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  • Writer's pictureSteve Sorensen

Pretending to Be the Hen

The flamboyant Irish poet Oscar Wilde said, "Imitation is the sincerest form of flattery." We tend to think the quotation ends there, but the part people usually leave off is "... that mediocrity can pay to greatness." One wonders if he was suggesting everyone else was mediocre, and he was the one marked with greatness.

But never mind that. In the spring we're not talking about Wilde; we're talking about wild, as in wild turkey. When turkey hunters hit the spring woods looking for the big bearded bird, imitation is NOT a form of flattery. Instead, we're appealing to the strong urge of a gobbler to perpetuate the genus and species meleagris gallopavo, trying to bring him into range so we can, let's say, make sure he has seen his last hen.

Read this week's column to see what I have to say about pretending to be the hen. I can tell you this for sure: no hunter imitating a hen is "identifying as" a hen.

Above photo: This multi-bearded gobbler is one I could not convince I was a pretty little hen. (Steve Sorensen photo)

My bi-weekly newspaper column, "The Everyday Hunter," appears in the Forest County News Journal (Tionesta, PA) and the Corry Journal (Corry, PA), both part of the Sample News Group. If you'd like to see "The Everyday Hunter" in your local newspaper, have your editor contact me.


To access more of my writing on hunting topics, go to the home page of my blog, Mission: Hunter.

Pretending to Be the Hen

Steve Sorensen

Spring turkey hunters aim at imitation—an effort to fool a gobbler into thinking the hunter is a wild turkey hen ready to be, um, especially friendly. If you want, you can consider the attempt to call a gobbler “identifying” as a wild turkey hen. But hunters are not dysphoric. None of us dress in a man-sized hen turkey costume. Nor does our practiced pretension mark us as trans-species or trans-gender.


While I’ve heard of people who claim they are cats, I haven’t yet heard of anyone who claims to be a wild turkey. The life of a domestic cat is a long, comfortable life of easy dependence on a human willing to meet every nutritional, medical, and shelter need. The life of a wild turkey is a short life of hardship and risk. Wild animals don’t have it easy, and seldom live long. Maybe “wild” is a good reason no one identifies as a wildcat or a wild turkey.


In most areas of the country, a wild turkey that lives even four years is an oldster. These untamed, oversized avians are mere children compared to any hunter pursuing them. Yet they outsmart seasoned homo sapiens (wise man) more often than not.


We’re definitely not competing on a skewed level where we, the superior humans, win every time. The fact is that real turkeys beat the turkey hunter more often that the hunter walks out of the woods a winner, with a hefty gobbler slung over his shoulder.


If hunters won every competition to woo the gobbler to the gun, it wouldn’t be hunting. It would simply be killing. That gives those who oppose hunting something to think about. If hunters were as successful as anti-hunters seem to think, hunting would have ended when market hunters and habitat destruction decimated the passenger pigeon. Conservation hunting, by contrast, did a magnificent job of saving wild turkeys.


Hunting takes various forms and hunters use various methods. The method we use in spring gobbler hunting is as old as man and animal. We make turkey sounds to call the turkey to us. We attempt to convince the gobbler that we’re another turkey, usually a hen. Occasionally, we pretend to be a gobbler challenging the gobbler we’re calling to come in. It’s all a ruse.


The death of the turkey is gratifying but does not define success; it’s only a climactic moment. We gain more from the hunt than a dead gobbler. And whether we tag a gobbler or not, we’ve taken part in a drama more real than any National Geographic television broadcast.


Here in Pennsylvania, about 165,000 hunters will soon pursue spring gobblers, and only about 36,000 turkeys (2022 statistics) will be harvested. That’s a success rate under 22%, almost 30 points below the median batting average in Major League Baseball. Most hunters probably call two or three birds into range for every one they shoot at—plus others they don’t quite lure into range.


Here’s an even worse calculation. If you compare the number of harvested gobblers with the number of days hunted, we probably kill less than one gobbler for every ten days hunting. No pro baseball player could get one hit for every ten games he plays and expect to make any team (unless he was a pitcher). So, the success rate of the turkey hunter is poor by comparison—woefully poor. And when the gobbler goes free, we go back to pretending we’re the gal the gobbler wants. Again. And again.


The reason we hunt turkeys is certainly not just for the kill, but for other more important reasons. We hunt to get away and think, for some time alone. We hunt to test our skills. We hunt to enjoy and participate in the drama in the spring woods. We hunt because fresh air and exercise is good for us. And we hunt to escape one daily grind and exchange it for another. You can probably add your own reasons. Clearly, we don’t awaken day after day to a 4:00 AM alarm, watch the sun rise through the trees, and pretend to be a hen turkey because we measure our success by killing.


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,


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