Summit: Should turkey ‘fanning’ be banned in Ohio woods?

Cambridge, Ohio — Should the spring wild turkey hunting season in the five counties of Ohio’s Snowbelt region –Ashtabula, Cuyahoga, Geauga, Lake, and Trumbull – begin later than the rest of the state, say May 1?

What is your opinion concerning all-day hunting during the entire spring gobbler season?

Those were just two of many questions representatives from the Ohio DNR Division of Wildlife asked half-a-hundred invited sportsmen attending the inaugural Wild Turkey Summit held at Salt Fork State Park Lodge and Conference Center in Guernsey County.

Also in attendance were three members of the Ohio Wildlife Council: Karen Stewart-Linkhart (current chair), Larry Mixon, and Paul Mechling. About a dozen biologists and administrators from the Division of Wildlife hosted the event, including Chief Scott Zody.

“The reason for the summit was to broaden and expand our opportunities for interaction and input from sportsmen who really have a passion for a particular species,” said Zody. “For instance, past summits have focused on white-tailed deer, waterfowl, and certain sportfish, such as Lake Erie walleyes, steelhead, and catfish.”

The history of the wild turkey in Ohio is one of boom, bust, reintroduction, and recovery. Prior to settlement by Europeans, what was then known as the Ohio country was covered by primeval forest – prime turkey habitat. Possibly as many as a million wild turkeys or more may have inhabited what one day would become the Buckeye State.

But as the forest was cleared for farms and eventually towns and cities, that habitat loss, coupled with unregulated hunting, doomed the wild turkey to extirpation. The last wild bird in Ohio is believed to have been killed in Adams County in 1904.

After more than half a century without our largest game bird, the Division of Wildlife tried stocking some 1,400 game-farm turkeys during the mid-20th century.

“Which turned out to be a miserable failure…,” admitted Mike Reynolds, the wildlife biologist previously in charge of Ohio’s wild turkey management program. “The Division next tried stocking a total of just 153 wild birds from the states of Kentucky, West Virginia, Alabama, Arkansas, Missouri, and Florida, mostly during the late 1950s and early 1960s, and the flock took off from there.”

According to Ken Duren, the Division’s current head turkey biologist, Ohio’s wild turkey flock now numbers somewhere around 170,000 birds.  

“We did see a slight increase from last year,” Duren said, “but overall the population in the state is pretty stable.”

A controversial, relatively new wild turkey hunting technique that summit attendees were asked their opinion of is something known as “fanning” or “reaping.” If you are unfamiliar with the term, it involves a hunter using a fanned turkey tail to hide behind while stalking and calling a gobbler.

The technique is surprisingly effective, but, as you can imagine, extremely dangerous. Division representatives wanted to know if summit attendees favored banning the practice on public hunting lands in Ohio. The response was overwhelming: yes, ban it!

“This is a hunting tactic I have never tried and do not favor,” said attendee Josh Grossenbacher, a national turkey-calling champion and turkey-hunting expert for Ohio-based Zink Calls. “In my opinion, turkey hunting is already a dangerous sport, especially the later into the season it goes as the foliage gets thicker. Throw adrenaline and excitement into the mix, and it can very well cloud a hunter’s judgment, causing him/her to take a questionable shot. Hunters are increasing the danger by putting real turkey feathers in front of their face.”

Grossenbacher continued by saying that throughout the winter and spring months he is fortunate to talk with many younger hunters from across the country. And during the past few years, he began hearing about “reaping” or “fanning” and how effective it can be.

“It’s definitely the new craze among younger hunters,” Grossenbacher said, “due to the immediate reaction it gets from gobblers. It also takes a lot of the sitting and waiting out of the game. However, with this new trend growing fast through social media and YouTube videos, I fear that in a few years it’s going to be the main way the younger generation goes about turkey hunting. And if so, it’s only a matter of time before this leads to someone getting injured or killed. If it’s something the Division of Wildlife can nip in the bud now, I believe it will help prevent unnecessary hunting accidents in the future.”

Stay tuned, Ohio Outdoor News will continue to bring you updates about the results of Ohio’s inaugural Wild Turkey Summit. You can also comment by contacting the Division of Wildlife online (wildinfo@dnr.state.oh.us) with any suggestions or ideas you might have.

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