Jason Brown (left) shoots video of former Miss Kansas Theresa Vail, who is using a turkey hunting technique called “fanning” during a 2014 hunt.

You are watching: You are turkey hunting. why should you avoid using tail-fanning techniques?

The Wichita Eagle | File 2014

The hottest way to hunt turkeys during the spring gobbler season is a technique called “fanning” that is just beginning to catch on in Virginia.

“It works. You ought to see them coming,” said Michael Pauley, an accomplished turkey hunter who lives Botetourt County. “You literally have to shoot in self defense.”

The technique involves using a fanned turkey tail, or imitation, to conceal your approach while stalking a gobbler. A dominant tom often will see the tail approaching and think competition is moving in on his harem. That can spark an aggressive response.

The fan-to-your-face method could get you a gobbler, but it also could get you shot by a hunter who thinks he is seeing a turkey, say opponents of the technique. The tactic goes against the traditional advice that says let a gobbler come to you, don’t try to stalk him at close range.

The Department of Game and Inland Fisheries has issued a brief video on the hazards of fanning. There has been one hunting-related fatality that the DGIF credits to fanning. It occurred on private land three years ago when the victim was struck by a blast from a shotgun fired by his companion. The accident is believed to be the first of its kind in the nation.

“I certainly hope we don’t ever have another fatality due to fanning, but I think we are in a worse situation than most states as we allow rifles in the spring,” said Gary Norman, DGIF turkey biologist.

The National Wild Turkey Federation has advised its members not to get caught up in what it considers a dangerous hunting practice. The technique is illegal in Pennsylvania.

The DGIF Bureau of Wildlife Resources recently recommended to the agency’s board members that fanning be outlawed in Virginia, but a five-member subcommittee failed to advance the request to the full board. Fanning will remain legal when the spring gobbler season opens Saturday.

Pauley, who has bagged a turkey representing all sub-species in the United States and Mexico, sees the technique as another tool in the bag of a spring gobbler hunter. He has been using the technique since 2008, and has learned that success can depend on how you tilt and turn the fan to communicate with the turkey.

“You don’t have to use it every time,” he said. “I don’t recommend it on national forest land or wooded, steep terrain.”

It is designed to be used in open areas, he said. It can provide a distinct advantage to a hunter confronted with a gobbler surrounded by hens and won’t budge an inch toward a call.

Under the cover of a fan or other device, a hunter can elbow-crawl closer to his target. But there is more than concealment involved. Seeing the fan can spark aggression in a gobbler, a creature that is instinctively wary. That has Norman wondering if fanning is more than just a safety issue, but also an ethical one.

Many fanners use the spread tail feathers from a turkey they killed, but commercial enterprises rapidly are producing equipment for fanning. It includes bigger than life artificial fans; umbrellas featuring high-definition turkey pictures; decoys on sticks that have a built in gun rest and mini camera; fans that attach to gun barrels or the head of a hunter.

Some major hunting equipment outlets don’t carry the gear, but it can be found in specialty catalogs and online. It has become quite the rage among young hunters who see it as replacing Granddad’s docile “sit still and don’t move” way of gobbler hunting with a new action-packed approach.

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