deer will also be good to have. Include someone else in the photos if possible. A hunt is always better when shared, it helps document your hunt, and involving another person gives more credibility.

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Nathan Sullivan took this Pennsylvania whopper on public property. It scored 174 4/8 inches, plenty to enter it into the Pope and Young archery record book. (Steve Sorensen photo.)

When the story is told, photos help people to know you are proud of the buck and that you have nothing to hide. You can’t control photos other people take of the deer, but share just one or two of yours. Don’t pass out photos you may want to publish with the story later. Circulate too many photos and someone will end up saying things like, “Hey, wait a minute—these two photos don’t look like the same deer!” Or, “This photo was taken at night—maybe this deer was poached!” It happens. Protect your photos. They will be an important tool in telling your story.

3. Do write it down.
Soon after you get your buck, write your story. You’re not composing a literary masterpiece, so forget about flashbacks, foreshadowing, metaphors, and the like. Simply document the hunt from beginning to end and keep it to a page or two. Make it simple, and mention anything that’s relevant. Be factual and chronological. Include a little about scouting, trail camera work, a description of the area, how the buck presented himself, any other deer you saw and how you handled the shot and the recovery. Be clear about date, time of day, weather, and temperature. When you finish, look it over and eliminate anything that’s not relevant. Don’t let anyone see it for a day or two. The passage of time will help you be more objective, and you’ll notice some things you need to make clearer. Above all, aim for clarity.

Your written account (along with your affidavit) helps authenticate your buck with the record keepers. It will also be a helpful tool for any writer who may cover your story for a magazine or website. But don’t make your notes widely available. If you do, the chances increase that someone will nitpick until they find something to question. Even an imagined inconsistency can create doubt. We see this often in politics, so it’s not just a deer hunting thing. It’s human nature.

4. Don’t debate.
Avoid dialogues with the doubters. You’ve taken steps to make your story clear. You have nothing to hide, and in time the doubters will disappear. The more you respond to their questions (or accusations and denunciations), the more you will sound defensive. That gives them fuel. Don’t engage with every social media post. Some of them will aim to get you to say something to which they can respond, “Aha! You aren’t telling the truth!” You’ve already told the truth. Stand by it. Nothing more needs to be said.

In this 22-minute video Brian Kightlinger reviews the scoring method used by the Northeast Big Buck Club. The NBBC used the standard Boone and Crockett method but does not deduct for lack of symmetry in the rack. (Video courtesy of Brian Kightlinger)

I’ve written enough big buck stories to know people sometimes think it’s their job to generate doubt. It happens even with ordinary deer. Many years ago I shot a 120-class buck just before dark. The landowner held the flashlight as I field-dressed it. A few days later the grapevine talk was that I shot it after legal hours. It happens.

Until jealously, insecurity, and other negative traits are eliminated from human nature, someone will doubt you. Deer stories are great stories, whether they’re about the buck of a lifetime or something ordinary and special only to you. Tell your story well, be honest, and keep your head up, because the people who are important to you will be happy for you.
***

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When “The Everyday Hunter” isn’t hunting, he’s thinking about hunting, talking about hunting, dreaming about hunting, writing about hunting, or wishing he were hunting. If you want to tell Steve exactly where your favorite hunting spot is, contact him through his website, www.EverydayHunter.com. He’s writes for top outdoor magazines, and won the 2015 and 2018 national “Pinnacle Award” for outdoor writing.

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Why Do YOU Hunt?

Why Do You Hunt?

Steve Sorensen

It sounds like a simple question, but it’s not. Ask ten hunters. You’ll probably get ten answers, and all of them will be right. “Why do you hunt?” has more answers than “Why do you watch football?” or “Why do you like cars?” So here’s a starter list. No doubt you probably have your own personal answers (plural), because every hunter has more than one!

