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Mountain Home Magazine

Gobblers from the Blind Side

May 01, 2021 01:47PM ● By Roger Kingsley

Sidestepping down the steep bank of the ravine in the early morning light, we waded through the gentle flow of the creek water at the bottom, then proceeded up the opposite side. Our boots trod a familiar trail—the one that I commonly turn into a cow path during deer season to access three of my favorite ladder stands. But this was May 24 and spring gobbler season was winding down fast. Following close behind me was my friend Steve bearing a 12-gauge pump, and our destination was a ground blind that was now within sight. But before we could even halve the distance to it, we were jolted to a stop by the gravelly voice of a gobbler a stone’s throw away, high in a tree right on the rim of the ravine.

Exchanging some whispered comments, we continued on and got ourselves situated in the chairs inside the blind as the periodic gobbles from the very close bird persisted. I’d keyed in on this area days before after hearing the vocals of roosted gobblers from our farm buildings several hundred yards away. But since both of my spring tags were already used up on birds I’d tagged elsewhere, I texted an invite to Steve—a veteran turkey hunter with dozens of longbeards to his credentials.

When the moment felt right, Steve revealed one of the few turkey calls stashed in his vest and sent out some soft yelps which were instantly acknowledged by our quarry. “That’s all I’m doing for now,” Steve said. “He’ll decide on his own terms what to make of it.” Prior to entering the blind, I’d placed a pair of hen decoys in the secluded clover-covered food plot within shooting distance of our hideout. Assuming gobblers might visit the plot right after fly-down, the fake hens, in conjunction with our calling, would set the stage for luring them to their demise once entering the open ground. As daylight began brightening the woodlot, the flapping of wings caught our attention as birds—yes, plural—began gliding to the ground. While hoping he was solo, we weren’t the least bit surprised to learn he was occupied with hens. Nevertheless, as the birds moved away heading southwest toward our big fields, Steve dished out some remarkable realistic hen talk in an effort to change their minds, but the gobbling continued to fade away until all was quiet. Steve’s attempts were futile, but this is an oft-repeated turkey hunting behavior that can promote a positive outcome.

Most hunters without a blind would now be on their feet contemplating two options: going elsewhere, or risking pursuit of the unsociable flock. But Steve and me? We simply leaned back in our chairs, began to chat...and listened. I didn’t time it, but I do know this—we were nicely into shooting the breeze when, suddenly, a gobble came from the southwest. Very soon another, and then another, closer each time. It was him all right, the same bird headed our way, all because he remembered hens talking (Steve’s calling) in our direction earlier. Steve worked his call again, sending some “I’m still here” yelps out the mesh windows, and then began preparations for a probable shot. Sauntering into view, then stopping momentarily, the mature gobbler was now on the main trail leading to the clover plot. Perfect! Most likely he had just seen the hens (decoys) that he thought were responsible for the yelps. And then, bang! A flopping turkey was down for the count, shot from the blind side.

I don’t care who you are: sitting on the ground with your back against a tree trunk is an exercise that goes from tolerable, to uncomfortable, to agonizing in a very short time. Success will rule your turkey hunts when you are comfortable. Key to bagging one is to sit undetected. If you can’t, the hunt is over. When the moment becomes extremely critical to stay still, ground blinds are a game changer. They not only conceal your restless movements, they hide the human form that can spook gobblers who suddenly acknowledge something out of place at the base of a tree. Does this mean I always hunt gobblers from the blind side? No, but I do make sure I have blinds set up near those locations that are known for frequent visitations of birds. Now, it’s a very rare occasion when I have to resort to a “run-n-gun” version—the no-blind strategy that drives the minds of most turkey hunters.

One of the best lessons I learned about the usefulness of blinds for turkey hunting took place in 2012 on a very special hunt. Dad turned seventy-nine years old that year and had never bagged a spring gobbler. I’d located a mature bird with a unique beard in the hayfield strips next to our heifer barn. Every morning he’d strut across the fields behind a handful of hens, then fade into the woods for the day. Near sundown, they’d be in the strips again backtracking across to their preferred roosting site, which they entered in precisely the same spot each time. The daily sightings continued, a pattern developed, and I devised a plan. Late one morning as soon as the birds had cleared the fields, I took a blind to the edge of the roosting woods and placed it where I had observed their entry habit. Once erected, the blind—as you can surmise—stood out like a sore thumb, but that evening I witnessed that same strutter and his flock stroll right beside the darn thing and enter the woods without paying any heed whatsoever to it. I phoned Dad that evening and asked him if he wanted to kill a turkey. He didn’t say no. The following morning—May 22—I was proudly sitting beside Dad inside that blind when he pulled the shotgun trigger and toppled that curly bearded gobbler.

For a few mornings in a row one season, I watched—from inside a blind—an unsociable gobbler and his feathered females pick their way across a big field of corn stubble and winter wheat. No matter what I did, my decoys and calling could not steer them my way. Obviously he had what he wanted and refused to budge. I couldn’t take it anymore. Just before dawn one morning, I hiked across the thirty-acre field loaded down with my normal turkey attire, but this time it included a folding chair and something called a “Blink of an Eye” blind. Locating the approximate path in the wide open field that the turkeys were favoring, and approximately one hundred yards from the woods, I erected the blind in the proverbial blink, zipped the door shut, and waited. At daylight, right on cue, the seasoned gobbler entered the field after fly-down, proudly following the nine hens he shacked up with overnight who were marching toward me. Half an hour later, after the pictures were taken, I was heading back to the truck toting an extra twenty-plus pounds.

With the exception of that hunt, I’ve never occupied other blinds without staking some decoys nearby. That way, once I initiate calling, curious gobblers who eventually spot them will have a more positive reason for advancing if, for some reason, the blind was offensive.

Blinds used for turkey hunting in Pennsylvania cannot be made by constructing an enclosure out of natural materials like brush, branches, logs, etc. Legal blinds must be manmade from artificial or manufactured materials, from which there are plenty to choose. While I’ve had tremendous success utilizing a variety of popup blinds over the years, I’ve heard comments that some turkeys will avoid them. Don’t believe it! Was it because the birds had a bad experience near one? It’s a well-known fact that some hunters have shot at turkeys...and missed!

With the advent of the mentored youth hunting program, many youngsters are now becoming hunters at an earlier age. Blinds provide the perfect solution for mentors to use with their protégés. Protection from the weather is a huge benefit, but the utmost convenience is the blanket it provides for an age group with a very limited attention span. During the 2017 spring season, my eight-year-old grandson—mentored by his dad—bagged a ripe old twenty-pound long-bearded gobbler from a blind that I’d placed near the corner of a field along the turkey’s preferred travel route.

Hunters who have experienced the intensity of a close encounter with a turkey surely know the demands of being motionless. Given turkeys’ remarkable peripheral vision, telescopic eyesight, and visual acuity, concealment is essential. With blinds, necessary motions can still be performed within reason and without consequences. My years of hunting gobblers from the blind side have proven it.

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