Hen Talk From South Carolina!

By Mary Lynn

Move over boys, hunting camp isn’t just for men anymore!

I have been blessed and was graciously invited to Artemis South Carolina’s 2022 Turkey Camp. Here are my stories and experience of a great trip. This was an all-ladies public land DIY hunt and a blast!

My friend Christina (new hunter) and I took a 4.5-hour road trip to the great state of South Carolina Thursday morning. I felt excitement and anxiety as the mountains of East Tennessee dissipated in our rear-view mirror. I couldn’t sit still in the front seat thinking about those bearded demons that awaited my calls in the tall pines and river bottoms of the Piedmont.  

Upon our arrival, we were greeted with the sound of laughter and our fellow hunters setting up camp. No campers, no creature comforts…just tents, cots, and a communal cooking area. Big shout out to brave Kate and her hammock setup, no tent for her. I feel like sometimes women hunters are seen as tag-alongs, or accessories to their spouses’ hunt. As if they’re only in the woods because their husbands, boyfriends, or fathers are there. This camp and my experiences mentoring sportswomen showcase that women are not just third wheels to male hunts.

The women I am encountering through Artemis, the Tennessee Wildlife Federation and other organizations have a growing passion and desire for all their own reasons. All different backgrounds and experience levels are represented in these groups. Some have been hunting for years and just enjoy the chance to teach others (like myself), some ladies want a better understanding of where their food comes from, others want to overcome fears around hunting solo or just show their significant others they can do it for “bragging rights”. It feels awesome to watch all these ladies grow, ask questions and form relationships with likeminded people… anyways back to the story:

After everyone arrives, camps are set up, fire is glowing, we make introductions. We share a little about ourselves, our knowledge and experience levels. The classic kind of “how’s your mom an‘em?” southern style introductions. Then we pair up with hunting partners trying our best to put favorable experience and skill sets together.

Some ladies broke off to scout for the next day, some stayed behind to get food going… and that’s worth talking about. You guys can keep your wienies and burgers, our camp chefs showed up with wild game delights. I am talking wild turkey BBQ sandwiches, an amazing chili, and a some wild turkey of the bottled variety for those who wished to christen the start of the hunt 😊

We finally peeled ourselves away from the campfire and took to our roosts (sleeping bags) for the night alight with excitement for the morning. Thoughts of gobbling birds and red heads danced through my head, better than any Christmas dream I’ve ever had! At 4:00 AM my turkey dreams were interrupted by Christina (remember, she’s a new hunter and has some interesting sleep related tendencies to get a little delusional) in a dead panic that we were being shot at. I took a quick listen without getting up and determined that our attackers were actually our fellow hunters shuffling through the dark to relieve the wine and whiskey of the night… and the bathroom door slamming… We eventually settled back in for some rest until that phone alarm had us jumping through the tents to quickly get on our camo and go after those birds.

My first hunting partner, Amy, and I took off for a spot that we chose on the map and some OnX scouting from the night before. After some unintentional detours on the way there I ended up just picking a spot I thought looked turkey-ish and our hunt began!

            I followed a ridge that looked good, stopped and called for a bit. Just a few little tree yelps. Going in blind, I didn’t want to over call and I wasn’t hearing any morning hen talk, yet. We walked on down and I found a nice little place with a few game trails coming through, so I set out Amy’s Ms. Penny the henny and we got comfortable. About the time I had Ms. Penny fluffed and ready to be staked I heard the wonderful thunder of an Eastern Gobbler that quickens the blood in me veins every spring. He was still a good distance away in his morning bed just waking up and starting his coffee, so I settled in to see what I could do with this old Tom.

After about 20 minutes the woods began to come alive and I began to call. That Tom gobbled right where I made my morning tree yelps, so I called a little more and he let me know he was into it. Talking sweet to him, he answered everything I whispered his way. But I made a mistake, a common one in situations like these; the more fired up he got the more fired up I got. I had him trembling, spitting, drumming, and gobbling on that ridge we walked in on and he stayed there. The classic and much reviled hung-up bird. Well damn, I thought, what do I do now? Tried some scratching like his lusting gobbles were boring me… nope… nothing. He had the visual advantage of being on top of the hill, so if I moved we were busted. He kept gobbling, but headed the other direction and my heart sank. In my excitement at hearing him gobble I gave some grey headed hussy time to move in and steal my man.