1. Meat Is Good!
For lots of people MEAT is the foremost reason to hunt. It even becomes a way to justify hunting (which we don’t really need to do). “It’s OK that I hunt because my family eats the meat.” Well, yes, venison is nutritious. And delicious (despite the fact that some people say they don’t like it). Correctly handled and properly prepared, venison is a delicacy. And if you do want to justify hunting, let it be known that deer hunters actually do better than wild predators at eating what we kill. No coyote does that! Here’s a factoid about eating everything you kill: The only predators that really do eat everything they kill are those that swallow their prey whole. You can’t swallow a deer whole, so savor it one forkful at a time because meat is good!

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Here’s a meal second to none: a venison loin grilled whole and sliced, with some fried squash, fresh tomatoes, and potatoes from the garden. (Steve Sorensen photo)

2. Being a Locavore
“Locavore” is a made-up word that entered the dictionary in 2007, and it refers to locally produced and locally eaten food. You can’t eat fresher food than the food that comes from your back yard, so gardeners have a rightful sense of pride. That being true, hunters should be the poster child, even the archetype, for locavores because the word is new but the idea isn’t. Wild game is the original organic food, and many benefits of eating home-grown tomatoes are the same as the benefits of eating venison. No antibiotics, no growth hormones, no color additives, no fossil fuels used to transport it long distances. In fact, think of any marketing term that implies healthy eating — organic, cage free, non-GMO, free-range — and it applies to venison. Get some, and eat healthy!

3. Hunting Keeps You Fit
What could be better way to stay in shape than deer hunting? I’m not talking about sitting in a blind or a treestand all day. I’m talking about going one-on-one with the deer, on his turf. Still-hunting, tracking, stalking. When you’re on the move your legs are getting a workout, you’re increasing your heart rate, and you’re stimulating your aerobic fitness — all good. Just be sure you work up to it. Hunting is not a way to sweat off 50 pounds. It doesn’t work that way.

4. Connecting With Nature
Few people realize that the hunter actually participates in nature. Man is never so much a part of nature as when he is climbing a hill or crossing a stream in search of a meal. When he sees some feathers or fur, he becomes a nature detective. What happened here? How did this animal die? A little contemplation about anything you see in nature will give you insights that enrich your life. That’s because you’re not getting your education about the natural world from National Geographic or the Disney Channel (heaven forbid!) No, you’re deeply involved in an age-old drama that sustained your entire line of ancestors — bodies, souls and spirits. We live in a day when being divorced from nature is a real threat to our well-being. In reality, what isolates us from nature are comfy bedsheets, brick buildings, and the beehive of modern industry. Kids especially need to connect to nature, and hunting is a great way to do it.

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An owl’s wing hanging on a popular snag stimulated the nature detective in the author. The owl was killed by a predator and scavenged by crows. (Steve Sorensen photo)

5. Speaking of Ancestors
You do realize, don’t you, that you would not be here if your ancestors were not hunters? That’s true even of the most urban, pink-haired, far-Left political demonstrators, whatever their issue. When you hunt, you’re reenacting history — connecting to it in a way that’s true to your forebears. You don’t need some genealogical website to discover who you are. You’re linked with those who engaged in the life-giving connection to the earth that sustained all people from age-old times, whether they were European, African, Asian, or any other genetic lineage.

6. Bring a Buddy
Camaraderie is a great benefit to hunters. We learn from each other, we rag on each other, we even love each other in ways we don’t experience in the competitive world of Monday through Friday work. The storytelling, the projects around camp, the advice we give and get (about hunting and about life) — it all enriches us. Hunting creates intimacy and fellowship that goes a long way to making men. And speaking of making men, hunting can elevate your kids to peer-level collaboration with you. It’s called respect, love, bonding. Hunting does things for you, your family and your friends that no regular job will ever do.

7. Stillness and Solitude
While hunting can be a social experience, it often means time alone too. That’s when you do your thinking. Opportunities to be alone with your thoughts and process them without interruption is rare these days. Alone-time allows you to sense your place in the bigger picture, to rejuvenate in a way you never do in a crowd. Every hunter benefits from the solitary experience that comes with hunting. It’s not just important; it’s indispensable to your health.

