Black Ops: Beyond the Basics of Ground Blinds
November 07, 2018
I’ll admit it. I have a love/hate relationship with ground blinds. Probably, I’m assuming, for the same reason many of you have similar relationships with them. The love stems from the fact ground blinds can be as close to hunting perfection as anything can be. They’re comfortable, convenient and concealing. The dislike I feel for ground blinds comes from the claustrophobic feeling I get while inside. Suddenly, I can’t see. I can’t hear. Nothing I do seems natural.
But love ’em or hate ’em, there’s no denying ground blinds have revolutionized the way hunters pursue wild game, particularly whitetails and wild turkeys; however, not all ground blinds are created equal, nor should they be used the same way in each and every hunting scenario.
Ground blinds have their place, as with any other type of sporting equipment. The first challenge is to find a good one — not one that merely works, but one that excels in all categories, as well as one that best fits your particular hunting situation.
“You want a heavy-duty fabric that’s going to last,” said Jake Edson, public relations manager for Primos, the parent company of the well-known Double Bull line of ground blinds and innovator of the recent SurroundView 360. “The blind needs a large camouflage pattern on the exterior. If you don’t have a pattern made specifically for a large format, such as the panel of a ground blind, you tend to get a solid-color effect. The industry has gone to the hub-style blind, simply because they are the most durable and easy to set up. Then there’s dimensions and window configuration. Bowhunters, for instance, prefer a taller window; gun hunters, a narrower window.”
“What makes for a great ground blind? Ease of use, for one,” said D.J. Randolph. A North Dakotan, Randolph currently serves as the big game regional pro-staff manager for Mossy Oak in charge of North and South Dakota, Wyoming, Nebraska, Montana and Alaska.
“We’ve all been out in the dark trying to set up a ground blind. You’re trying to hurry, and things are twisted and tangled. So, ease of use is important. Durability is also an issue. I hunt a lot of open country, and we use ground blinds a lot. The ability to stand up to the wind is vital: One, so the blind will (physically) last if you leave it out for any length of time. And two, whitetails will not tolerate any ‘wind flap’ out of that blind at all. It needs to be a good sturdy blind.”
Manchester, Iowa’s Perry Peterson spends countless hours each spring under the roof of a ground blind. A regional pro-staff manager, also for Mossy Oak, Peterson handles the responsibilities for nine Midwestern states for the camouflage giant. “The hub-style blinds have really made things a lot easier in terms of packing them in and setting them up,” he said. “It’s all about ease of use. And the newer fabrics are so much quieter. The first ones that came out were noisy in the wind. They’re just a lot more user-friendly, and that’s what you’re looking for. User-friendly.”
The BIG Mistake(s)
Contrary to what some may still believe, there can be more to successfully using a ground blind than merely taking it out of the bag, popping it up and climbing inside. Where you set it, how you set it, when you set it all matter; even what you do with the blind long before it ever sees the field can make a huge difference in what happens on the outside. Or doesn’t happen.
“Honestly? If you’re setting up a blind for turkeys, it’s almost impossible to make a mistake, other than perhaps making too much noise when you’re setting it up (in the morning),” said Edson. “With whitetails, it’s a matter of putting that blind up and having them not expect it. They walk out into the open, and BOOM — they see it. It’s the first time they’ve seen it. Whitetails know exactly what their environment looks like, so if you surprise that deer with a blind, it’s probably not going to end well. Too,right out of the box, those blinds are going to hold (human) scent, simply from the manufacturing process. It’s necessary to let those blinds air out before hunting them, even if you’re brushing them in.”
A self-proclaimed fanatic when it comes to scent control, Randolph emphasizes this aspect of ground blind cleansing. “I don’t think there’s any such thing as ‘overkill’ in regard to scent elimination,” he said. “I use everything — Ozonics, sprays, Scent-Lok suits — in a ground blind. Unfortunately, a lot of people, when they get done hunting in the fall, throw their blind in the shed. Come September, they get it out and set it up. You don’t know what scent’s in that blind. Late summer or early fall, and especially if it’s a new blind, I’ll set mine up in the yard, stake them down good, and go through a full bottle of spray. I’ll let it rain on it. Get some air across it. My goal,” he continued, “is to get any human scent that’s in the blind removed before I take it into the field.”
On the matter of scent, Peterson agrees. “With a ground blind, you have to keep in mind the deer’s travel lanes — how the deer are going to approach a field or a certain portion of a field. What’s the predominant wind direction? Some hunters think scent (control) isn’t an issue with a ground blind. That they can just pop it up, and they’ll be fine. All of the factors that go into deer hunting apply in a ground blind.”
One of most common mistakes when using a ground blind is not being prepared — not doing a dry-run, a simulation of a shooting situation, per se. Prevention, thankfully, is simple, and involves little more than the aforementioned dry run.
“I see it all the time,” said Randolph, “and especially with new hunters. They get in the blind, break into their backpack, and start spreading stuff all over. Then they find out all that stuff’s in their way when it comes time to shoot. You have to have your area clear. And you have to know where stuff is. Where’s my rangefinder, for instance?
“With archers,” he continued, “it’s not clearing the windows properly. I see a lot of blinds with holes in them because (the hunter) didn’t clear his or her sight window. I get in the blind, get my gear set, and go from window to window asking myself — will this one work? Will this one work? That way when the time comes, it’s already taken care of.”
Ground Blinds: Turkeys
When it comes to turkeys and ground blinds, the consensus is unanimous. It’s difficult to set up a blind incorrectly. Why something with unimaginable eyesight can’t see a 150-cubic-foot box sitting in the middle of a plowed bean field or short-grass pasture is a mystery; however, it happens time and time again.
