Thursday, March 13th, 2008
By Ted Arndt
We were leaning against the root-ball of a downed silver birch. The trunk of the tree had fallen into a pasture where the dairy farmer had been spreading manure for a few weeks. It was one of those priceless mornings when sound carries for miles and the woods behind us seemed to shudder with the thunderous gobbles of a least a half-dozen slammers as they tried to assert their authority from the safety of their roosting trees. Soon the sun was breaking through the darkness to our left, casting long morning shadows across the field in front of us. There was a chill in the air and as I worked my diaphragm call, circles of vapor rose from my mouth and broke up in the branches I had earlier placed over our heads. My daughter Jocelyn seemed to sense an increase in the intensity of the morning’s action and became tense with excitement. Call – gobble – wait: that was the game we played with those toms as we sat anxiously in our blind. Then, perhaps an hour after the fly-down, I heard some scratching to my left. Slowly I turned and peered through some brush I’d placed just over the trunk of our fallen tree. There, on the field-edge just twenty feet away emerged eight turkeys scratching at the grass and manure as, one by one, they stepped clear of the wood line. The morning sun seemed to spotlight the turkeys while at the same time throwing concealing shadows into our blind. Jocelyn rested the barrel of her shotgun on a log we had prepared in front of us and anticipated the shot. It seemed like forever as the birds milled about on the other side of the tree, and the strain was wearing on my young girl. As she forced herself to breathe, and shifted the gun for a better angle she was far less than motionless, but the shadows, branches and logs concealed her movement from the approaching flock. Finally, the birds rounded the tree in perfect range for a kill. I heard the safety snap off as one of the birds separated from the rest and then… BOOM! The shot package savagely ripped into that tom’s neck just before the other birds scattered in all directions.
My daughter’s first turkey was one of those hunting moments that will last well beyond my ability to tell the story well. It was the culminating event after many years of trial and error in the field, testing and re-testing different ideas until my young lady was finally old enough to share my passion for the chess game of turkey hunting. What mattered most during the final moments of that hunt wasn’t calling or position though, but concealment. It was the early youth hunt and there were plenty of birds, still in large flocks, wandering about the fields of our area of New York. I knew, well before that hunt ever started, my greatest challenge wouldn’t be a lack of birds, but instead, the hiding of a hyperactive and adrenaline-juiced twelve-year-old. A kid who would get hungry and fidgety and bored and excited and distracted and every other thing we older folks are just plain too tired to think about. And it would surely happen just when the birds finally decided to head our way. It was an 81 pound spit-fire of a problem that needed something more than just a good solution. What it needed was the ultimate concealment; a blind that would allow my daughter the latitude to do what kids, well… just do, but without spooking every nearby turkey out of the county. I needed Super-Blind! But it was gonna be tough. I’m not really into all that pop-up jazz where you can set up a frozen yogurt machine and watch the Yankees play the Socks while you wait for the birds to come. I lean towards the natural stuff. So, after I decided on a good, turkey-rich area, It took some initiative and went about creating the mother of all blinds. This is the story of how I managed to pull it off.
It all started with a few trips into the woods a week or two before our actual hunt date. On these preseason outings, I tried my best to familiarize myself with the lay of the land. As I walked around potential hunting spots, I glassed the nearby ridges and hardwood stands. Then I strolled along rises and feeding areas looking for signs that might reveal how the land could influence the flock’s movements on the morning of the hunt. Where were the most promising roosting sites and had they been recently used? Where were the best feeding areas and the easiest corridors for the birds to get to them? What were the potential obstacles, such as fences, creeks, and human activities that might interrupt their travel patterns? Finally, after I felt I had a solid grasp of a turkey-rich area, I started to consider where my daughter and I would set up our ambush.
I noticed as I explored that a farmer had been spreading manure in the back corner of a tucked-away field. When I checked with him he said he intended to continue fertilizing that particular field, though he would not be spreading there the morning of our hunt. While perhaps not the best smelling patch of land I’d ever encountered, the farmer’s activities certainly had the potential to continue to attract the turkeys that I’d seen in the area. With this good news in hand, I returned to that little “honey-hole” and gave it some serious thought. The field in question was an odd-shaped, five-acre plot. It was a rough triangle, apex pointing towards a high oak and maple covered ridge with a down-hill side that ran just about east-west. There were two trees (both large birches) that had collapsed into the field during an ice storm the previous fall and both had pulled up large chunks of earth with their roots as they went down. It was obvious from all of the tracks and scrapings that the turkeys were turning leaves as they entered the field from both up-hill sides of this promising patch of land. They would then continue feeding on the manure along the field-edge once they cleared the tree line. But where to create this blind-of-blinds to spring a trap on the birds that would almost certainly enter this field?
I finally decided the blind should go at the base of the fallen tree to the east. This position would optimize the sun by casting shadows into our blind instead of throwing penetrating rays in our eyes as the turkeys were entering the field in the morning. The large root-ball would offer comfort and additional concealment from behind and the trunk of the tree would allow us to “peek over” to our left while we concentrated on the most likely approach from our up-hill right. This was indeed a stronger position than a similar set-up to the west, but I still wasn’t confident that it could hide my amped-up daughter when it counted the most.
That’s when the work started. First, I went into the blind and cleared away any sticks and stems that might poke and prod us in the back and butt-cheeks as we waited (likely for two or more hours) for the birds to come down from their roost and work their way into gun range. I then found two short trunk sections and stacked them log-cabin fashion in front of our blind. These would give good natural cover from the front and would also allow Jocelyn to rest the big twelve’s barrel on something to steady her shot… if it ever actually came to that.
Now I sat as I would on the morning of our hunt and peered over the logs into the field. I decided Jocelyn would need two firing cut-outs, one parallel to the trunk of our birch tree and another facing a bit farther to our right. This would allow her two opportunities to do her deadly work while still offering concealment should she pass up her first crack at the birds. I used anvil-type garden shears to clip any foliage in the way of these two firing lanes. I cut the obstructing saplings and brush at steep angles so I could later use them to add any final touches to the blind. I pushed some of the clipped sticks into the dirt of the root ball so they would hang over our heads in sort-of fan pattern. I hoped this would maximize the shadowing effect of the early-morning sun as it rose from almost directly behind us. The remaining cuttings were pushed back into the ground to fill any noticeable gaps in the blind that were obvious when I came out into the field and peered back in from a turkey’s eye view.
After a bit of work, I felt I had a blind system that not used the natural world to best effect, but that considered the lay of the land, the position of the sun, and other factors such as field usage that can have an dramatic impact on the success of any turkey hunt. I had created the blind I needed to help my daughter harvest her first bird. In the end, the turkeys actually came from an unanticipated direction, but our blind came through for us anyway. The smile on my daughter’s face when she finally rolled that bird was worth every hour or the time it took to make “Super Blind”.