Some years ago I was invited on a crossbow Oeceola turkey hunt in south Florida by Ralph and Vickie Cianciarulo. I'd hunted the Osceola subspecies before, but hunting with Ralph and Vickie was a treat. They host a popular TV hunting show, and are my favorite outdoor couple. The crossbow hunt was a first for me, and this was shaping up to be a great adventure. As soon as I arrived, I practiced with a 10 Point crossbow, and was amazed at the accuracy. It took just a few shots to develop confidence with this unique and unfamiliar hunting tool.
The next morning, Ralph and I were in a blind made of palmetto fronds. Soon after shooting light, we saw a pair of toms in the distance. That's when I saw Ralph slowly waving a tom turkey tail above our heads. He had a real outspread tail from a recently deceased turkey, and turned and twisted it gently. I'd never seen anything like it. The reaction of the two toms was amazing. They came racing in, and when they were 25 yards out, I took a shot. The arrow flew true, and I had achieved a first. It was my first tom ever with an arrow. But what happened next really blew me away. We remained in the blind, and Ralph continued to wave the tail. The second gobbler was beside himself, and carried on in a frenzy. The tail was driving him crazy. He had to see us, but it didn't matter. He was totally mesmerized with that moving tail. This went on for a full 15 minutes, and finally we rose up and walked out of the blind. The bird ran off, and I'd learned an amazing new technique.
It's called fanning, and the technique is now used among turkey hunters everywhere. Let me say, right now, that fanning can be profoundly dangerous. When you think about it, you're moving a real tom turkey tail. If you're hunting in country where there's underbrush, especially on public land, there's a risk of attracting the attention--and pellets-- of another hunter. And even if you're on private land, you don't know who's out there. Could be a trespasser or even a member of your hunting party.
I use the technique in either open cottonwood tree forests along riverbottoms, or in open ponderosa pine forests. In both cases, there's plenty of visibility. Fields and croplands that are somewhat open also offer a degree of safety.
This past spring I was hunting turkeys and fishing with my friend Barney Kicker in Montana. We had hunted birds unsuccessfully in the morning and settled in to fish for a few hours. As we relaxed in lawn chairs along a river in the cottonwood forest, we heard a turkey gobble. Barney opted to remain fishing. I grabbed my call and fan from the truck and eased through the open woods. I was wearing blue jeans, and had no camo gloves or face net. The gobbler responded to my call and I spotted him a very long way away, cavorting with a bunch of hens. I figured he was at least 250 yards away. I knew that calling him away from those ladies would probably be futile using conventional methods, so I raised the fan high over my head and waved it. As I peeked around the edge of the fan, I saw the tom look directly at me and go into a full strut. With no hesitation, he strutted toward me, gobbling all the way. leaving his hens. It took him 5 minutes to cover the distance between us, but he continued on, never breaking strut. Had I not shot him at 30 yards I believe he would have walked up to me.
I returned to Barney and continued fishing, and a couple hours later we heard another gobble. We repeated the same scenario as with my bird. Barney nailed the strutting tom nicely. This bird also left his hens to investigate the fan.
A month later, on my way home from a turkey hunt, I met up with some very dear friends,who also were hunting turkeys. I was able to visit for a while, and gave my tail fan to one of my buddies. He had never used one before. The next day he called me and was beside himself with excitement. He had "fanned" in two Tom's. Prior to that the gobblers had refused to leave their hens, which is a common problem everywhere in turkey country.
A fan is easy to make. Simply cut the tail off a gobbler, spread it out, and, with a piece of wood that's around 1 inch by 1 inch and a foot long, attach it to the lower feathers on each side with cord or a piece of wire. Again, be careful when you use it. Safety is of paramount importance.