A few years ago, a hunting companion of mine fractured his ankle before spring turkey season. Not wanting to sacrifice the season, we tried to figure out a way to get him into the woods on opening day, but in a cast and crutches it was going to be a challenge.
Another friend suggested a portable ground blind.
“You can set it up anywhere,” he said. “They’re roomy and Dan should be quite comfortable.”
It seemed like the answer to our prayers, so we went down to the local department store and purchased a blind measuring 68 inches square at the base and 68 inches high. We figured the blind would offer ample room for both of us, and its large wheelchair-accessible doors would allow easy access for Dan and his artificial “legs.”
After some deliberation, we decided to hunt a field about a mile from where I live. Pre-season scouting had revealed a popular roosting spot in a stand of hardwoods on the bordering east-facing ridge, and on more than one occasion I had observed birds, including several adult gobblers, strutting in the field just after sunup.
The area was easy to access and seemed like the perfect spot. Hoping to give local birds time to acclimate to its presence, I erected the blind about a week before the opener just inside the wood line where Dan would have good shooting lanes into the field.
To make a long story short, just after sunrise on opening day, Dan and I heard the birds leave the roost on the ridge behind us, and within an hour after our arrival, Dan had a nice 19-pound gobbler with a full 10-inch beard on the ground. Two days later, I took a tom from the same blind that could have been its twin.
Needless to say, I was impressed, but I became a firm believer in the advantages of hunting from blinds the next spring after Dan and I again doubled on gobblers using the blind.
This past spring, my brother, Dave, purchased his own blind after witnessing our success and we all filled our tags. You could say we are now full-fledged blind converts and I have no doubt my free-standing portable is one of the best turkey-hunting investments I have ever made. It’s improved my success to the point that I rarely leave home during the spring gobbler season without my “doghouse” in the truck.
CONCEALMENT IS THE KEY
Hunters who are consistently successful in the game will tell you an important key to taking gobblers, especially educated old toms, is concealment. Most hunters back up against a stump, tree or other backdrop and remain motionless in a prepared shooting position. The idea is to break up your silhouette and to blend in with natural surroundings.
Even so, the exposed hunter can sometimes be a little too obvious to approaching birds, but blinds offer total concealment. When it comes to bagging spring gobblers, my experiences have rarely been textbook perfect. There always seems to be at least one or two inquisitive hens on watch, and on more than one occasion I get caught moving at the worst possible moment and inevitably pay the price.
I know better, but turkeys also seem to possess X-ray vision, and at the least have an uncanny ability to detect human presence no matter how much we strive to do everything right.
Blinds eliminate all the uncertainties by hiding the human silhouette from view. That is a major advantage not only for bowhunters but for shotgun hunters, even those capable of sitting like a stone for an hour, because at some point they must move, or things don’t go as planned.
Blinds are especially useful for hunters like me who lack the discipline to sit perfectly still for long periods of time.
Bowhunters find portable blinds indispensable because they make it possible to rise and draw without being seen.
Blinds also offer another advantage. During the four years I have used them almost exclusively during the spring season, I have noticed that turkeys seem to be oblivious to the presence of a well-placed blind. They may be curious at first, but they quickly dismiss the threat and soon ignore a blind completely. This opens the door to various hunting areas that otherwise might not be possible to hunt any other way.
BLIND BUT NOT DEAF!
The turkey’s keen eyesight is legendary, a fact many hunters learn the hard way, but their hearing is also a primary asset against predators and impending danger. Turkeys are not ignorant or oblivious to sounds that may come from a blind. These birds are always on the alert. Once, while sitting in a blind with birds 20 yards away, I accidentally shuffled my feet in dry leaves and they immediately dispersed. For this reason, I take a few minutes to clear away dry leaves, twigs or other debris that might cause alarm after erecting a blind.
The same is true when it comes to sitting in a blind: Get comfortable and plan ahead for the long haul. I used to sit on the ground when I first started using blinds, but doing so became uncomfortable in many situations and I found myself moving or shifting periodically at inopportune times. Sitting on the ground also failed to provide the best shooting angle, or even restricted me from taking aim in some cases.
I now use a portable camping chair made of canvas with an aluminum frame, complete with backrest. It is light and easy to transport, quiet and comfortable, allowing me to sit practically motionless as long as necessary. Equally important, it positions me higher off the ground, increasing my shooting options. Set at a slight angle, the chair permits me to rest my shotgun across my knees, allowing me to lift and aim in a single upward motion, minimizing movement. Other than the blind, the chair is one of the best new hunting investments I have made.
WHICH BLIND IS BEST?
The best blind is one that hides the hunter from his quarry but does not hinder his movements while observing game or preparing to shoot. Fortunately, most made-for-hunting blinds on the market today meet these basic requirements. Also, they are easy and quick to erect, and once you get the hang of it, easy to take down, stow in their carrying case and tote from site to site.
It is important that a blind offer ample room for your style of hunting. Blinds 60 to 68 inches square allow plenty of elbowroom for taking aim or drawing bows and are sufficient for one person and his gear. Smaller versions are available but can be too restrictive over long periods. For two hunters, a bli
nd that is 78 inches or even 80 inches square would be more than adequate.
A blind should also have plenty of head space. In most cases, aiming and shooting takes place from a sitting position, but at times it is necessary to kneel or stand, especially with a bow, and the best blind should be big enough to allow those options. It is best and most convenient to go no larger than necessary.