“I think you could put (a blind) out in the middle of a parking lot, and turkeys wouldn’t pay any attention to it,” laughed Peterson. “We’ve watched turkeys fly up to roost at night, put a ground blind up in the exact spot where they left the ground, and they’ll pitch right to it the next morning.”
Peterson continued, “Your guess is as good as mine. I think they’re so lost in the spring mating season that if they see a decoy or two, that big square box is the last thing they worry about.” Movement from within the blind, Peterson said, raises red flags, just as it would if the hunter were seated on the ground against a tree. The blind itself? Not really an issue for the turkey hunter.
Ground Blinds: Whitetails
Unlike turkeys, whitetails are an entirely different story in terms of ground blinds. “A turkey won’t bat an eye (at a blind),” said Edson. “It doesn’t register. Deer, given the same scenario, are going to be hesitant around something new, like a blind.” Peterson agrees. “Deer are on high alert constantly,” he said. “They’re in the same area day after day, and if even one small thing, like a blind, is different, it’s going to bother them.”
The North Dakotan is on the same page. “It’s just the nature of the whitetail,” said Randolph. “They know their environment, and immediately know when something is out of place.”
But Randolph contends there’s a bit more to it than that. “It’s not unusual,” he said, “to see very different reactions, depending on the deer in that particular area. We hunt a wildlife refuge that only sees pressure during hunting season. Those deer are incredibly skittish. If you’re going to hunt a ground blind there, you have to spend a lot of time ensuring it blends in.”
Randolph continued, “Use the shadows. You have to hide it, and still, the deer will bust you a lot of time. But we go out into the farmland where deer are accustomed to seeing equipment moving around, or ranchland where there are constantly hay bales coming and going, and while those deer are still suspicious, they’re a lot more forgiving than the true wilderness deer.”
So, if the element of surprise in terms of a blind suddenly popping up overnight has a negative effect on deer and, understandably, other big game animals, is there an answer for how to hide the box? “We’re at least a month to six weeks out when we’re putting up blinds for Iowa’s youth deer season,” said Peterson. “That’s the middle of September, so you’re looking at setting blinds around the first of August. The big thing now, at least for us here in the Midwest, is the round hay bale blinds. In farm country like we hunt, you can get away with setting one of those up a couple weeks before the season. They just get used to them quicker. They’re more deer-friendly.”
When targeting whitetails, hunters will brush blinds. Tuck them away under cover of shadows. Even employ an agricultural ruse in the form of a cordura and fiberglass hub hay bale. Randolph, however, takes a lesson from the turkey hunters’ playbook, and creates a visual distraction; something to distract a buck’s attention. “Something I do out here in this open country,” he said, “is I use (deer) decoys. If you have a blind on a field edge, and you know deer are going to be focused on it, a decoy set 30 yards into the field is going to hold their attention much more so than the blind.”
Randolph also believes decoys calm deer. “It (the decoy) makes them less nervous, and it draws their attention away.” How the decoys are used, said Randolph, really depends on the timing and the situation. “During the rut, I’ll use a larger full-sized buck decoy and a smaller doe, and I’ll set those up with the buck trailing behind the doe by a few feet.”
Randolph continued, “I’ve even used a similar set up with Montana Decoy silhouette decoys, with good success. Unless it’s during the rut, I’ll always use just a buck decoy because one, does tend to avoid and ignore it. And with the exception of the peak of the rut, the biggest attraction for that decoy is the aggression factor. The hunched back. Hair standing on end. Ears back. And when you get him in that mode, you can get by with a lot of mistakes.”
The Kid Factor
Shhhhhhhhhhh. I’ll let you in on a secret. You want to know the biggest plus to ground blinds? Kids. Young hunters. New hunters. Hunters with physical challenges that make it tough, if not impossible, to get around in the places where turkeys and whitetails live.
Everything a ground blind is — roomy, comfortable, portable, convenient, and extremely effective from a concealment standpoint — makes it the perfect hidey-hole for that fidgety 10-year-old. The novice who simply doesn’t understand what “you can’t move” really means. Or a disabled vet who’s come to terms with a disability and still loves to hunt.
“Kids and ground blinds just go together,” said Randolph. “These blinds forgive a lot of mistakes. Just put one up a couple weeks ahead of time, climb in, and your focus is then on the young person.” Peterson agrees: “It is a match made in heaven,” he said. “It’s the only way to hunt with kids, especially the really young ones. You can take a backpack full of stuff for them to do in there, and keep them busy for three or four hours.”
Edson agrees, “A ground blind is an amazing way to get kids involved in hunting. You’re out of the weather. It helps conceal the inevitable movement. It helps somewhat by muffling sound, so you can talk to the kids throughout the event. With kids, ground blinds are an invaluable asset.”
FOUR GREAT GROUND BLINDS
Redneck Bale Blind
These full-size bale style blinds are the Taj Mahal of ground blinds. Set them up, leave them up, and hunt well-hidden in absolute comfort. Fantastic for kids; ideal for hosting hunters with disabilities. 100 pounds.
$500 | Redneckblinds.com
The Distorter’s unique shape eliminates the boxy unnatural silhouette common to most ground blinds. And with a 104 x 84 inch footprint, there’s plenty of room for three, plus gear. 20 pounds.
$229 | Ameristep.com
Primos Double Bull SurroundView 360
“The blind without a blind spot.” Four one-way see-through walls provide 360 degrees of visibility. Almost 150 cubic feet of interior space means ample elbow room. 23 pounds.
$499 | Primos.com
Cabela’s ZONZ Specialist XL
The ZONZ Specialist XL measures a full 88 inches inside from hub to hub, making it the perfect choice for archers. Eight windows provide exceptional visibility and expanded vertical and horizontal shooting platforms. 25 pounds.
$180 | Cabelas.com