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You can do a lot of thinking in the stillness and solitude of the hunt. (Steve Sorensen photo)

8. Relieve the Stress
Modern life can be a grind. That crowded freeway commute, the desk you feel handcuffed to, the pressure to produce, those difficult coworkers. (Don’t look now but sometimes you’re one of them!) Your negative stress level drops when you’re trying to outwit a whitetail. Some people relax by listening to nature sounds — ocean waves, babbling brooks. What’s better? The nature sounds you hunt to — songbirds, squirrel chatter, rustling leaves, and those tic-tic-tic steps of a whitetail deer making his way down a trail. Even if you head home with an unpunched tag, getting away from it all is its own bonus. You’ll come home tired but relaxed in a way your Laz-E-Boy® can’t do for you.

9. Suddenly, You’re Self-Sufficient
“Big Buck Down!” You’ve started converting flesh to food. Up until the shot, you can’t know how the hunt will go. You get the deer early. Or late. You follow a blood trail. The unexpected happens. Then, once your task becomes getting that deer out of the woods to your home or to a processor, it’s all predictable. It’s work, but work that brings a sense of satisfaction. The results you see are both immediate and long-term as you anticipate sausage, jerky, tenderloins, burgers on the grill. It’s not only mouth-watering. Sharing your harvest with your friends makes you a provider. Some may turn their noses up, but they can’t avoid respecting you for doing something that sets you apart from others they know.

10. Accept the Challenge
We have plenty of whitetails across this great land, but if you think hunting them is easy you need to think that through again. Hunting is a challenge. We don’t bring home the bacon, er, the venison, at the end of every hunt. That’s because deer hunting pits our skills, our senses, our patience, our persistence, against the craftiest critter in the woods. Hunting requires us to use our brains, the most valuable weapon in our arsenal. Sometimes we make the right call, sometimes we don’t. He beats you more often than you beat him. No sense dwelling on failure though because if you don’t give up you’ll win. What a great lesson in life!

Why do YOU hunt? We’ve only tapped the surface. Is hunting spiritual? Is hunting a craft? Is hunting a way to engage with biological science? Is it a memory-maker? Is hunting a way to participate in conservation? (That’s a big one!) Does hunting draw on your analytical, a puzzle-solving nature? Is hunting a calling, a way of life? The reasons are never ending, and no quick, easy answer covers it. So when someone asks, “Why do you hunt?” maybe you should answer their question with another question: “How much time do you have?”
***

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When “The Everyday Hunter” isn’t hunting, he’s thinking about hunting, talking about hunting, dreaming about hunting, writing about hunting, or wishing he were hunting. If you want to tell Steve exactly where your favorite hunting spot is, contact him through his website, www.EverydayHunter.com. He writes for top outdoor magazines, and won the 2015 and 2018 national “Pinnacle Award” for outdoor writing.

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Avoiding Trout Fishing Mistakes

Trout Fishing: Seven Mistakes to Avoid
By Mike Bleech

There is a line of thinking that tells anglers to be patient, to wait for the fish to start hitting. That’s a load of baloney.

Countless articles have told you the things you should do while fishing for trout. Now look at this from another perspective. Here are seven things you should not do while fishing for trout.

1. Don’t wear bright, colorful clothing. Anything that stands out just serves to make you more visible to the trout. Especially avoid red, orange, yellow, purple, blue and any fluorescent colors.

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Don’t wear bright colors along a trout stream.
Especially avoid loud colored hats.

Most important, never, ever wear those bright colors on your head or upper torso. Those are the parts of your body that trout can see first. Forget about looking good. Never try to stand out. Quite the opposite, blend in with your surroundings just like a bowhunter might do.

2. Don’t use over-size hooks. Never use hooks that can’t be at least partially hidden by the bait. Fine wire hooks usually are just right for trout fishing. Overly large hooks will kill your bait. Even if you are not using live bait, big hooks will tear any bait apart.