In most cases, the shape of the blind is irrelevant. Some are domed or square, while others are teepee or pyramid shaped.
Some thought should be given to the blind’s exterior design and color. While turkeys seem to ignore familiar blinds, at first the birds will be curious, so a camouflage pattern that blends in with the natural surroundings is best.
Fortunately, modern portables are offered in most popular patterns, so take your pick. Some blinds come with “leaf-relief” edging to help break up their silhouette, but the important point is to pick one with a color or camouflage pattern that best matches the natural cover being hunted.
A good blind should have windows or shooting ports on all four sides that can be opened or adjusted to the situation at hand. As a rule, I usually have the window facing the primary shooting area (facing the decoys, food plot, etc.) open only enough to allow good visibility and unhampered shooting, and the side windows open just enough, perhaps an inch or two, to allow some peripheral visibility. Keep in mind, however, that the more windows left open the more light entering the blind, increasing the odds for detection by approaching game.
The light problem may be reduced, however, if the blind is equipped with a dark inner shell, sometimes referred to as a “shadow guard” or “scent guard.” Most of these “guards” are made of charcoal-impregnated cloth similar to the popular scent-eliminating clothing.
Unlike deer, turkeys lack olfactory senses, but the black inner lining is equally important in spring because it greatly reduces light reflecting into the blind, keeping the interior dark and eliminating shadows.
Keeping side windows closed or opening them to a minimum helps restrict light penetration. Whenever they are open, no matter how little, side windows should be equipped with mesh screening, which generally comes as standard equipment. The screening allows hunters to see out but limits light, shadows and reflections. In any event, camouflage clothing should be considered a must, and if the morning sun is shining directly into the shooting window, a facemask should be considered.
Window flaps should have tie-downs to prevent them from flapping in the breeze, which may draw the attention of incoming game.
BLIND LOCATION & TACTICS
One of the things I truly like about hunting from blinds is they can be used in any type of habitat or situation. They work well in open as well as wooded areas, with decoys and with calls, may be dismantled quickly and moved with relative ease, and set up quickly with little noise near roosting areas — wherever and however turkeys are hunted by more traditional means.
Hunters still have to do their pre-season and day-to-day homework, scouting roosting sites, looking for strut zones, feeding areas and so forth, but once the birds are patterned, a blind will reduce the time it takes to put a bird in the freezer.
Two prime places to use blinds are near strutting zones, areas where gobblers will fly down each morning from the roost or travel to at some point each day to attract hens, and feeding areas. Strutting zones are usually identified by disturbed pine needles or leaves, broken feathers or droppings, and in some high active areas a clearly-defined figure 8 pattern may be seen on the forest floor, created by the gobbler as he drags his wings while strutting.
These highly productive areas could be along the edge of an open field or in one high corner of a field, a secluded spot along a river or creek bottom, on a hardwood ridge or on a shelf halfway up a mountain. It could be anywhere, but it is a place where gobblers go each day where they feel safe and comfortable as they can strut their stuff for admiring hens.
The challenge is to locate enough of these areas to have multiple options on opening day, which calls for plenty of time in the woods. It helps to remember that gobblers have one thing on their mind each spring, and while it is not unusual for them to maintain five or six strut zones, eastern slopes and areas exposed to full sun are favorite sites early in the morning.
Keep in mind, too, that gobblers usually visit a particular strut zone at about the same time each day. I find many of my strut zones by riding around and glassing fields and open ridges a week or so before opening day. When I spot birds, I make a note of it and check the site each day about the same time to see if a pattern develops. Once I see a pattern, I scout on foot, looking for the best place to establish my blind.
Mating is their reason for living during the spring season, but gobblers still have to eat and drink at some point during the day, and this is particularly true of hens. Look for birds around any water source, open hay and agricultural fields, hardwood ridges or wherever mast is available. Food and sex, not necessarily in that order, is what life is all about for spring gobblers.
Once the locations of several strut zones and feeding areas are known, it is possible to set up in one spot, and if there is no action or another hunter moves in, you can quickly dismantle the blind and move on to an alternate spot. This run-and-gun tactic works well, but the key is in knowing the approximate “active” time of each area.
When birds have been patterned and I have decided where to hunt opening day, I prefer to get my blind set a few days ahead of time. While portable blinds don’t seem to bother turkeys most of the time, I believe getting a blind set up early is the best way to go. This is not always possible, especially when hunting public land, but doing so gives the birds time to get used to the blind’s presence.
Turkeys are not ignorant or oblivious to sounds that may come from a blind. These birds are always on the alert.
While modern portables blend in rather well, it pays to take advantage of natural cover. Instead of setting up in an open field in plain view, it is far better to tuck the blind inside the field edge, ideally surrounded by some ground cover. Hedgerows, the back side of stone walls (especially where there is some natural cover), or next to stacked hay bales are good places to start. In wooded areas or near water sources, setting up beneath overhanging limbs or in bramble thickets is better than setting up in the open. Use what cover is available, keeping in mind that the more natural a blind appears, the better your odds for success.
Another highly productive tactic is to set up near roosting birds. Two things are important here: locating roosted birds and getting set up before daylight without making your presence known. To
make things easier, practice setting up your blind in the dark before the season opens.
Just as important is being familiar with how to dismantle and stow your blind in case you need to move to a new spot in a hurry.
Today’s portable ground blinds are one of the best investments the spring turkey hunter can make. Their many advantages easily outweigh the expense and aggravation of owning one, and using a blind will definitely increase your success rate this season.