April 12, 2018
Spring turkey hunting can be a tough row to hoe, particularly in highly pressured areas where gobblers have a couple spring hunting seasons under their beards.
The biggest challenge for most is overcoming the turkey's eyesight. I can think of any number of superlatives to describe it, but let's just say it's nothing less than phenomenal and has undoubtedly been the downfall of many hunts.With that said, we need all the edge we can get. One of the best is a portable hunting blind.
BENEFITS OF A BLIND
No matter how well camouflaged from head to toe, no matter how much stealth and tact we put forth, turkeys have an uncanny ability to detect even the slightest movement or noise.
The biggest benefit of hunting from a ground blind is that blinds offer total concealment and are forgiving of human mistakes, especially of the slight movements and noise that often blow a hunt, whether that movement involves drawing a bow, preparing to discharge a shotgun or stretching and adjusting back and leg muscles. While blinds do not completely nullify a gobbler's keen eyesight and hearing, they do greatly level the playing field.
Another advantage of blinds is that spring hunts are not always under clear skies. Blinds provide a degree of protection from the elements, making it possible to hunt more comfortably and longer under less-than-ideal conditions. A blind also gives a hunter maximum leverage to use decoys while hiding the movements made in calling — advantages that can help get birds in close for the best possible shot opportunity.
Like any other hunting tool, blinds must be used correctly to optimize their full benefits. One common mistake is blinds are put out too late, or too close to the season opener.
By the season opener my hunting locations have been picked and my blinds set for at least two weeks, if not longer. This calls for considerable pre-season scouting to pattern where birds are roosting, feeding and congregating and the general routes the birds use to access those areas. It pays to keep in mind that before hunting season unmolested flocks roost and congregate in the same general areas and stick to the same general travel and feeding routine each day.
If you don't push the birds, determining prime blind set-up locations is not overly difficult. It just takes time. And while turkeys are not generally spooked or alarmed by a blind, they can initially be overly cautious about anything new in their territory. Getting the blind set well before the season opener allows birds to acclimate to the blind's presence. It quickly becomes part of the landscape. Just as important, it keeps human disturbances and presence in those areas to a minimum until it is time to hunt. The sooner blinds are put out the better.
Of course, setting blinds well before the season opener depends a great deal on where we hunt. Private land is generally best. In state after state, statistics show private land holds the vast majority of birds and contributes the largest number of birds to the annual spring take. Talking to farmers and orchard owners is a great way to start since the areas these farmers own often draw and hold good numbers of birds due to the variety of foods available.
Also, these landowners generally dislike turkeys and wish them gone. Landowners will therefore sometimes allow access when asked, but keep in mind "the early birds always get the worm" — in this case access to the best properties. Don't wait until the last minute to make introductions and seek permission since other hunters will be doing the same thing.
Public lands such as state forests, wildlife management areas, designated game lands, state parks (where hunting is allowed) and conservation easements under the management of wildlife departments are something else again. Some have rules prohibiting unattended blinds, but check the rules beforehand. Unfortunately, blinds on public land have a better chance of mysteriously disappearing if unattended for any length of time, so pick your spots carefully and check on them periodically with a set of binoculars.
Another common mistake is not investing in a blind large enough to accommodate your hunting style. Bowhunters and crossbow users in particular need sufficient room to maneuver their arms of choice plus have room enough for their packs and perhaps a comfortable seat. And shotgun hunters need almost as much room.
Master These Turkey Calls
If you use a chair, practice shooting from that position before the season opener and when you are actually hunting make sure the seat is set so you don't have to move much to get on the bird, aim and shoot. In a nutshell, blinds with plenty of elbow room are a must, especially when hunting in teams such as a dad and a son or daughter.
And keep in mind a gobblers' and hens' ability to detect and be suspicious of something that appears unnatural. Blinds do offer great concealment, and while their camouflaged shells do blend in, taking some time making the blind part of the landscape will also pay off. In forest landscapes, set up in dense cover against a backdrop — a large boulder or tree trunk, for example. Even then, and especially in more open areas, add some boughs or brush to break up the blind's outline.
When hunting open fields I like to set up next to hay bales, along a hedge row, or next to tall stands of uncut grass or hay if available. A fence line or field edges with natural cover will also work to help break up the blind's outline and make it appear more natural. The more natural and part of the landscape a blind appears, the better.
Blinds do offer concealment, but not unless used properly. Keep in mind the interior walls of today's blinds have been darkened to reduce inside visibility, but most hunters like to see what is going on outside by keeping many windows open. Doing so allows light to enter the blind, increasing a bird's ability to see inside. Keep those windows closed or at least open them just a crack or use the mesh to cut down on light.
In some locations, such as sparse ridges and open fields, it might be necessary to place the blind facing away from the sun. Ideally, just the shooting port should be open at all times and even then wearing full camo clothing in a dark green pattern, or all black or dark clothing, including full face mask and gloves, will greatly increase the odds of getting birds in close for a shot.
More Spring Turkey Hunting Tips
Spring turkeys are apt to be found just about anywhere, and the general premise is "find the hens and you will find the gobblers." But there are three primary locations where blinds are best utilized.
My favorite is feeding areas. Feeding areas can be found just about anywhere, along a hardwood ridge with hard mast or leftover soft mast, or a soft creek bottom or river's edge. But the edge of hay and agricultural fields, perennial food plots, plowed over fields and gas pipeline corridors and powerlines where hunting is allowed are prime locations.
The reason for that is quite simple: Openings like these are where seeds, worms, insects and other foods are readily available, and that is where the females will be. In general, primary feeding areas are not far from roosting sites, and a nearby water source will increase their attractiveness to turkeys.
Another prime location is strut zones, typically areas where gobblers feel safe and where they can strut after the morning fly-down. Strut zones may vary geographically, but in general are dry areas, slightly elevated and open from the surrounding territory, so a gobbler can be both heard and seen when fully fanned and doing his dance.
In many cases, strut zones are not far from primary roosting sites or are located along routes leading to feeding areas. Telltale signs of a strut zone include scratched-over leafy areas, broken feathers or feathers lying about and lots of scat.
Another prime location is a fly-down area close to where birds roost. Turkeys often occupy the same roosting trees or roost in the same vicinity for days unless spooked or their food sources change. Highly productive hunting can be had by targeting unsuspecting birds in the morning as they leave the roost.
Even if the blind is not precisely near the fly-down area but is close, a few calls can draw birds just hitting the ground or ready to fly up to investigate. The key here is get the blind set up before the season opens and occupy it when hunting without spooking birds,whether it be early or late in the day.