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Opening of Illinois Deer & Turkey Expo: A story & initial takeaways

``Tom Swagger'' decoy.
Credit Dale Bowman

PEORIA — The turning fanning turkey decoy caught my eye Friday. But I walked the whole Illinois Deer & Turkey Expo, which runs through Sunday at the Peoria Civic Center, before swinging back to talk with Wade Gotter of Alive Action Decoys (Booth 613-C).

‘‘I shot my first turkey in 2011,’’ he said. ‘‘I stuffed it, made a decoy out of it and have been doing it every year since.’’

By ‘‘doing it,’’ he means going bowhunting and using his decoy system to bag turkeys.

The sideline business grew out of that experience. The 49-year-old from Livingston County works for Local 17 Heat & Frost Insulators in Chicago, so he has a knack for construction stuff.

Wade Gotter explains “Tom Swagger” decoy at the Illinois Deer & Turkey Expo at the Peoria Civic Center.
Credit: Dale Bowman

That shows in the two string-operated decoys Gotter has at the expo. The decoy with a silk fan tail is called ‘‘Tom Swagger.’’ The other is ‘‘Frankenstrut,’’ which is made from a turkey mount. Under Illinois law, you need to bring your turkey in, then Gotter may mount it before turning it into your personal ‘‘Frankenstrut.’’ He has his taxidermy license.

The uniqueness of his decoys, for which the patent is pending, spring from how they are string-operated, much like how a puppet is worked. For the string operation, he uses 65-pound braided line. For non-fishing readers, braided line doesn’t stretch like monofilament.

Also unique is how the decoys and fans oscillate, adding action options for the hunter.

The ‘‘Tom Swagger’’ sells for $300 and the ‘‘Frankenstrut’’ for $1,200.

‘‘I build every one like I am taking it to the woods,’’ he said.

To see videos of his work in action, find Alive Action Decoys on Facebook. He can be reached at (815) 672-5873.

Whitetails of North America Record Deer Display.
Credit: Dale Bowman

Here are other things that caught my eyes while wandering the show:

  • Trophy deer were just beginning to trickle in (I was there right at opening Friday) for the Trophy Deer Contest (Booths 1700-2000), but there were already several top-scoring antlers on display.
  • The Whitetails of North America Record Deer Display (Booth 917) is nearly as impressive as its name.
  • If you have any question about what deer hunting means economically to Illinois, check out some of the land prices for prime deer acreage at multiple booths related to real estate.
  • There’s the plethora of stand-bys and advances in technology related to building blinds.
  • I enjoy Morel Mania’s Wild Mushroom Hunting Info Center (Booth 811) as much for the artistry as for the information.
  • The Trail Camera Photo Display (Booth 956) is fascinating if you ever wonder what’s wandering around in the dark in the wilds.
  • If you’ve got kids, the youth archery range (Booth 114) is a must. So is the Hoverball Shooting Range (Booth 819). OK, let’s be honest: Big kids will like it, too.
  • The Illinois Conservation Police trailer (Booth 906) is always a stop for me. The Illinois Department of Natural Resources (Booth 817) focused on invasives.

Show information is at deerinfo.com/illinois-deer-turkey-expo.

Carter Stevenson shoots at Hover Ball during the Illinois Deer & Turkey Expo at Peoria Civic Center.
Credit: Dale Bowman

Follow me on Twitter @BowmanOutside.

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