It happens at least twice every hunt if you’re after turkeys with the aid of a blind. Whether it’s a piece of painted burlap across a log, or the latest pop-up blind with all the bells and whistles, you have to get there and eventually have to go. Leaving is of course the tricky part. Leave too soon, and you bust the birds that were taking their sweet time in heading your direction. Head out too late and you’re that much further behind the group you’re trying to contact. Here are a few experiences that have shaped my decision making process when it comes to abandoning the blind for greener strut zones.
Even the best mornings eventually see a lull, and if you haven’t yet seen the birds that have been gobbling around you all morning, the temptation during that time can be too much to take. That can be at 9AM, or sometimes it can be as early has a half-hour after sunrise. No matter when it happens, keep your watch handy and do your best to put things in perspective. The thing to remember is that this quiet-time is often when birds are doing exactly what you want them to.
One such morning I was hunting solo with the blind set up in an open alfalfa field when I left too soon. A bird up the hill that was previously cutting-off everything I had to say started to eventually lose interest, gobbling only occasionally and then not at all. It was 6:30AM, but he was my only lead of the day so far and I didn’t want to lose him. Suspecting a hen had shown up and started to lead him away, I looked both ways before leaving the blind and exited the rear. As I came around the blind to start towards the woodline and up the hill I caught some red about 200 yards above me on the ridge. I froze, slowly backed a few steps around the back of the blind and climbed into safety. Somehow he didn’t spot me, probably because I stayed pretty close to the blind, and eventually he was in the field with me. I took that tom with a great deal of luck knowing that had I left minutes or maybe seconds earlier, I would’ve been caught out in the open alfalfa field without anywhere to retreat.
When setup on a strut zone or a well-traveled path to food, often the only game is to wait. Heading out with kids or other inexperienced hunters is yet another reason you may be anchored to the blind. Even if you’re not required to stay, there are plenty of situations where you should. The primary one being when you have birds that have recently gobbled (last 30 minutes or so) in multiple directions. In this scenario there’s just too many pairs of eyes to beat, all of them looking for that sultry hen that just minutes ago was spouting off from your very location.
Too often we forget about the group that sounded off like mad a mere 10 or 20 minutes ago with the hopes of pursuing birds in another direction. “Hunt like you’re being hunted,” I reminded the camera-man just before stepping out of the blind on a MN hunt a few years ago. No sooner did we get our gear gathered and ready to move on the birds banging away, did we hear alarm putts directly behind us. A bit more patience on our part would’ve seen a nice pair of toms that decided to come in the last 100 yards quietly.
We’ve covered some reasons and instances on when to stay put, but when and why to go? The first case is something that happens more often than many like to admit in birds that react poorly to your blind, decoys, and general setup. The vast majority of turkeys are not blind-shy, to the point where you might argue that it doesn’t really exist. I have however encountered situations when you start by removing decoys, and eventually become accepting of the fact that the blind itself is causing birds to skirt your position or flat be alarmed. This is usually in high pressure areas, and almost always when something is out of place. This can be a blind bag hanging out away from the blind or even leafy or other loose material flapping in the wind. Sometimes it’s faded material from them sitting in the sun too long. Whatever the reason, listen to the birds and what they’re telling you. Ditch the blind and set out on foot.
Another reason to head out is when all of the gobbling group(s) move off in the same direction with purpose, as if every bird in the woods gameplanned it that way the night before. Birds on a mission require chase, especially if they leave slowly, beckoning you to come join the party. Birds that gobble out in an opening or strut zone then leave are extremely vulnerable if you can get to the exact spot they hammered away in waiting. By showing up quickly and firing right back at them, you’re a lonesome hen that’s doing her part to find a tom. I venture to say that this tactic alone has been responsible for nearly half of the birds I’ve been a part of taking. It plain works.
If you’re still in the blind by mid-morning and you’re hunting into mid-season, this is about the time that hens will leave their morning groups to nest. This marks another key point of vulnerability for gobblers. If you’ve got a bird within earshot that starts up on his own mid-day and continues to gobble, get there fast. If you can get within 100 yards without him detecting you and be the first hen to the party, the tom will usually play ball.
Blind hunting can be deadly, but also debilitating. Know when to stick it out and also when to shed it as the truest fact in the turkey woods and fields is that you can’t kill turkeys where turkeys are not.