Fanning Turkeys: Cool, Smart, Stupid or Scary?
Fanning turkeys is as controversial as it gets in our gobbler hunting world. Just take a look at the Realtree Facebook page to see comments about our recent post "How to Fan a Gobbler."
It's cool. It's smart. It's stupid. It's scary. Depending.
Fanning or belly-crawling with a decoy works because you (the advancing hunter) successfully convince a watching turkey (or turkeys) you're real. It's a visual trick. Pecking order kicks in. Male turkeys might rush to your position. On the other hand, calling turkeys relies on making a spring gobbler (or the boss hen that pulls him into range with her) think your vocalizations are real. They move to your location. In fanning, you move toward theirs.
Personal preference? I like to locate a gobbler and call it into range for the kill. That's the most satisfying strategy. Professionally? I think it's up to you to choose the legal tactic you want to use to put a tag on a turkey. (Please refer to my second paragraph again.)
Have I belly-crawled with a hen decoy through tall pasture grass to make it look like the bird was bugging in order to get a gobbler to break its hung-up position and run into range? Yes. Just ask my buddy Marc, who shot the late-season longbeard that sprinted in (we pulled this off around the turn of the century). It was a pretty cool hunt and I'd do it again in a second. By the way, I called after planting the decoy as the tom broke from edge cover a football field away. And I hen yelped while crab-crawling on retreat (not that it probably mattered, but that's just me and I'm sure it didn't hurt).
Was this tactic smart? Ego aside, I'd have to say yes. It worked. Was it stupid? We took our chances since it was private land where my buddy had permission to hunt. Could somebody have been in there? Sure. Was it scary? Only that my buddy would miss the gobbler as it came running into position.
The trick with fanning of course — and belly-crawling with a hyper-realistic gobbler decoy, possibly with a real fan slid into it — is it looks like the bird you want to kill: a strutting gobbler. I was using a hen decoy, the object of interest for breeding spring toms. Fanning looks like a male turkey displaying. Aggressive territorial live gobblers come running to it often enough some hunters rely on this when calling won't work. Heck some hunters just do it. Period.
How'd you guys do this week? I asked a camouflage-wearing hunter my age in a remote Nebraska airport last year.
Bad at first — they wouldn't respond to our calling. Then real good, he grinned.
I paused, waiting.
We killed every one of our gobblers, and mind you we all tagged out, by fanning the turkeys and crawling into range — sometimes as close as 15 to 20 yards.
Nebraska limits you to buying three tags so I estimated that group of Mississippi hunters killed over a dozen gobblers that way on their trip.
Smart. Fact is there's plenty of evidence Native Americans knew this a long time ago and used the fanning tactic to advance on turkeys for the kill. They used wing bone turkey calls too.
The real truth about fanning is this: You have to decide for yourself. Fact is, some states will decide for you where stalking a bird isn't legal (Pennsylvania, for instance). Western states with open country may see a high incidence of moving with a tail fan and pushing a strutter decoy in front of you. That's just the way it is: another tactic.
Some of you won't for fear of getting shot. Some of you will for fear of not killing a gobbler. Some of you will stick with the calling tradition and try to pull birds into range for the kill.
Final note: Gene Nunnery's book "The Old Pro Turkey Hunter" (copyright 1980) includes an account of a town doctor dressing up in a cow costume to sneak on turkeys. What goes around comes around, eh.
It's all good. Be safe out there turkey hunting, friends.
Steve Hickoff is Realtree's turkey hunting editor and blogger.