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Rich Landers: Turkey hunting technique tests ethics, risks safety

Thu., May 8, 2014

In this April 11, 2014 photo, Theresa Vail, Miss Kansas, shoots through a gobbler decoy's feathers during filming of a television hunting series called "Limitless," to air on the Outdoors Channel next year. (AP/Michael Pearce)
In this April 11, 2014 photo, Theresa Vail, Miss Kansas, shoots through a gobbler decoy's feathers during filming of a television hunting series called "Limitless," to air on the Outdoors Channel next year. (AP/Michael Pearce)

An old technique of hiding behind a gobbler decoy to stalk wild turkeys is being revived – much to the dismay of hunter safety educators.

Native Americans, for example, camouflaged themselves with the horns and skins of buffalo to stalk bison. The tactic’s effectiveness was all that was important for Indians hunting to survive.

But sportsmen have more to consider.

A local sportsman’s club last week posted on Facebook a decoy company’s video hyping the “scoot-n-shoot” technique. The response caught my attention. Some hunters seemed to think sneaking and hiding behind the fanned-out tail of a realistic gobbler decoy was acceptable, at least on private land.

One hunter said a friend used the tactic in this area this season with good results.

I took a harder line, commenting that the technique was dangerous and that the company distributing such videos should be held accountable for the bad example they were teaching kids, as well as promoting poor shot selection.

The videos show hunters rising from behind a gobbler decoy’s fanned tail and shooting running toms, sometimes as close as 10 feet or less.

Ethical hunters strive to be undetected so a steady, clean shot can be made at a standing gobbler’s head from a distance optimum for shot placement.

But the video brazenly shows hunters missing turkeys at ranges so close their shot pattern spreads only about 3 inches.

In several cases, the hunters rise from the decoy, spooking the incoming gobblers at close range and then taking running shots, with poor results. Multiple shots are fired and in some cases the fleeing or flying birds must be killed with body shots.

An ethical hunter rarely has to worry about a pellet in the turkey breast he serves at the table. Not so in these cases.

But my sentiments about this technique were countered on Facebook immediately by local hunter Dave Burdge, who saw the video differently.

“Just how does this promote poor shots?” he posted. “Perhaps parents should be more mindful of what their children are watching on the Web. … If you don’t want to use this technique, fine, but don’t look down your nose at other hunters that do …”

His final jab: “I would be more open-minded of your view if you were qualified to make such an opinion.”

Kapow. Indeed, maybe being a parent and five decades of hunting experience doesn’t qualify me to have an opinion on scoot-n-shoot hunting, or “fanning” as some call it.

So, in the spirit of hunter education, I sent the link for a Mojo Outdoors scoot-n-shoot decoy video to five people who are indisputably qualified and asked for their reaction.

Steve Hall, executive director of the International Hunter Education Association, said a hunter in the field must look at shooting from the offensive perspective – be sure of your target – as well as the defensive.

“Our stance has always been don’t wear anything resembling animals that are being hunted, especially on public land.”

He cites examples of Texas hunters shooting a man in dark clothing after mistaking him for a hog, and the 19-year-old Kansas hunter who was hiding in a goose decoy when he was shot by a drive-by shooter.

Missouri was a leading state in compiling data on causes for turkey hunting accidents, said Hall, who’s been analyzing hunter accident stats for more than three decades. By pointing out dangerous practices – such as wearing red, white or blue colors and sneaking up to the sound of calling turkeys – hunter safety educators have dramatically reduced turkey hunting accidents in the past decade.

“The safe practices we teach are usually borne from empirical data,” Hall said. “In the case of turkey fanning, I must say we haven’t collected any, yet.

“Do I have evidence against it? No. Would I promote it or do it myself? Heck no.”

Jimmy Parman of Newman Lake, voted Washington’s hunter safety educator of the year in 2013, said he hasn’t directly addressed fanning tactics.

“It never occurred to me that anyone would be dumb enough to do this,” he said. “I’ll be talking about this with my students from now on.”

Defending the tactic as OK in a “safety zone” of private land doesn’t hold water, Parman said:

“Every landowner will tell you he’s dealt with trespassers and poachers.”

Dave Murphy, veteran Spokane turkey hunter and former Primos pro-staffer, said, “This is new to turkey hunting and I really don’t think those who made up the safety recommendations ever saw this coming.

“What if someone breaking the law was to shoot a rifle, say 200 yards away, at that fan? Do you really want your face right behind it?

“I don’t like the idea at all!” said Murphy, who’s promoted safe use of gobbler decoys and calls. “I have not and will not encourage anyone to do it.

“Put your back to a tree and put your decoy out in front of you. In that way you can hopefully see anyone sneaking in on your decoy and the tree protects your back.”

Leonard Wolf, veteran local sportsman who hunts mostly on private land, is less judgmental.

“As a seasoned and experienced turkey hunter who regularly takes out novice hunters and spends over 20 days annually in search of long beards, mostly for others as an unpaid guide, I would compare these Mojo products to automobiles and drivers,” he said. “A souped-up sports car in the hands of a skilled driver on an appropriate course could be safe while it would be dangerous on public streets or in the hands of an amateur, he said.

“I would never suggest (scoot-n-shoot) be used by novice hunters and NEVER on public land!” he said.

“I can see where these decoys might appeal to an inexperienced hunter, and if that were to occur and these decoys were used incorrectly under the wrong conditions, I see no evidence of guilt on the part of the manufacturer, nor would I place any blame on them.”

He points out that beneath the photo of a scoot-n-shoot gobbler decoy with a fully fanned tail and engorged red head, the Mojo Outdoors webpage warns that the product should be used “only in very controlled hunting areas.”

Tom Hughes, National Wild Turkey Federation assistant vice president and wildlife biologist who’s helped prepare the organization’s safety materials, condemns fanning.

“I consider it an extreme form of stalking turkeys, and we’ve already affirmed that stalking turkeys is unsafe and a bad idea.”

After years of studying data, Hughes said the NWTF had a “strong belief that the traditional method of sitting in place and calling a turkey, moving as needed to new locations, is safer and more successful than sneaking methods.”

His last word on scoot-n-shoot: “I can’t really think of a better way to assure that someone’s going to get shot while turkey hunting.”

Contact Rich Landers at (509) 459-5508 or email

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