The Art of Reaping and Fanning Tom Turkeys
When carefully practiced in a safe manner, the strategy of using a tom turkey decoy to fan your way into shooting range of a longbeard can carry amazingly high-success rates, according to David Holder of 'Raised Hunting'
As spring turkey seasons come and go across the nation, it’s not uncommon for hunters to find themselves on the wrong end of the scorecard with such a short season.
In terms of ending up with so many unused turkey tags, that is.
How can a turkey hunter avoid this dilemma each spring and reach a far different outcome each spring season?
According to at least one Outdoor Channel turkey hunting guru – Iowa’s David Holder of Raised Hunting – reaping is a strategy that should be added to a hunter’s bag of tricks.
And that’s reaping a turkey gobbler all the way into the point of surrender.
“Turkey reaping is simply taking a strutting tom decoy and crawling towards another tom, staying behind the decoy as you go,” said Holder. “I have heard it called fanning as well.
“Whatever you call it, call it the most effective technique we have ever tried. When done correctly, reaping is probably 75 percent successful.”
According to Holder, late in the season when the tactic of reaping turkeys might work best.
“It’s great in late season because as turkeys get pressured and have seen the decoy sets and blinds (hunters use), they begin to get wise,” said Holder.
“But what they can’t tell for sure is whether or not that tom that is coming to them is the real deal or not.”
Don’t restrict the hunting method to the end of a season, however, because Holder says he, his two sons, Easton and Warren, and his wife, Karin, have enjoyed reaping success earlier in the year as well.
“The great thing about this tactic is that it can be done at virtually any time of the (turkey season),” said Holder.
“It can also be done on the same turkey gobbler more than once. Since each time you do it, he thinks he is seeing another tom moving into his area. And that’s when the gobbler’s natural instincts kick in and he defends his ladies or his turf.”
So, how does one actually go about the process of reaping a boss longbeard into getting tagged?
It starts with the right decoy setup according to Holder.
“You have to use the most lifelike decoy that you can find,” he said. “We use either the Primos Killer B or the B-Mobile decoy, but the Mojo Scoot and Shoot is (also one of) the best for this style of hunting.”
Why is that?
“Because it’s made with reaping in mind with extended wings that help cover (the hunter) as he or she crawls.”
In addition to the proper decoy, Holder notes a real tail-fan seems to work better in his experience than the fake silk fans that some decoys come with straight out of the box.
Also important is what a hunter is wearing since the idea is to get the gobbler to totally focus on the decoy.
“In addition to a strutting tom decoy, we wear black tops in order to blend in to the decoy, and even more so, to our weapon, either a bow or a shotgun,” said Holder.
“In fact, sometimes the weapon is almost used in self-defense since many times these turkeys will come running in and won’t check up at all until they are right at the decoy.
“Just ask my son, Easton, he recently had a gobbler that was the closest encounter that any of us have ever had.”
How close? He almost had to use his shotgun barrel to swat the oncoming longbeard away at a handful of steps, that’s how close!
While “Raised Hunting” host David Holder was skeptical at first, he and wife, Karen, have found fanning a gobbler works on just about every subspecies of wild gobbler roaming across North America. (Photo courtesy of David Holder)
Ok, I’m sold – what are some tips to add this strategy to my bag of spring turkey hunting tricks?
“It’s simple, sort of,” laughs Holder. “In my experience, it works best in open country set-ups, which is often where you are looking at what would otherwise seem to be an impossible place to call in and kill a tom.”
If a hunter can find a tom with a hen or two – or alone and by himself – even better.
Once a hunter finds such a bird, then it’s time to get the old heart rate elevated just a bit.
“Get as close as you can just to save the knees and elbows,” said Holder. “Once you get as close as you can, then start crawling toward the target.”
It’s at this point Holder offers a word of caution.
“We wouldn’t be doing our job if we didn’t tell you to never do this on public ground or in timber where another hunter could have any possibility of approaching you,” said Holder.
The only possible exception in Holder’s mind is using the tactic on vast stretches of wide open public ground like a hunter can find out west in the Rocky Mountain States where they might be chasing either Merriam gobblers or Rio Grande toms.
The key in either case is visibility allowing for safety.
“We almost always do our turkey reaping on private ground where we know exactly who is around,” said Holder. “If we do it on public land, it’s typically in the states where the terrain is open and we could see another hunter if he came near us.
“We also always cover the decoy in these areas when we are not reaping because they look real to the turkey and so they will look real to any hunter as well.”
Which brings up an interesting question: Does reaping work on all four U.S. wild turkey subspecies?
“We have had it work on every subspecies except the Osceola,” said Holder. “And the only reason that we haven’t had it work on that brand of gobbler is that we’ve never hunted them yet.”
So this works on Eastern wild turkeys, the oft thought of PhD-version of wild turkeys?
“The birds here in our home state of Iowa are Eastern turkeys and the places that we often hunt them get lots of pressure, maybe even more than during our deer season,” said Holder.
“And yet every year, we are able to crawl into position to take a few (Eastern) birds using this technique.”
Speaking of technique, are there any other tips Holder can offer to help a hunter reap a springtime turkey hunting harvest?
“Once you get in close and start crawling, you want to read the bird,” said Holder. “Watch his demeanor as he starts making his way towards you.”
If the bird is only casually interested, a hunter might continue to try and crawl in a bit closer.
Or perhaps mix in some calling with a mouth diaphragm call to peak the old tom’s curiosity just a bit more.
But if the bird is interested, agitated, gobbling and strutting quickly in a hunter’s direction, it’s then time to get ready for a shot opportunity.
“Stake him (the decoy) in and hold on to your hat because the shot may be at point blank range,” laughed Holder.
“If you’re going to try this like we do with our Bear compound bows, that’s even more important because reaping a turkey with archery gear is pretty difficult since these birds come in hard and rarely sit still.”
Which kind of sounds like something else the Raised Hunting television host is good at, the art of decoying a rutting pronghorn antelope buck into bow range each fall.
But that’s a story for another day and another season. Because there is plenty of decoying excitement to be had in the spring when turkeys will come strutting into bow range.
“Occasionally, a turkey will come in slow while you’re trying to fan him into range,” said Holder. “And those are the best gobblers, archery reaped turkeys.”
If everything you’ve read about this tactic seems too good to be true, Holder says he agrees.
“I had serious doubts myself until the first year (we tried it) and I witnessed all of this firsthand,” said the one-time Montana firefighter turned Iowa television show host.
“But once you do this once or twice, you find out that it’s not only effective, it’s also a lot of fun,” he added.
Far more fun than sitting in your man cave counting up all of the leftover turkey tags a hunter has let go unused during a spring of hunting.
Tags that make the key ingredient for the turkey hunting version of tag soup, a dish I’m accustomed to eating along with a good dose of humble pie.