If the term “turkey reaping” evokes images of a black-cloaked grim reaper armed with a scythe, you’re not entirely incorrect. Swap that scythe for a turkey decoy like the one made by Primos called a Chicken on a Stick, and the end result might just be the most adrenaline-fueled wild bird hunt in America.
Guns.com explores the craze that’s sweeping turkey fields, offers decoy suggestions, and tips for a safe and successful reaping experience.
What is Turkey Reaping?
Turkey reaping is one of several names for the practice of stalking wild turkeys behind a decoy. This method of hunting is also known by a less wild-sounding name: fanning. At its most basic, the hunter is both hiding behind a mock strutting turkey’s tail – or fan – and also advancing toward the prey.
In an ideal situation, not only does this practice allow the hunter to cross relatively open terrain towards a male wild turkey, but in many cases the gobbler will view the interloper as an intruder and advance toward the concealed hunter. The ensuing encounter, with a thundering tom turkey charging at a prone hunter behind a decoy, often ends up with close-range shots and a certain pulse increase.
Though we’ll get more into this later, turkey reaping can be a dangerous way to hunt, and not only because an angry turkey with large spurs is coming your way. More importantly, there’s a very real danger of other hunters mistaking you, the reaper, for an actual bird. The utmost caution must always be used.
What is the Chicken on a Stick?
Primos has their finger on the heartbeat of fanatical hunters as lovers of realistic and practical decoys. Their Chicken on a Stick is specifically designed for turkey reaping, meaning the deke is built with both a handle and a gun rest.
A two-piece polymer stake doubles as the handle and ensures the unit can be easily packed and quickly assembled in the field. A silk fan resembling that of a juvenile jake is included, but the company also ships along a fan clamp for those hunters who may wish to use actual turkey feathers to make and attach their own tail.
The decoy’s head is surprisingly realistic, showing off the vibrant reds and whites of an excited gobbler. The jake’s stubby beard adds to the realism. Knowing how exciting these hunts can be, Primos also includes an integral camera mount as part of the handle so hunters can easily attach their chosen action camera. This Primos gem sells for under $60 and can be used as a regular strutting decoy as well in a standard hunting spread.
As exciting as turkey reaping or fanning may sound, before even considering embarking on this type of hunt, first consider safety. Turkey reaping should only be performed on private land. Public lands mean there’s a real possibility of other hunters being in the vicinity. A hunter who is “fanning” is actually concealed directly behind the head and tail of a decoy that looks like an awfully realistic wild turkey.
While no ethical hunter should ever be shooting at something that's not 100-percent verified as the correct quarry, do not – I repeat, do not – ever put yourself in the position where you may be turkey reaping with any other hunters around. Every reaping decoy will have a similar warning on the package.
Why Turkey Reaping?
Why would you want to consider something as crazy sounding as turkey reaping? Well, at a time when many gobbler chasers are using extra-super-duper long-range chokes and specialty ammunition engineered to bag birds at insane distances, reapers are experiencing turkey hunting up close and personal. Once you’re certain the area is indeed safe for turkey reaping, prepare yourself for one of the most thrilling ways to bust a wild turkey.
While reaping or fanning can be used as a target method of hunting when the terrain is mostly open fields or grasslands, we consider fanning to be more than a sole focus. Rather, it’s another tool in the hunter’s bag of tricks. If we’ve been set up all morning calling unsuccessfully to a particular dominant Tom who won’t leave his hens, we might just reach into the vest pocket and go for the Chicken on a Stick. Reaping is a technique worth learning and practicing.
Turkey Reaping Decoy Options
In addition to our chosen Chicken on a Stick, there are numerous other dekes on the market from proven companies like Mojo, Montana Decoy, and, of course, Primos. Another solid option is to make your own “reaping fan” by using the tail feathers of a previously harvested jake or tom turkey and attaching a makeshift handle. Some hunters even choose to use a full-body turkey, but that can be heavy, bulky, and make taking the shot more difficult. Having a staked bottom to the decoy allows the hunter to plant the cover, keeping both hands free for the shot.
Considerations for Turkey Reaping
If adding a bit more adrenaline to your next hunt sounds like a good idea, then perhaps learning reaping techniques is right up your alley. Here are some considerations before you set out:
Safety first! We’ll say it again. Ensure you’re the only hunter in the area. If not, then do not proceed.
Always ensure that turkey reaping is legal in your area.
Practice not only crawling behind your chosen decoy, but shooting behind it as well. It’s one thing to shoot that magnum turkey shotgun from the seated position in the woods. It’s another challenge to do that from your stomach, in a field, through grass, when your heart is pounding.
Think about investing in an action camera. Primos’ Chicken on a Stick decoy actually has a built-in mount for a camera.
Realize that even though reaping sounds foolproof, it does not always work. Such is hunting. Turkey reaping seems to get the best results during the spring mating season when toms have two things on the brain – loving and fighting –and you appear to be challenging them to a fight.
Be prepared for what could be a very close shot. If you’re using a full or extra full choke, you better be right on the money. When close reaping is the goal, consider a slightly more open choke or at least pattern the gun well in advance to know what to expect.
Dress for success. If you have practiced crawling prone behind a fan decoy, you’ve likely found every hidden rock and thorn along the way. Wear leather-palmed gloves and heavy enough clothing to keep yourself comfortable yet light enough not to overheat while going Rambo on gobblers.