If you’re a hunter, one of the most anticipated sounds of spring is the thunderous gobble of a mature tom turkey. Whether from a comfortable chair in a ground blind or bundled up in camo seated on a cushion, back against a large tree, the winter-weary wild turkey hunter has a front-row seat when the woodlands come alive at dawn. For decades, spring turkey hunting involved picking a spot and setting up a shop, often with a decoy or two 20 yards away to attract attention. The hunter would call seductively, trying to imitate a hen to lure a bearded bird into range.

a turkey decoy to attact turkeys
A picture of a turkey decoy. We can use decoys to attact turkeys' attention. 

Aggressive Tactics on Turkey Hunting

While that tactic still produces plenty of toms and jakes each season, the past decade has seen an explosion in more aggressive tactics, many of them involving multiple moves and hiding or sneaking behind a fanned-out gobbler decoy, or even a real turkey fan on a stake. Whether you call it scoot-n-shoot, turkey reaping, fanning, or any other name, the premise is the same: using an optical illusion to get within range of a tom or Jake. It can be deadly effective, but the practice has come under fire recently, raising some real hunter-safety and ethical concerns. In fact, with turkey populations on the decline in several states, some have called to outlaw the practice. 

Hunters who’ve done it successfully say it’s exciting and offers an opportunity to get at birds that otherwise aren’t willing to come into range. In my 30-plus years of hunting wild turkeys all over Wisconsin, I’ve seen my share of “unkillable” gobblers that always seemed to stay a step ahead. Most of the time, our impatience usually foils a good set-up. The view from here? Use whatever tactic you’re comfortable with on private property, as long as it’s legal and you believe safe. On public land, I would be extremely wary of doing any type of “sneak” hunting. Hunting call and decoy-shy farm country turkeys can be frustrating. If the birds don’t fly down and strut or feed past your location, you might look at a long day staring at a flock hundreds of yards away. 

Use Fans to Attract Shy Gobblers

Fanning has soared in popularity recently, but some hunters have quietly used fans to attract shy gobblers for many years. Heck, it’s likely even that Native Americans used the tactic to help cover their sneaks. I’ve attracted toms and jakes with real fans for years, sometimes holding them in my hand and other times walking one ahead of me on a stake while belly-crawling in an ag field. Suppose there are birds way out in an open field. In that case, I simply stick the fan out of heavy woodland cover (in a spot where I’m 100 percent sure no one else is hunting) and make it rise and fall. A pirouette, and finally — when the target bird spots it and shows some interest — pull it back into cover and use a gobble call or soft hen sounds. The goal is to try to imitate a tom showing off to hens inside the woods and either attract subordinate toms or tick off the boss gobbler.

Whether waiting for the birds to come or getting aggressive and cutting the distance between the cover and the birds lounging in the field, one of three things typically happens. Your target bird might slowly move closer, literally pecking his way toward you while stopping to fan now and then; he might bolt if he (or any of the rest of the group) spots or hears something that’s not quite right; or he might come charging in, giving you just enough time to get the safety off and line up the sights for the shot.

Whether you use a commercial product or a real tail is your preference. Both will work. I prefer the real thing, at times combined with a lifelike decoy cutout body. If you have a short walk, the real decoy isn’t much to carry. But if you’re like me, and you might be covering a lot of ground, a plain tail folded up and carried in a quiet bag or turkey vest works fine. As for the push to get the practice banned in some states, wildlife managers have plenty of tools to restrict harvest if deemed necessary. But my experience is that turkeys — when the winter’s not severe, and spring isn’t too cold and wet — easily recruit enough youngsters into the population to make it sustainable.

Successful turkey hunting
Wild turkey wall display

Shoot-N-Scoot Turkey Hunting

I’ve read opinion pieces that scoot-n-shoot hunting hurts turkey populations because the “breeding gobbler” was removed, and the hens wouldn’t allow the “satellite” toms and jakes to breed them. I’m no biologist, but I don’t believe that’s true.

Today most of my hunting is in Wisconsin’s Zone 2, an area with heavy turkey hunting pressure (and plenty of hunters employing the latest tactics, including fanning). While there may be year-to-year fluctuations — up and down — due to nesting success and winter severity, I’ve seen no major change in numbers from the past decade. But that’s just my little corner of the world. What’s it like in your area? I’d love to hear from you. Please leave your views in the comments section.


Kevin Naze

Outdoor writer and guide Kevin Naze has been hunting wild turkeys in Wisconsin for more than three decades, from the coulee country to the Northwoods and from central Wisconsin oak forests to the vast swamps and farm country of the Kewaunee/Door County Peninsula.


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February 02, 2024 — Kevin Naze
Tags: Hunting Tips

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