3. Don’t forget your hook hone. Bring it, or a file, or whatever you prefer for sharpening hooks. During fishing seminars I usually begin by guaranteeing that I can double the number of fish everyone will catch. Then I explain how to sharpen hooks. For small hooks that are usually used for trout fishing, make the point needle sharp. Larger hooks may need knife-like edges.

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Mike used a stick bait that dives a little deeper than most to tempt this nice brown trout.

4. Don’t stand in one place if you are fishing in a lake, unless you are catching fish with a good deal of regularity. Trout move. Trout tend to be scattered. Only rarely do trout hold in one place for long periods of time. Even if something is holding trout in a specific location, all the trout in a lake will not be there, and soon either all of the trout in that location will be caught, or more likely, at some point the trout that remain will stop hitting for one reason or another.

Of course you stay in one position as long as trout are hitting there. Move along after a few unproductive casts.

5. Don’t focus only on likely looking spots. If your tactic is casting artificial lures, fan-cast. This means casting one direction, say to the left, then cast farther to the right in small increments. Do this until you have covered all of the water you can reach from that position. Then move along the shoreline to another position that is just far enough so that you are casting to fresh water, and repeat the process.

6. Don’t be patient. Patience wastes time. There is a line of thinking that tells anglers to be patient, to wait for the fish to start hitting. That’s a load of baloney, unless you know with absolute certainty that there are trout within casting distance, and even then only if you are very limited in how far you can move, or if you are afraid of losing a good position to other anglers.

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A flopping brown trout rewarded Jeri Bleech for carrying red worms along the trout stream.

7. Don’t travel light. No extra weight. No extra bulk. Right? All you really need is your favorite spinner. Just the essentials. Right? No. That could not be more wrong.

Trout are famous for being finicky. One of the surest ways to enjoy consistent success is to carry a well-stocked fishing vest. In fact, the more you can carry, the better.

In the artificial lure department, carry spoons, spinners and small stick baits. You should have a variety of colors of each type. Have some that run at different depths. This is most important if you fish lakes. Carry as many baits as you can manage. You should have at least three different types of salmon eggs, a few types of artificial baits like Powerbait, which is available in several colors. A couple kinds of grubs and some red worms will make you a complete angler, almost. To round it out, carry either live or salted minnows.

So really, the things you should not do are merely the flip side of what you should do – and a perspective that will help you to remember better.

***

About Mike Bleech:

mike-bleech-head-shotMike Bleech has been a full-time freelance writer/photographer since 1980 with more than 5,000 articles published in more than 100 publications. He is the outdoors columnist for the Erie Times-News and the Warren Times Observer. His home waters for trout fishing are hundreds of miles of wild and stocked streams on the Allegheny National Forest.

For more articles by Mike Bleech, click here.
And for the best fillet knife, click here.

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10 REASONS STUBBORN GOBBLERS WON’T COME

by Steve Sorensen

The mental image turkey hunters have at daybreak is almost always the same. The way it plays out is almost always different.

At the start of every hunt, the hunter’s mind pushes the play button on a mental videotape, and his mind’s eye and ear watch the drama as he expects it to happen. The big bird gobbles incessantly on the limb. His broad wings pound the air as he drops to the ground. The hunter makes his best effort to sound like a pretty little hen, the big bird hammers out more gobbles, and struts toward the hunter. When he closes to about 30 yards, and stretches his neck hoping to see that inviting hen, a swarm of shot penetrates his head.

More often than not that mental videotape breaks, and the gobbler lives another day. And another. And another. That’s because gobblers are stubborn. You wonder why you waste your time hunting them. And then one day the magic happens. Maybe you don’t even know why, but it happens. You are at your wits’ end when the gobbler surrenders and marches to his end.

Why didn’t he come all those other days? What made him “hang up,” and give you so much frustration? You threw every call you could at him, and he wouldn’t budge. Why didn’t he come all those other days, and why did he finally come? What were you doing wrong, that you finally did right?

