The third week of April a gaggle of us were on the Rosebud Sioux reservation in South Dakota hunting the reservation’s incredible population of Merriam’s turkeys. My friend Ken Byers, a media sales rep from Michigan, has been coming to the ‘bud for more than a decade and annually hosts a turkey hunt for several archery and gun industry members.

On this hunt were New Archery Products’ Brady Arview, Easton’s Gary Cornum, Hoyt’s Jeremy Eldredge, and Mark Seidlinger of Media Direct. Derrick Nawrocki and Lee Heatherington were here from Grand View Media Group, publishers of magazines like Bowhunting World, Archery Business, Whitetail Journal, and Predator Xtreme, all of which I write for and/or edit.  Ralph and Vicki Cianciarulo were also here filming an episode of their Archer’s Choice cable TV hunting show. It was a great group and lots of fun.

Once they hit the ground off the roost, these turkeys simply do not call much, and so over the years Ken has developed a radical new way of hunting them. In addition to the standard set up a blind and use decoys gig, he began “fanning” them.

“Because these birds do not call much nor do they really respond to calling all that well, we hunt them ‘Run & Gun’ style,” Byers said. “We glass them up, then do a spot & stalk sneak to get as close as we can and set up. Then one guy raises a real turkey tail fan, hides his face behind it, and slowly moves it back and forth while peeking through the feathers. The shooter is behind and slightly off to one side, hidden by brush and the fan. The fan will definitely get the gobbler’s attention, and when it flips their switch they come running right at you! It isn’t unusual to get a shot under 20 yards – and sometimes much closer.

“Oddly enough, I initially got the idea of The Fan from Ralph Cianciarulo about four years ago,” Byers said. “We kicked it around and started trying it a couple years ago. It’s become a staple for us now.”

OK. My dad was from Missouri and, like the state’s “Show Me” motto, I have to see it first to believe it. So during the week I witnessed several gobblers attack The Fan. Sometimes they did so with reckless abandon, and sometimes they just sort of worked their way closer, but closer they came.

A quick disclaimer. Like all hunting tactics, The Fan doesn’t work every time. You have to get close first. It seems like it worked best when you didn’t flash it until you were about 75 yards from the birds or closer. It also worked best on small groups of birds, those with a gobbler or three and a hen or two, and not so well on groups of, say a half dozen gobblers and three or four hens. And a time or two gobblers saw The Fan and turned and raced off the other way. But more often than not, The Fan got the gobblers into range.

Making the shot is nothing like it is when the come to a decoy and you are in a blind. You have to be able to shoot from your knees, and draw and you have to shoot relatively quickly. There is rarely enough time to use a rangefinder, unless you are able to take a few quick readings off brush or rocks or trees in the bird’s anticipated line of approach. And, of course, there are those times when the gobbler comes in at just the wrong angle, putting some sort of obstacle between you and him.

It worked for me in a slightly different manner. One afternoon Ken, Gary, Mark and I were driving along a river bordered by some agriculture when we spotted six strutters along the edge of the field. Mark volunteered to be my ‘fanner,’ so I grabbed my bow and we began slinking along the river’s edge toward the birds. The river and field were separated by a 10-yard wide strip of brush, and that allowed us to quickly cover the first 500 yards. We slowed the final hundred, easing our way toward where we could occasionally see a piece of a gobbler head or two through the brush. Though we kept looking for a place we could slip into the thick stuff close to the birds, it was just too thick, and next thing you know we’re parallel with them. Now what?

We could see, sort of, one big red head through the jumble of brush and tree branches. When Mark showed him The Fan, the big gobbler picked it up instantly. He looked and looked, but I surmise that because he couldn’t see anything but bits & pieces, he wasn’t sure what to do. There was no way to shoot him though the brush where we stood – he was all of 10 yards away – but just a step to my left, I thought perhaps I could find a small hole. Of course, making a move away from the protection of The Fan is an all or nothing gamble, so I hesitated for a moment.

But you know me. When the bird looked away for an instant I took two quick steps left, drawing my Hoyt Maxxis as I planted the last step. In one motion I centered the top pin of the Montana Black Gold sight on the bird and anchored. In that same motion the gobbler, now aware that something was amiss, took a step to his left as he prepared to accelerate. I found a hole the size of a paperback novel in the brush, lined up pin, hole, and feathers, and released.

