FANNING Your Way to FANTASTIC Turkey Hunting

Phil Phillips comes to full draw on an approaching gobbler. Fanning works best when one person can operate the fan or decoy and the other concentrate on the shot.

Call in the “Boss Hog” tom – Here is the Trick to How

Savvy turkey hunters use creativity to outsmart wily gobblers, and there are few hunting challenges that compare to taking a mature gobbler with a bow and arrow.  Gobblers, blessed with incredible eyesight, quickly detect the draw of a bow and the slightest movement can ruin hours if not days of effort.

The author holds up a mature gobbler taken by fanning. Incredibly, the older henned-up toms are most susceptible to this tactic.

Just as eyesight is an asset, it can be used against Ben Franklin’s bid for National Bird.  Dominance drives most gobblers, and the older and more viral the bird, the greater the “Boss Hog” attitude.  One the most effective tactics to outwit mature gobblers is to simulate a rival tom, either with a decoy or the fan of a mature male.  Often one peak of a turkey fan brings instant action.

My friend Ken Byers and I spotted two mature gobblers ¼ mile away in a plowed field, a nearly impossible stalking situation with archery gear.  However, employing commando tactics, we crawled to the edge of the field where Byers popped up a turkey fan clearly visible to the gobblers.  Instantly, they burst into a dead I’m– gonna-kick-butt run, so fast, I could barely come to full draw and missed the lead tom.

Think safety when using any decoy. Be sure that target colors are exposed when moving and set up where you have a full field of view.

I’m not always the sharpest tool in the shed, but am a quick learner when Byers and I returned to the same field a few days later.  The gobblers hadn’t learned their lesson, but I had.  As before, a feathery fan in the air brought the toms on the run, but this time, the red dot sight on my Rossi shotgun focused a load of number six Hornady Magnums that ruled the day.  Great bird, great hunt!  

How We Learned the Secret

Fanning for gobblers is so effective; we did our best to keep the tactic a secret which lasted about six years.  Recently, since the word is out, we’ve been telling friends and readers how much fun and incredibly effective it is.  Fanning works best when you can sneak over a crest within sight of a gobbler at 100 yards or less.  We typically employ this tactic in South Dakota where the rolling plains are ideal for this type f hunting.

The year that Michael Waddell introduced the Thunder Chicken decoy, a friend and I were closing on a large flock of turkeys planning to fan one into range.  We had to belly crawl across an open pasture with very little cover.  So we could catch our breath, I popped up the Thunder Chicken so that we could peek above the grass and get a fix on the flock.

The rolling plains of South Dakota offer an excellent fanning field of play. Sneak within 100 yards, pop up the decoy, and get ready to shoot.

We rested for a minute when suddenly five gobblers were point blank right in front of us.  Boom! I downed a longbeard and we looked at each other in amazement.

Another time I spotted a mature tom and three hens in an open meadow.  I was using a compound bow and there seemed to be no way to get close enough for a shot. By using the Thunder Chicken, I was able to close the distance to 50 yards.  This gobbler seemed wary and didn’t approach as turkey usually do.  Eventually, several hens began to feed toward the decoy, more than Mr. Big Shot could stand.  Suddenly, I heard purring and spotted the gobbler just a few yards in front of me.  Unfortunately, crawling on the ground was so taxing, I couldn’t draw the bow and the bird got away with all feathers intact.

Archers can often get point blank shots by using fanning.

Safety First

I’ve used fanning in the Great Plains, New Mexico and Texas where I hunt private or lightly trodden public land, but not in Maryland where visibility is very limited.  I’m sure it will work on turkeys; yet having a life-like replica near my body when other hunters could be nearby is foolish.

Whether you use hen or gobbler decoys, always cover them during transport so that “target colors” don’t show.  Always deploy turkeys where a hunter cannot approach you without being seen.  Place the decoy 20 yards in front of you with a clear field of vision well behind it.  Should you see another hunter, shout out your location so there can be no mistake.  Turkey hunting can be so exciting that emotions can overshadow judgment and you must always error on the side of caution.