You load a tattered vest with a few trusted tools, sling a scattergun over your shoulder and wander into the unknown with a fresh tag in your pocket. This is how you’ve always done it — on foot, eye to eye with your feathered opponents.
In an instant, you find yourself scrambling for the perfect tree or scant bit of cover to shield your nervous movements and attempt to seduce a seasoned skeptic into range. The heavens open up minutes later. A cold pool forms in your shivering lap as your eyes struggle to detect movement in the quaking forest.
Later, as you kneel and admire a set of razor-sharp hooks and a water-logged beard, you grind your teeth while considering the painstaking effort it took to kill this bird. But ask yourself, how much of that pain was self-inflicted?
To Each Their Own
There’s something sacred about roughing it in the turkey woods. I’ll proudly admit, like scores of other hardcore turkey hunters, most of my credentials were earned the hard way — fully exposed to the elements, with my back against a tree and a numb rear end. However, our purist tactics were threatened with the proliferation of pop-up ground blinds.
As a gun hunter, for years I shunned the idea of concealing myself in a ground blind. I called it cheating. (Bowhunters are pardoned because they need to draw an arrow.) Then, experience taught me that turkeys don’t play by any rules, and Mother Nature’s a moody old bag who couldn’t care less about turkey hunters.
I came to realize that ground blinds are a blessing.
How you pursue birds is your choice. Simplicity often rules the roost, but there are plenty of situations in which a blind approach might be best.
Weather: It isn’t always pleasant or predictable. Even if you don’t want to carry a ground blind in the field all day, store one in your vehicle, or set one up at your hunting area. Retreat to it if bad weather rolls in (keeping safety in mind). Spring strutting rituals are all too often paired with relentless precipitation, so a roof over your head can be a relief. When the spring sun is more than you can handle, a blind can provide welcome shade. Awaiting the arrival of a fall flock can mean battling morale-crushing low temperatures. Add a compact portable heater and ground blind to your bag of tricks, and you might make some late-season magic.
New hunters: If you’re introducing newbies to turkey hunting — especially a child — it’s critical to ensure their comfort and minimize discouragement. A ground blind allows more freedom of movement with less chance of getting busted by birds. It’s an ideal environment for on-the-job training.
Base camp: Sometimes, the surest way to kill birds when hunting with buddies is to split up and burn boot leather. Canvass an entire property so your quarry has nowhere to hide. When it comes time to regroup, there’s no need to quit hunting. Keep a ground blind set up at a likely hotspot, and use it as your central rallying point. A bird could stroll by anywhere, anytime, so don’t get caught unprepared.
Field birds: Turkey hunt long enough and you’ll eventually face dreaded field birds. You only see them in the wide open — maybe a pasture or cut cornfield. They seem to materialize from thin air and then disappear just the same. The only way to get within lethal range of these birds is to set up a ground blind and strike. Sticking out like a sore thumb might feel awkward and impossible, but turkeys typically pay no mind to a blind.
Scouting: Whether you’re treading on new territory or trying to unlock the full potential of a trusted honey-hole, a ground blind can be a priceless scouting resource. Find a solid vantage point — preferably elevated — and deploy a blind. Glass the surroundings meticulously, and keep your ears perked. Pack breakfast, lunch and dinner for an all-day sit. If you see or hear birds at dawn or dusk, you’ve honed in on a roost area — jackpot. If birds appear during the late morning or afternoon, you might have pinpointed a daily travel route. Regardless of what you discover, you’ll be able to develop a go-forward plan from your recon.
Filming: It’s immensely popular these days to record and share videos from hunts. Modern technology — compact cameras and YouTube — makes it easy from a technical aspect, but that doesn’t mean turkeys want to be movie stars. It can be incredibly challenging to lure a sharp-eyed gobbler or paranoid hen into shooting range, let alone with a distracting camera in the mix. Most video producers, amateur and professional, would agree that ground blinds have been a game-changer.