How convincing are Avian-X turkey decoys? Lifelike enough to fool even a sharp-eyed, red-tailed hawk? If you have doubts, listen to this turkey hunting story.
“Last spring, on opening day of the Ohio season, I was hunting from a blind set on the edge of a woods overlooking a crop field,” said Pete Gross of Cincinnati. “In front of me, about 20 yards away, I’d placed two Avian-X decoys—a jake and hen.”
Gross said that a jake (a year-old gobbler) walked out of the woods late morning and strutted up to the jake decoy, then attacked it and knocked it over. “That’s not unusual,” said Gross, “but what was unusual was that as soon as the decoy hit the ground a red-tailed hawk that had been watching the ‘fight’ from across the field sailed in and landed next to the jake and the decoy. Thinking the decoy was actually a dead turkey, the hawk then attempted to steal it from the jake, the two of them dancing round and round the decoy for more than 10 minutes. I was even able to get a video clip of the action on my cell phone.”
The hawk eventually gave up and flew off, then Gross shot and killed the jake. He returned home that day not only with his turkey tag filled, but also with a unique hunting story and the cell-phone video to prove it.
Located in the small town of Port Clinton, Ohio, on the western shoreline of Lake Erie, Avian-X is owned by Fred Zink and his wife, Dawn. They began their business (Zink Calls, www.zinkcalls.com) by building goose and duck calls in their basement more than 20 years ago.
“The waterfowl calls led to making turkey calls, then turkey decoys, then waterfowl decoys,” said Zink. “Today we manufacture eight models of turkey decoys (four hens and four gobblers), 14 turkey mouth calls, seven friction calls, and two box calls, plus 35 duck and goose calls.”
Zink introduced his first turkey decoys in 2011, and in just seven short years they have taken the turkey hunting world by storm, becoming immensely popular with hunters for their realism and durability.
“We thought we could be successful very quickly because at the time there weren’t many realistic, quality turkey decoys in mass production,” said Zink. “Some custom decoys were being sold, such as real hens that had been mounted by taxidermists, but they were expensive and fragile, some selling for as much as $500. We believed there was a market for quality, rubberized decoys and that it was wide open.”
Zink took a calculated risk and manufactured four times more decoys than Cabela’s and the other big-box retailers he’d contacted thought they could sell. And by February of that year all his decoys had sold.
“In our favor, the turkey hunting gear market at that time was very flat,” Zink said, “having peaked in the late 1980s and 1990s. I believe Avian-X has created a much stronger market since then for the simple reason that hunting with more realistic decoys has made it easier for the average hunter to kill a bird. In turn, that successful hunter then goes out and buys additional gear; possibly a new shotgun, maybe a new turkey-hunting vest, more calls, shells, etc.”
Zink stewed about what to name his new decoy company for months before settling on Avian-X (www.avian-x.com). “The word avian obviously relates to birds,” he said. “And in hunting waterfowl and turkeys, hunting the “X” means you’re on the right spot, exactly where the birds want to be. So Avian-X seemed the perfect name. It just seemed to fit.”
Avian-X TV is currently in its seventh season, airing on the Sportsman Channel in the U.S. and on Wild TV in Canada. Begun in the fall of 2011 as a waterfowl hunting show, the program now includes turkey hunting and runs 52 weeks per year, airing three times per week.
Although it may sound like a dream job to most hunters, producing a half-hour TV hunting show demands 26 new programs each year, requiring a tremendous amount of work and travel. Someone who enjoys that challenge is Josh Grossenbacher; a national champion turkey caller, he is in charge of all things turkey at Avian-X.
“People think I hunt all day every day,” he said. “But I actually spend most of my time sitting in front of a machine building turkey calls. I’m usually on the road only from late March to late May, filming turkey hunts in several different states. Last spring I was only home eight days during that two-month period.”
Asked what advice he had for a young person wanting to land an interesting, challenging outdoors career such as his, Grossenbacher shared the following. “Formal education is certainly important, but having outdoor skills to go with it is just as important. For instance, I have a two-year degree from Hocking College in Ohio where I studied natural resources management. But becoming an exceptional turkey hunter and caller is what led me to my job at Avian-X.”
Fred Zink added that most successful people in the outdoors industry find a certain niche—something they love doing—and have developed the skills to do it very, very well. “For me, it was hunting waterfowl, guiding hunters and building calls,” said Zink. “But that’s only half the equation. I also had to learn the business side of making a living in the outdoors industry, and I took some hard financial knocks doing it. But I believe good people with a good work ethic always eventually succeed. Winners always win.”
Zink also encourages outdoorsmen and women, no matter what they do professionally, to get involved in wildlife conservation efforts by supporting those conservation organizations promoting hunting and gun rights. “Now, more than ever, we need to support the NRA and state and national groups such as the National Wild Turkey Federation(NWTF), Ducks Unlimited (DU) and others that make wildlife conservation happen in America.
“For instance,” he continued, “if it wasn’t for the NWTF, we likely would not have the tremendous turkey hunting opportunities we enjoy today throughout our country. And many younger people I’ve talked to take that for granted. We need to be continually telling the story—to young hunters and non-hunters alike—of what hunters have done for wildlife conservation over the years. So again, get involved. Even if it’s only joining a conservation group(s) as a dues-paying member, get involved.”
What’s in the future for Avian-X? Fred Zink has a couple of new turkey decoys he plans to introduce in time for the 2019 spring season, but until then he’s not tipping his hand with too many details. “I’ll just say for now that our new Trophy Tom will be a taxidermy wall mount that can also double as a decoy.”