Mark Seidlinger and I stalked to within 10 yards of 8 turkeys — 6 of them mature gobblers – before I shot this 4 ½-year old bird with my Hoyt Maxxis, Gold Tip 5575 Pro Hunter shaft, and 100-grain Swhacker broadhead.

It was wild! There were actually eight birds total, six gobblers and two hens, and at the shot all eight scattered like leaves in the wind. I was shooting a 28-inch 5575 Gold Tip Pro Hunter shaft tipped with a 100-grain Swhacker expandable. It entered the turkey just above his left hip and exited through the right wing butt, leaving a devastating hole. He ran into the field with both Mark and I giving chase, but less than 75 yards later it was over.

Can you imagine? Mark and I had just pulled off one of the most difficult of all North American bowhunting tricks – stalking a mature gobbler on the ground, getting a 10-yard shot! And there’s no doubt that The Fan paid off big for us.

Could it have been better? Oh, yes. While Mark and I were doing our thing, Ken and Gary had found another gobbler and single hen just across the field from us. They set up quickly, Ken yelped softly and fanned ‘em, and here they came. The hen strolled through a small gap in a ditch bank, so the pair correctly deduced the gobbler would follow. At under 20 yards Gary use his Maxxis to propel an Easton Axis Full Metal Jacket carbon shaft tipped with a New Archery Products Gobbler Getter head right through him.

Archers in our camp used both the 100-grain Swhacker 2-blade (top) and 100-grain New Archery Products 3-blade Gobbler Getter expandables on this hunt, all with great success.

Are you kidding me? Two 4 ½-year old gobblers taken on the ground, no blind, no help other than The Fan, at under 20 yards, less than 10 minutes apart?? Well, maybe that’s not totally true. We also had Ken Byer’s hunting skills and 10 years of experience hunting the ‘bud, neither of which are small potatoes. And the gobblers taken by shotgun hunters? Ohmygawd … In a week’s time, it was nearly a full limit of two birds each for a tick over 20 hunters.

In all, our group killed a half-dozen big gobblers with our bows in 2 ½ days. Vicki finished her archery grand slam from a blind, but the rest were taken using The Fan. And there were several more very close encounters that either just didn’t pan out or shots were missed. Yes, hard to believe, but even us industry “pros” do miss from time to time. Just like you.

Gear Used:

  • Nikon Archer’s Choice Rangefinder: I always carry this unit afield because it is easy to operate, reliable as the sunrise, and able to take a licking and keep on ticking. In addition, I hunt with the clear-as-a-bell Nikon EDG 10×42 binocular. Wouldn’t use ‘em if I didn’t think they were the best.
  • Brunton: Many hunters in camp used Brunton’s top-of-the-line Epoch binocular, both full sized and compact versions, and Eterna spotting scope, all of which performed beautifully, as well as a Brunton L3-Camo headlamp.
  • Carry-Lite Decoys: In addition to using real turkeys fans, we employed both the Carry-Lite Pretty Boy Junior Semi-Strutting Jake and Pretty Mama Feeding Hen decoys. The gobblers attached both.
  • Gold Tip Pro Hunter Shafts: Extremely straight, strong, and accurate, I’ve shot them for several years from Africa to all over North America, and really like them.
  • Hoyt Maxxis: This is one of the sweetest-shooting hunting bows I’ve had my hands on in a decade. Fast, smooth, accurate … what more can you ask for?
  • Easton ST Axis Shafts: Slim, solid, accurate, and deep penetrating, they’re worth a serious look from those who like the small-diameter arrow.
  • Knight & Hale Game Calls: Their new hammerhead box call was one of the few calls we used that cut through the wind and got the birds to respond.
  • Swhacker broadheads: This 100-grain, 2-blade expandable is strong, sharp and accurate, and what I used to kill my SD birds.
  • New Archery Products Gobbler Getter broadheads: For close-range turkey devastation, it is hard to beat these very strong and accurate 100-grain, three-blade expandables.
  • South Dakota Tourism: This is your one-stop shopping center for all things hunting and fishing in South Dakota. They can give you all the information you need to hunt on the Rosebud and the state’s many other Indian reservations, as well where to locate open hunting areas on state and federal land.