The Fan for Big Gobblers

Sponsored by:Nikon Sports Optics & Wildlife Research Center

By: Bob Robb

For the past three seasons I have been schooled in one of the most exciting — and effective — ways of bowhunting turkeys I have ever seen. It involves using a real gobbler fan as a primary decoy, and running & gunning after them.

Of course, this is the antithesis of conventional turkey bowhunting, where you spend your time sitting in a blind with the decoys deployed. In many cases — especially areas of tight cover, where you have limited land to hunt, or even if you are hunting public — the blind & decoy combo remain king.

I learned all this from my buddy Ken Byers when I began attending a big turkey camp he holds each spring on South Dakota’s Rosebud Sioux Reservation, a place loaded with Merriam’s turkeys.

Merriam’s birds are notorious for not calling much once they hit the ground off the roost. So Ken – who has ants in his pants and sits a blind about as poorly as I do — developed a radical way of hunting them – The Fan.

Here’s how you use the Thunder Chicken/Fan combination, staying low and letting the birds only see part of the decoy.

“Because these birds do not call much nor do they really respond to calling all that well, we hunt them ‘run & gun’ style,” Byers said. “We glass them up, then do a spot & stalk sneak — taking great care not to be seen — and get as close as we can before getting set up in some cover. Then one guy raises a real turkey tail fan, hides his face behind it and slowly moves it back and forth while peeking through the feathers. The shooter is behind and slightly off to one side, hidden by brush and the fan. The fan will definitely get the gobbler’s attention and when it flips their switch they come running right at you! It isn’t unusual to get a shot under 20 yards – and sometimes much closer.”

So for the past three years we have been using The Fan almost exclusively with incredible results. In truth, the way we hunt is a combination of traditional turkey tactics — roosting birds in the evening and trying to set up close to the roost trees in the morning darkness, combined with spot & stalk deer hunting techniques where we glass for birds at long distance, then go get ‘em.

We have also taken The Fan to graduate school. I have always liked tacking a real fan onto a full-bodied decoy, but last year we started using them in conjunction with Flextone Game Calls’ Thunder Chicken ¼ Strut Jake decoy. The TC allows you to be extremely mobile, gives you the flexibility to either stake the thing out or hand-hold it, and a real fan attaches securely to the rear of the decoy. There is something about the fan, a body silhouette, and that white face that drives gobblers nuts!

Here’s how it works. We either start working some birds that have flown off the roost we cannot see, or if we have spotted birds in the distance, we put the sneak on them until we are less than 100 yards. Often this involves belly crawling. The shooter remains a bit behind the fanner but stays tight. Sometimes all it takes is showing the fan, and they start coming. Sometimes a little soft yelping and purring helps seal the deal. If you can get in the bird’s line of march it works much better than trying to turn them from where they want to already go. But work it does! As the bird gets closer the shooter remains hidden while the fanner watches it come by peeking through the tail feathers.

As Ken Byers works the decoy, Jon DuMars is set to hammer a big South Dakota gobbler at 7 steps. This photo was taken off the video footage the author shot.

Making the shot is nothing like it is when hunting from a blind. You have to be able to shoot from your knees as well as draw and shoot relatively quickly. There is rarely enough time to use a rangefinder, unless you are able to take a few quick readings off brush or rocks or trees in the bird’s anticipated line of approach — but, when the shot is under 10 steps, who cares? And, of course, there are those times when the gobbler comes in at just the wrong angle, putting some sort of obstacle between you and him.
This past spring I watched three big birds get it this way. In fact, I videoed Ken Byers fanning while John DuMars, marketing director for Mission Archery, took two birds in three hours the first morning of his hunt, both shots under 10 yards. The footage is incredible! A couple of days later I was the fanner when Toby Shaw, who works with Ken, arrowed a stud gobbler at 9 steps that could not resist the fan.

Ken Byers poses with both a big gobbler taken with a Thunder Chicken & real tail fan combo and the decoy itself.

Before you run out and try this yourself, a quick note about safety. Using The Fan is much the same as using a life-sized gobbler decoy, with one big exception. Because there is no body or head, you have to stay hidden in the brush so the real turkeys only see what you want them to see (a white face and tail feathers) if you are hunting places where you might encounter other hunters — especially on public land and/or those places where shotgun hunting is legal — be aware that there are some trigger-happy dudes out there who will shoot without identifying their target first. We actually encountered some other shotgun hunters one morning on the Rosebud this spring and quickly packed up and moved to another area to avoid any conflicts or potential safety hazards.