We sat there a few more minutes to see if another bird was silently sneaking in and watched a beautiful group of deer wander through to feed. Then the morning lull hit, so we walked a little, looking at the lay of the land and eventually went back up the ridge behind us just to confirm my suspicion of his strut zone. There were drag marks in the leaves, and some scratching telling me he wasn’t alone.

We set up there for a few more minutes to see what would happen. Suddenly we heard the leaves move. My attention laser focused to those sounds and I realized the rustling was being caused by a snake. Curiosity got the best of us, and our turkey hunt quickly turned into a rattlesnake chase. Our search wasn’t fruitful and by this time our stomachs were gobbling instead of the birds, so we headed back to rendezvous with the ladies of Artemis and fill up on some of those turkey BBQ sandwiches.

Back at camp, we swapped morning stories, excitedly sharing and intently listening.  The birds were talking to everyone that morning, but no one got lucky! After naps, rehydration, and more storytelling, we switched up partners and went out for afternoon hunts.

Storytime, Credit: Erin Glenn

This time I took Ms. Kate with me. After talking to some SCDNR staff that came by to visit, we headed out to visit some different areas for the next day. We drove by a hen crossing the road, and after rolling down the window and trying to get her to tell us where her boyfriend was, we were snubbed and she went on her merry way. Even though we struck out with getting a turkey to talk, we still enjoyed a great hike, and fantastic conversation. As the sun went down, we headed back to camp for dinner.

We were lucky to stay in a campground that had a shower, so after freshening up it was time for brats, cole slaw and a special Morgan Harrell wild game charcuterie board featuring snow goose liver pate, duck hearts in chimichurri sauce, fiddleheads fried in butter, smoked cheese, and a delicious jam which paired nicely with crackers. We also enjoyed wine, beer, a sipping jar and a beautiful fire!

Morgan’s famed Charcuterie board Credit: Dawn Walden

Something about sitting around a fire brings out the personality and stories in people. We exchanged thoughts on life, shared laughs, talked DNR and wildlife conservation, turkey tactics and family stories. April excitedly shared some amazing turkey hunting tunes while we supplemented with hen cuts and cackles. I’m sure our neighbor campers appreciated the chorus.

It was such a pleasure to share that time with ladies of all walks of life, in that moment. No career stress, no political worries, no judgment passed on anyone there… it all melted away in the flicker and flames of the fire in front of us all. I am sure when we all laid down that night, we were not ready for the following afternoon to come and signal the end of the hunt.

Credit: Dawn Walden

Saturday morning was cold. I bundled up because I knew my plan was to go where I duked it out with the Tom from the day before. I was going to be waiting in his strut zone this morning. We’d sit and wait him out. This morning, I had the pleasure of going with Erin. I had hunted with her the year before and was excited. We slipped up to that strut zone in time, settled in and heard this beautiful little jenny hen doing some sweet pillow talk. I her to bring her man around but she took him in the opposite direction.

After sitting there for a while after the birds went quiet, I started getting in my head about my set up. I was on the backside, downhill of where I thought we should be. I decided to get back up on top to see better. Erin and I worked our way back to the top, and sure as the world, my sneaky bird from yesterday sounds like a helicopter as he flies off. I could have sworn I saw him slip me the middle feather as he glided past through the pines…

Well, we dug our heels in again and tried to sit it out until we had to go. Poor Erin was so cold I could hear her bones rattling. Things finally came to the point that Erin and I were both going to have to break camp and head home. Defeated but not distraught, we headed back to camp. The birds lived to see another day, but the ladies won the weekend with the camaraderie and bonds strengthened between all of us.

I now understand why our male counterparts love hunt camp. Its more than the chase, the hunt, or the harvest. The amount of peace is indescribable when real world worries are exchanged for a tent, cot, fire, nature, and the company of people with a shared passion. Stress melts away and with every day responsibilities and your mind can be still. So I get it boys, just be prepared to scoot over… ‘cause before you know it the ol’ hens will be cackling in the fire light and the moon shine just a couple campsites over.

‘Til next year Credit: Dawn Walden