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The author worked this gobbler every way possible, but he was always with hens and a couple of other gobblers. One day, when he was all alone, he came to the call. (Steve Sorensen photo)

That’s indeed one of the mysteries of turkey hunting. Although we know what we’re doing, sometimes we lose confidence. We give it our best shot, but that crazy gobbler doesn’t seem to understand how the game is supposed to be played.
I’ve compiled a list of 10 reasons why gobblers don’t come to the sweetest calls we make, at the best time, from the best set-up. We can categorize the first four as conventional wisdom. The next six happen just as often, but may not be the first reasons we think of.

1. The first reason gobblers don’t come, and often the only reason, is that we’re trying to reverse what is normal. In the human world, men chase women. (That seems normal for us, though sometimes women do chase men.) In the turkey world, the natural order is switched. It’s normal for the hen to go the gobbler, and we forget that we’re trying to reverse that. If she doesn’t come, she’s the one not playing the game the way it’s supposed to be played, and he simply stays put.

2. Turkeys are wired to be nervous creatures. They’re not very trusting, and when they have a bad experience they may not respond well to your calls. Perhaps he has been called to before from the spot you’re calling from. Maybe he got stung by a load of Number 6 shot — an experience that was a little rough on him. He might do that again, but don’t be surprised if he doesn’t.

3. Maybe some obstruction is in his way — he doesn’t want to cross a ravine, or a fenceline, or a logging road. Or maybe he doesn’t want to come downhill. My thought on that is that these situations pose threats for turkeys. A predator can lie in wait at a ravine, or a fenceline, or along a logging road. And when going downhill, a gobbler’s easiest escape route is a risky one. His best defense is flight, and he may fly right into a predator if he’s headed downhill when he goes airborne. His avoidance of those situations is bred into him.

4. Can you see him? If you can’t, maybe he has hens with him. He’s not going to leave a sure thing for a hen he can’t even see — think “bird in the hand” literally. That’s why it’s sometimes better to call to the hen, to get into her head and make her think you’re a threat. If you get her to come, most likely he will follow (although that’s easier said than done).

5. Most gobblers are not the dominant bird in the flock, so we’re usually calling to a sub-dominant tom. By the time turkey season rolls around these birds have had some good times and some bad times. Some of those sub-dominant birds have been beaten up by the boss. They act like the junior high kid who enters the lunch room, checks out where the bully is, and stays as far away as he can.

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This gobbler was stubborn for several days, but when I approached him at a different time, and from a different place, calling him in was as easy as falling off a log (Steve Sorensen photo)

6. Turkeys often prefer certain spots where they can see and be seen, hear and be heard. Those are the places where a gobbler prefers to meet hens. He expects any hen calling to him to meet him there, so he’s wondering why you don’t come to him. In fact, I’ve seen hens and gobblers meet up in these preferred spots, and neither of them ever made a sound.

7. Don’t forget that turkeys hear a lot better than we do, so maybe he hears a hen you don’t hear. Remember, he’s only two, three, or four years old. His hearing is pristine. He hasn’t damaged his hearing by riding a motorcycle, working in a machine shop, firing up a chain saw, or sighting in a deer rifle. We’ve lost some of our hearing. He hasn’t, and he may hear a hen you don’t hear. He’s just waiting for her to show up.

8. Like people, turkeys have personalities. (Or gobbler-alities. Turkey hunters spend their lifetimes learning to psychoanalyze gobbler-alities, and only a few earn a PhD equivalent.) Some personality traits are easy to explain, and some aren’t. Maybe the turkey you’re calling to is the guy who is all talk and no action, the guy with the big mouth who never follows through.

9. We tend to think that when turkey season starts the breeding begins and gobblers are just as excited as we are. But most gobblers have spent weeks in the company of hens. Maybe the bird you’re working is a little tired of the action. (Yes, hard to believe, but true.) Gobblers spend most of the year in the company of other gobblers, and by the time turkey season begins some gobblers are starting to trend that way. They may visit hens only one day out of three or four.

10. Calling turkeys is always a balancing act. Some turkeys like aggressive sounds, some like quiet calls, some respond well to lots of calling, some to very little calling. The reason he doesn’t come might be no more complicated than he doesn’t like the way you to talk to him. If you fail today, try something different tomorrow.

