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Join the Spring Turkey Hunting Fan Club

Using a turkey's tail fan will draw tough-to-find toms top-pin close. Here's how it works.

Join the Spring Turkey Hunting Fan Club

The sight of tail feathers on display prompts gobblers to think there’s a breedable hen nearby. It’ll often bring them running. (Shutterstock image)

Aside from hens, one thing that will get a spring gobbler’s attention is another gobbler displaying his fan. Seeing a tail feathers and thinking there’s a hen ready to be bred nearby, an unsuspecting tom will rush in to challenge the fanning bird for breeding rights. Bowhunters can use this to their advantage by employing a real fan as a decoy.

The standard operating procedure for decoying turkeys is to erect a blind along a field edge, place a jake or strutter with a hen or two within slam-dunk bow range and wait ’em out. This works well most of the time. However, there are instances when a run-and-gun approach is more effective. With a shotgun, that’s no problem; with a bow, it’s a whole other story. Trying to belly crawl into bow range then coax birds into position for a shot is kind of like trying to sneak the sunrise past a rooster.

I learned about the fanning technique decades ago while hunting Merriam’s gobblers out West, and since then I’ve employed it across the country. Here’s how it works.


Two hunters sally forth, attempting to locate birds by calling and/or glassing openings in the woods or spotting birds working fields. Once a gobbler is located, they get as close as they can before setting set up in whatever cover is available.

The fanner—lying prone—raises a turkey tail fan, hides his face behind it and peeks through the feathers or uses brush to screen his face as he peeks off to one side, slowly moving it back and forth. The shooter is behind the fanner and slightly off to one side, hidden by brush and the fan. The fan will eventually get the gobbler’s attention, and when it does he’ll come running. It isn’t unusual to get a shot at less than 20 yards, though sometimes much closer.

Initially I thought this was some sort of fraternity prank, like jumping blindfolded into a pile of cow manure after being told it’s a field of clover. That first year, after we’d slammed a half-dozen big gobblers and had several more misses—a couple on birds so close I think I could have reached out and grabbed them—I was hooked.

Nothing gets your blood pumping like having multiple gobblers running as fast as they can right at you. Because the shooter is hidden behind the fanner and often is screened out, he can’t see the birds approaching, so the fanner makes the call and the archer then must be able to get up on his knees, locate the target and pound him quickly without panicking. Really.

A charging gobbler may not be as dangerous as an attacking grizzly bear or Cape buffalo, but it is guaranteed to get your heart beating at
hummingbird levels.


Before you run out and try this yourself, a quick note about safety. Using a fan is much the same as using a life-sized gobbler decoy. If you’re hunting spots where you might encounter other hunters—especially on public land and/or places where shotgun season is open—be aware that there are some trigger-happy hunters out there who might shoot without identifying their target first. Whenever I encounter other hunters, I quickly pack up and move to another area to avoid any conflicts or potential safety hazards.


The ultimate turkey broadhead

While any broadhead with razor-sharp blades that flies true will work on gobblers, mechanical heads with large cutting diameters are the optimal choice. A turkey’s vital area is small, and a broadhead with a 2-inch, or greater, cut increases the odds of hitting the mark.

One mechanical head I’ve used the past few seasons on all game is the SEVR Robusto 2.0 ($13.99; Aside from its devastating terminal performance, one of the great things about this head is that you can practice with the same broadhead you’ll hunt with without dulling the blades. A novel locking mechanism keeps the blades closed during practice sessions.

SEVR heads are not available in retail stores and are sold direct to consumers via the brand’s website.


Precision placement is necessary to ground a tom with an arrow.

Killing a gobbler with a bow isn’t easy. To do so, shoot a gobbler like you would a deer—through its vitals.


The best angle is broadside, and you should aim where the wing butt connects to the turkey’s body. A broadhead placed here will either break a wing or the backbone, or pierce the heart or lungs.

Another good angle that’s common when fanning birds is straight-on. Regardless if the bird is strutting or not, aim for a spot a couple inches above the base of the beard and along the crease that connects the beard and the neck. A hit here should damage the heart and/or lungs and break the back as the arrow passes through.

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