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Fanning for Turkeys: A Dangerous Game?

Fanning for Turkeys: A Dangerous Game?

A relatively new, controversial wild turkey hunting technique has developed in recent years that may prove as dangerous—even deadly—for the hunter as for the turkey. Known as “reaping” or “fanning,” it involves a hunter using a fanned turkey tail to hide behind while stalking and calling a gobbler. Surprisingly, given the instinctive wariness of a wild turkey, the technique can be very effective.

One hunter who has tried “fanning” successfully is Wendy LaFever, managing editor of NRA Family.

“I was hunting with a group in a very rural, remote area of Montana on a private ranch,” said LaFever, “and earlier that day I’d bagged my first turkey, a beautiful Merriam’s, in a traditional decoy setup. We were trying to get one of the other hunters her first turkey, and so far hadn’t found anything, but as we were driving along one of the ranch roads our guide spotted a tom moving fast in our direction.

“We had no time to put out decoys, so instead we elbow-crawled toward a tree that would intersect the gobbler’s path. We’d only had a moment to grab some gear, and what we grabbed was a turkey fan. I was the only one still wearing a facemask and gloves, so it fell to me to wave the fan and attract the bird’s attention.”

LaFever continued, “Sure enough, that waggling fan excited the turkey into a jealous rage, and he made straight for us. My fellow hunter, who by that time was lying in the tall grass beside me, took the longbeard with a single shot. The whole thing, start to finish, lasted fewer than five minutes—what a thrill!”

What’s important to note is that LaFever was hunting with permission of the landowner in the center of a very large, private ranch that was clearly posted with no-hunting signs. “So we knew we were the only hunters in the area,” she said. “We were also in a very open area, so had there been any other hunters there who weren’t supposed to be, we would have seen them.”

Although, as in LaFever’s case, the technique of “fanning” could get you a gobbler, it could also get you shot. That’s especially true in Eastern states where public hunting acres are few, hunter density is high, and much of the hunting takes place in woods, not open fields. One of those places is Ohio.

In August, the Ohio Department of Natural Resources, Division of Wildlife, held a Wild Turkey Summit in the Buckeye State and asked the half-a-hundred invited attendees their opinion concerning several turkey hunting and turkey management questions. One such question was about “fanning” on public hunting lands, should it be allowed to continue? The response was overwhelming: no, ban it!

“This is a hunting tactic I have never tried and do not favor,” said attendee Josh Grossenbacher, a national turkey-calling champion and turkey-hunting expert for Ohio-based Zink Calls. “In my opinion, turkey hunting is already a dangerous sport, especially late in the season as the foliage gets thicker. Throw adrenaline and excitement into the mix, and it can very well cloud a hunter’s judgment, causing him/her to take a questionable shot. Hunters are increasing the danger by putting real turkey feathers in front of their face.”

Grossenbacher continued by saying that throughout the winter and spring months he has the opportunity to talk with many younger hunters at various sport shows across the country. And during the past few years, he began hearing about "reaping" or “fanning” and just how effective it can be.

“It’s definitely the new craze among younger hunters,” Grossenbacher said, “due to the immediate reaction it gets from gobblers. It also takes a lot of the sitting and waiting out of the game. However, with this new trend growing fast through social media and YouTube videos, I fear that in a few years it’s going to be the main way the younger generation goes about turkey hunting. And if so, it’s only a matter of time before this leads to someone getting injured or killed. If it’s something we can nip in the bud now, I believe it will help prevent unnecessary hunting accidents in the future.”

Will the Ohio Division of Wildlife, and possibly other state wildlife agencies, ban “fanning” on public hunting lands beginning as early as next spring? Stay tuned; NRA Family will bring you updates on this important subject and its impacts on turkey hunting nationwide.

In the meantime, do you have an opinion on the topic? Have you ever tried “fanning” while turkey hunting? If so, was it effective? Do you consider “fanning” to be a safe hunting technique? You can post your comments at the bottom of this page. 

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