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After another hunter gave up on this gobbler, the author got permission to hunt it, went in and closed the deal. (Steve Sorensen photo)

The good news is the turkey woods has lots of tomorrows. When a gobbler won’t close the distance to your calling, you can try again tomorrow. So if he talks a good talk but won’t walk your way, have hope. You know where he is, and you can try again. Learn from what he taught you, set up a little differently, and sooner or later he’ll probably forget whatever reason he had for not coming to your call.
***

When “The Everyday Hunter” isn’t hunting, he’s thinking about hunting, talking about hunting, dreaming about hunting, writing about hunting, or wishing he were hunting. If you want to tell Steve exactly where your favorite hunting spot is, contact him through his website, www.EverydayHunter.com. He writes for top outdoor magazines, and won the 2015 and 2018 national “Pinnacle Award” for outdoor writing.

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TURKEY HUNTING: HOW TO STAY OUT OF TROUBLE WITH HENS

By Steve Sorensen

If you can’t beat the hens, here are three ways to join them.

It happens every season – too many hens for the gobblers to get lonely. Hunters complain year after year that gobblers are “henned-up” and won’t respond to a call.

That can be a problem, but it doesn’t need to be. Here are three scenarios that taught me a lot about how to deal with hens when you’re trying to take a tom fresh off his roost.

Scenario One: I was reeling in a nice gobbler just after daylight. He had been roosted about 80 yards away. When he had almost halved the distance a hen dropped from a tree and landed smack in front of him. “Nuts!” I thought. But he walked right by her and continued his full strut approach. Then another hen touched down in front of him, this time at 35 yards, and he walked by her, too. At 30 yards I introduced him to a load of Number 5.

Why would he bypass two hot, flesh-and-blood hens for a bird in the bush he couldn’t see? He probably wanted to round up all the hens, even the one he couldn’t see.

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When hens and gobblers are on the ground together, the gobblers usually stay pretty tight with the girls and it’s tough to pull him away. So get his attention before he devotes himself
to her. (Photo: Steve Sorensen)

Scenario Two: A gobbler sounded off at 5:40 AM, about 60 yards away. I waited for him to gobble the second time and quickly answered with a couple of quiet tree yelps. He gobbled right back and flew down. Then I heard a couple of hens as I called their suitor to shotgun range. One flew down from my left, walked by me at about 20 yards, and strolled into the field on my right. Then a second hen flew down a little farther away. When she was at 30 yards the gobbler was at 45 yards and coming to my call. I worried that the hen would enter the field too quickly, and he would follow her before coming into range. So I sent a couple of clucks her way, and she stopped.

She became a live decoy, and the big boy kept coming. He fanned out, then stepped behind a tree. That second hen entered the field and I raised the gun. He came out from behind that tree to follow her, and that’s when it turned into a bad day for him.

2-OpeningDayGobbler_edited_600x800

This gobbler was roosted near my calling position with hens nearby, so I simply became one of those nearby hens. This gobbler was one of two mature birds that flew down and landed 22 yards away. (Photo: Steve Sorensen)

Scenario Three: Last year I was scouting a spot with almost three girls for every boy – 11 hens and four mature gobblers. I was expecting hen problems.

I got to the woods at 5:00 on opening day, found a tree to sit by, and settled in. The birds had to be somewhere close. I peered into the treetops and could see four turkeys. Gobblers? Nuisance hens? If they were gobblers, the hens couldn’t be far away.

At 5:35 a gobble shook the treetops and a hen answered with a lurid tree yelp. Once again, it was shaping up to be a contest between real live hens and me. As soon as I heard his next gobble I answered with the exact same call the hen made. A minute went by and he gave another shout-out. I answered simultaneously with the hen. Next gobble, same thing.

