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Tangling with ‘The Boss’ Turkey Always an Exciting Hunt

All turkey hunters have encountered boss birds of each gender at one time or another. What in nature makes a particular gobbler or hen or a “boss,” I’m not sure. I suspect it has to do with the “survival of the fittest” theory with the strongest of the flock establishing breeding dominance.

I do know one thing, though. A boss of either sex can make for a fun hunt. The following two stories will illustrate what I mean.

Bobby Dale of Mississippi, author of Turkey Roost Tales, enjoys encounters with the boss hen or boss gobbler whenever he’s in the woods matching wits with America’s greatest gamebird. (Photo: Bobby Dale)

I was below the Sugar Cane area on the Hood Farm early one morning when no less than six gobblers started ringing the woods. They were all roosted together and when one gobbled they all stepped on each other in response. I cautiously made my way across the creek, which separated us, and climbed a small rise flanking them about 150 yards away. My only available place to hide was a stand of 12-year old pines planted in rows at a 45-degree angle with a logging road.

The turkeys had flown down before I could find a good setup spot, congregated on the logging road and resumed nonstop gobbling. When I was in position about 80 yards away, I sent a run of soft, excited yelps their way. They couldn’t answer me quickly enough. They went crazy with gobbling, summoning me to them. They started my way and I could glimpse through the young trees that at least one of them was strutting.

I was ready with my gun up, safety off, when suddenly a hen came from the other side of the road, yelping and cutting like she was upset. I saw her approach the gobblers and figured she would intercept them and lead them away from me. I mean she was steadily “fussing” at me for my intrusion.

I decided I would not give up “my man” without a fight! I yelped back at her as loudly and obnoxiously as I could. The “cat fight” was on. That hen walked past those gobblers, who incidentally were about to require oxygen from being out of breath with incessant gobbling, and started for me. She stayed across the road walking slowly, searching for her competition in the young pines. She’d take a few steps, look, yelp another challenge, and walk another few steps.

Within two or three minutes she was opposite me just across the road. We had a fierce battle of yelps. I called her everything I thought would insult her in hen talk. It really got heated when I called her a toothless old hag who was past her prime and would never be able to take on that bunch of studs. Then I told her I was woman enough to do it and she’d better get on out of there. I was so passionate with my yelping that I was spitting around my mouth caller.

To my surprise the old hen stopped talking and slowly retreated several yards back into the woods, her feelings obviously hurt. She’d stop every now and then and look back toward me. The gobblers were still in the road cheering us on. The hen and I were 30 yards from the road, each on opposite sides.

The hen remained silent; I did not, and turned my attention to the gobblers. I cutt at them and they all gobbled nearly in unison. Then they made their move and started down the road. I glanced at the hen through the woods and she just stood there watching to see what would happen. The gobblers stayed in the road and continued to advance. The boss gobbler led with two colonels flanking him on either side, all strutting in wedge formation. A couple of jakes brought up the rear. It was truly a beautiful sight as the early rays of sunlight filtering through the trees provided the perfect backdrop for the scene.

I clucked and purred when they were about 50yards away. They gobbled and kept coming. The lead gobbler stepped in between the rows forming my shooting lane and strutted one last time before I invited him home to dinner. I can remember plenty of other times when a boss hen stole my gobbler away, but this time I out-bossed her!

Most of us have hunted in an area rich with turkeys only to hear one or two gobble when one would expect several vocal birds. Woodrow says that the cause of this is, “usually a big boss gobbler that’ll whip all those other gobblers’ butts if they try to gobble”. He insists that that boss will seek out the intruder and make him pay for it.

“Doc, you get in there and kill that old turkey and go back there a couple days later and listen. They’ll ring the woods from everywhere when they know that old bird is gone.”

I have witnessed this phenomenon myself, on occasion. But there is one particular story that makes me believe it beyond a shadow of a doubt.

Boss gobblers often are ornery and finicky, sometimes aggressive, but they’re always fun to tangle with and hunt. (Photo: Bill Garland, USFWS)

For a couple of years, now, I’ve hunted a huge old boss on Woodrow’s land on the Button River. This area is always loaded with turkeys, but for a couple of years we’ve not heard much gobbling there at all, except for this turkey. I’ve seen him on several occasions, but I’ve never been able to call him, as he always has a harem of hens with him. I saw him once in an open field with another mature gobbler and this bird was half again the size of his companion. I told Woodrow, “He’s four feet tall when he stands at attention!”

“Aw, Doc! There ain’t no turkey stands that tall!”

“OK, then he’s five feet tall!” I said with conviction.

“I know he’s big ’cause I’ve seen him. Doc, you go over there and kill him and all those other birds on that creek will start hollering!”

I hunted that gobbler hard, but unsuccessfully for four days. Unfortunately I had to leave for home and left the boss bird for a better hunter than I.

Enter Clark Dixon, one of Woodrow’s grandsons. Clark is a young man who loves to hunt and has inherited his grandfather’s and his father’s hunting savvy. He also had been hunting this longbeard, but left him for me to hunt while I was in Barlow. Besides, he somehow knew I was not going to kill that bird.

Anyway, to finish my point, the week after I’d left Barlow I called to check on them and to get a hunting report. Clark said it had been storming that morning, but he was in the woods before daybreak.

“Doc, you know how we don’t hear any gobblers but that one boss nearly every day?”

“Certainly do, Clark! We all know those birds are there, but the big boy won’t lett’em gobble, according to Woodrow.”

“Well, you won’t believe what happened this morning! That old gobbler sounded off a couple of times and I was on my way to him when a sudden crack of thunder shook the woods. Immediately, at least 15 gobblers shock gobbled almost in unison up and down that creek! Didn’t hear another gobble out of any of them after that. The old boss gobbled a time or two and then henned-up and hushed.”

I made a trip back to Barlow a couple weeks later. The old longbeard was still there. He’d gobble once or twice and fly down with his hens. None of the other gobblers uttered a sound.
Clark finally killed that turkey in a classic hunt at the end of the season. He found him without hens and got him to gobble once. After setting up on him he yelped to him softly every 20 minutes.

“I finally saw him 80 yards away in the woods. He’d take a couple of steps and stop and look, always from behind a bush or tree. He’s stand motionless for 10 minutes or so, then take a couple more steps and look again. It took him over an hour to close the distance, but when he got to 40 yards, I dropped him with my Mossberg 935! He was huge, well over 20 pounds with a 10-inch beard and 1 and 3/16-inch curved spurs. His lower leg was a couple inches longer than some other turkey legs I compared them with, and the base of the spurs were half again bigger than that of usual spurs.”

“That’s a great story, Clark. Did you and Woodrow stretch him out and measure him? I know that gobbler was at least 4 feet tall!

“Absolutely, Doc. He certainly was,” Clark chuckled.


Editor’s Note: This excerpt is from Turkey Roost Tales, the second turkey hunting book authored by Bobby Dale of Tupelo, Miss. For more information or to order, visit www.dgbooksales.com or call (662) 840-4648.


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