Henrietta’s a real shady lady

Hen wild turkey decoys are effective at luring gobblers into close range.

One of the females who lives under my roof earned a promotion about 11 months ago.

She went from living on the cold cement of the garage floor, behind the piano we never use. Now, she’s on a nice piece of carpet that keeps her plastic rear end warm and comfy, if that’s possible.

I named her Henrietta when she came to live with us 10 years ago; she did her part opening day of spring turkey season last year. She looked like a pretty ball of feathers standing in a rye field — pretty enough that a hen turkey tried to beat her up and three gobblers had other ideas.

Two of them died thinking the kind of “sex-outside-of-marriage” thoughts that wild toms are likely to think for the better part of two months every spring.

She is, you see, my turkey decoy. Henrietta the hen.

Before last opening day, I had never killed a turkey gobbler in front of a decoy. I had had several opportunities, but something always went wrong, like a real, live hen showing up at the wrong moment, or a fox or a spooked deer coming between Henrietta and one of her boyfriends.

I’d just about given up on her, because being one of the first decoys on the market — a life-sized, hard-plastic, full-bodied hen — she was pretty hard to carry around, at least compared to the collapsible decoys you can fold up and put in your pocket that have become the rage.

If you’re going to do any walking at all, carrying a fat piece of plastic in your backpack or game pouch isn’t the greatest idea. But last year we found a tremendous amount of turkey sign in a little field pretty close to where we park at one of our hunting leases. Opening day was supposed to be dreary, drizzly, cold, so I figured chances were any turkey in the neighborhood might want to naturally get out of the wet woods and spend a lot of time in the field.

Several days in advance, I found a couple of trees back in the woods that my son, Andrew, and I could sit against, then I cut brush along the edge of the field to give us clear shots at a place I figured to stick Henrietta’s plastic “leg” into the ground.

By 8 a.m. opening morning, after a cold, 45-minute shower, a hen and three gobblers showed up about 40 yards away, coming into the field from the south. The hen obviously considered Henrietta an intruder; she trotted right up to her, stopping 2 feet away. Her three boyfriends followed in single file.

The real hen took one last step and actually bumped Henrietta with her chest, knocking her down. That happened at just about the exact instant that Andrew squeezed off his first shot. In about 10 seconds, we had two gobblers flopping on the ground, each within 5 feet of Henrietta’s prone form.

This isn’t to say turkey decoys will work all the time.

I’ve heard tales of gobblers stepping out in a field, spying a hen decoy, then turning tail and running. But clearly, there’s a time and place to use a fake — in fact, several.

Here are a few:

• When you believe turkeys are using an open area such as a field or pasture, and you need to draw them to a particular area that’s in range of that 12-gauge with the 3-inch 12-gauge No. 4s.

Turkeys are remarkably social creatures, and gobblers in particular want to get real social with hens through the spring, so putting a hen decoy or two in the corner of a field is a large step toward bringing other birds in range.

• When you need to distract a turkey, to keep his binocular-class eyes averted from the place you’re hiding.

I believe a big gobbler coming to a hen yelp or cluck is at full attention when he’s approaching, examining every twig as he searches for the source of the lovely chatter he’s heard. If you can direct his attention away from your blind, or the tree you’re sitting against, so much the better.

• When you need a little something to push a big, smart gobbler over the edge.

A lot of hunters I know have done just this by setting out a jake decoy with a hen or two. A gobbler who sees a jake in a half-strut around his ladies has more than reproducing on his menu; he’ll want to punish the young whippersnapper.

A friend of mine who guides for a large turkey-hunting operation in the eastern part of North Carolina related to me the story of the damage a gobbler did to a jake decoy. The decoy, he said, “looked like a cherry bomb had gone off inside it.” That gobbler clearly wanted to send a message.

Some precautions are in order.

If you have decoys out and another hunter shows up unexpectedly, whistle sharply or do something to get his attention immediately. You don’t need your jake decoy to fool him so completely that he blows it to bits, sending copper-plated shot in your direction.

Many decoys, especially jakes, come with a splash of blaze orange paint somewhere on their sides, aiming to alert a hunter who stumbles onto a set-up that the decoys are just that — decoys.

If you suspect a turkey will approach your decoy from a certain direction, sit at a 90-degree angle from that line of approach. That will keep the gobbler’s attention focused in a direction almost the opposite yours.

If you’re hunting in woods, put your decoy in the most open area you can find so it’ll be most easily seen. Logging roads are a great idea, as are the tops of ridges. You want the gobbler to see Henrietta first and keep his attention on her.

If you’re using a mixed spread of hens and a jake decoy, set up the jake at the spot where you have the clearest shot because an approaching gobbler will deal with Junior first, then move to satisfy his ladies.

Tone down your calling once a gobbler has seen your decoys and is calculating his approach.

Soft clucks and purrs are much more effective. Those loud yelps are only to attract his attention.

Once you’ve passed that hurdle, just try to make him feel at home.

About Dan Kibler 887 Articles
Dan Kibler is the former managing editor of Carolina Sportsman Magazine. If every fish were a redfish and every big-game animal a wild turkey, he wouldn’t ever complain. His writing and photography skills have earned him numerous awards throughout his career.

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