I didn’t want to act too committed and make him wait for hens to arrive under his tree where he could fly down to meet them, so I didn’t answer every gobble, but my invitations were good enough to get two gobblers to investigate this hypothetical hen in the bush. They flew down from trees about 60 yards away and landed 22 yards from me. A few minutes later I zip-tied my tag to the leg of a mature gobbler.

Is it always this easy? No, especially not if a gobbler hits the ground and immediately hooks up with a hen or two. Good luck prying him away because he’ll follow the girls anywhere, even if they don’t let him breed. Calling is one way you mimic a hen, but when real hens are ready and willing, calling by itself may not be enough.

The three scenarios I’ve described have taught me a lesson about dealing with hens. Be the hen.

“Isn’t ‘being the hen’ the whole idea behind calling?” you ask. You hear about hunters calling gobblers in from 200 or even 300 yards. Yes, and I’ve done it. But don’t settle for that distance. With every step he takes, something can go wrong. And four out of five times something will go wrong. A bobcat comes between you and him. I’ve seen it happen. A silent hen intercepts him. He stops at a barrier he doesn’t want to cross, or arrives at a strutting area where he frequently gathers hens. He hangs up and you sit there frustrated.

So sounding like a hen is one way to be the hen, but it probably isn’t enough. You need to make him think you really are a hen. How do you do that?

Think about it. Calling is only the first way you mimic a hen. Position is the second. Hens might not be roosted in the same tree he is in, but they probably won’t be far away and he knows it. So, you need to get close. 80 yards. 70 yards. 60 yards. Even 50 yards or less is sometimes possible. If you can get that close to a roosted gobbler, he will think you’re a hen not just because of the sounds you’re making, but because you’re right there with the others. To him, you’re a bird in the hand.

zip-tied-turkey-steve-sorensen

Calling is only one way to “be the hen.” If you set up close to the roosting gobbler you can convince him he has a friendly hen nearby, and increase your chances of tying a tag to his leg. (Photo: Steve Sorensen)

Getting close is not easy. Suppose the gobbler is roosting in a tree at the edge of a field you must cross, and the moon is full and bright. Good luck with that because the moon will cast a strong shadow. Or suppose the path to the spot where you’d like to set up 60 yards from him is no path at all, but is littered with sticks and limbs and there’s no way you can be silent.

I have two pieces of advice to help you overcome these issues. First, get into the woods early. If you have to wait for an hour to hear that first gobble, it’s worth it. My second bit of advice is that if you lightly snap a stick or two in the darkness, you probably don’t need to worry about it. Turkeys hear animals on the ground all night long. Deer and raccoons can make a lot of noise with their nighttime activity. Light tan coyotes and white-striped skunks are visible if a gobbler wants to pull his head from under his wing, but most times they sit on a limb relaxed and without fear, knowing they’re safe.

Back to Scenario Three. Before the game began I had slowly worked my way toward the spot where I thought the turkeys—hens and gobblers—were roosted. I broke a stick or two and moved through the ground litter lightly crinkling the dry leaves until I found a tree where I could set up. I waited and watched the treetops. I became a hen among hens, and if I played this game well a gobbler would want me just as much as he would want a real one.

And I did play it well. I sounded like a hen, I was close enough for him to expect me to be a hen, and in his walnut-sized mind, I was a hen. That’s why he was headed for the freezer.

When hens and gobblers are on the ground together, the gobblers usually stay pretty tight with the girls. Sometimes they won’t even gobble, or just give you an occasional courtesy gobble. My only solution then is to wait them out. Around mid-morning the hens will escape the gobblers to go lay an egg. That’s when the advantage turns to you. The gobbler knows where you are, and he’ll probably come looking for you.


hunter outdoor writer steve sorensenSteve Sorensen is the author of Growing Up With Guns, and The Everyday Hunter Handbook Series. He also writes an award-winning newspaper column called The Everyday Hunter®, and edits content in the Havalon Nation. He has published articles in top magazines across the USA, and won the 2015 “Pinnacle” Award for magazine writing. Invite Steve to speak at your next sportsman’s event, and follow him at www.EverydayHunter.com.


 

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