Minnesota Outdoorsman - Minnesota Fishing and Hunting Reports
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Turkey blinds: best features for the spring bowhunter

By Tony Peterson


It’s almost time to start scouting turkeys, placing blinds, and setting the early-morning alarms. Before the April rush that is turkey season, however, you might be considering buying a new blind. This market category has blown up during the past decade, so you have plenty of options vying for your cash.

Here’s my strategy with turkeys: I always want to own at least one oversized, rugged blind and one small, lightweight blind that works for a single person. The big blind goes into my best spot, usually a carefully scouted strutting zone that doubles as a food source and travel route.

The lightweight blind, which might tip the scales anywhere from 12 to 16 pounds, is my portable option for when my main spot doesn’t pan out. I keep this blind in my truck pretty much all season long so if I have to call an audible, it’s available.

With either type of blind, I prefer the styles with plenty of brush loops and doors that operate quietly. The brush loops allow for truly concealing a blind, a must for pressured turkeys. Doors with over-sized, quieter-than-average zippers or no zippers at all are ideal, too, when it comes to quietly getting in when birds are roosted nearby.

When it comes to windows and shooting ports, I don’t really care much about the configurations because I’m only going to open them up as much as necessary, which isn’t much. The biggest mistake I see with turkey bowhunters? They want huge windows that span the entire front of their blind, and they want to open them up to see as much as possible. The problem with this plan is that it allows in more light and turkeys will bust you much easier.

If you’re considering a new blind purchase, consider your needs and how you’ll use it. If you’ve already got a blind, buy something that will allow for a different style of hunting and open up your spring longbeard options.


Land of the Giants

The return of the giant Canada goose has been a bonanza for waterfowlers

Photo © JIM THOMPSON


By Phil Bourjaily


The call came at three o'clock on a cold December afternoon. "Can you hunt right now? Six of us are done and the geese won't stay out of the decoys." I was out the door and down the road in 10 minutes. Geese were flying overhead the whole way, but I worried that each passing flock would be the last one of the day and I'd arrive just in time to help pick up decoys under an empty sky.

I pulled into the field. Then a friend drove my Jeep back out as I jumped into a blind. Five minutes later, I took a double out of the first flock that decoyed. Several minutes after that I bagged my third goose. All the birds were giant Canada geese weighing 12 pounds or more, and one of them had been banded, as I later discovered, just a few miles away.

A BIG COMEBACK

True giants (Branta canadensis maxima) historically bred throughout north-central North America, from southern Illinois into Canada, and from the Great Plains east to Ohio. They were large birds, sometimes weighing up to 20 pounds. They were also adaptable, nesting almost anywhere, including on limestone cliffs along the Missouri River and beaver ponds in the north woods. By the early 20th century, however, unregulated hunting, habitat loss, and egg gathering eliminated these big geese from most of their original range, and they were thought to be extinct by the 1950s.

In 1962, goose expert Dr. Harold Hanson of the Illinois Natural History Survey worked with Minnesota Department of Conservation and U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service personnel to trap and examine a flock of about 200 unusually large Canada geese on Silver Lake, a power plant impoundment in Rochester. The geese were so big that researchers weighing the birds assumed that the scales were faulty. The story goes that to test the accuracy of the scales and verify that the birds really weighed from 12 to 16 pounds apiece, the biologists had to send someone to a local grocery store for a five-pound bag of sugar and a 10-pound sack of flour.

Hanson's "discovery" of the giants led to renewed interest in the geese and boosted efforts that were already under way to reestablish breeding populations of these birds from the offspring of captive flocks that were originally used as live decoys or as poultry. State agencies began trapping, trading, and transplanting giant Canadas in pairs. Some private individuals released geese as well. States closed areas to goose hunting to help build flocks. And the geese took well to artificial nests made from washtubs, tires, and steel drums. In some cases, workers stacked up steel drums, shot drain holes in them with revolvers, and then mounted the makeshift structures on poles over water to provide safe nesting sites. 

Restoration efforts worked so well that by the mid-1990s, states with too many geese couldn't find takers for their surplus. Every place that wanted geese had them—and so did some places that didn't want them. Today there are an estimated 3.6 million giant Canada geese in North America. Although some have worn out their welcome with homeowners and farmers, the birds have truly been a bonanza for hunters. 

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"Humans have created great habitat for giants," says Dr. John Coluccy, director of conservation planning in DU's Great Lakes/Atlantic Region. "Canada geese are grazers, and make great use of suburbs, golf courses, and office parks with lots of short grass for them to eat and many ponds to rest on. Also, widespread grain agriculture provides them with high-energy foods for cold-weather survival." 

Coluccy, who did his doctoral work on giant Canada geese, adds that by removing wolves from most of the birds' range, we've eliminated their main predators as well. "Few animals are big enough to kill a goose," he explains. "In a safe environment, geese can live for over 20 years. A bird I banded in 1995 was just recently recovered."


STAY-AT-HOME GEESE

Giant Canadas are commonly known as "resident" geese because in most cases they don't migrate in the fall. This distinguishes them from their smaller migratory cousins. Like all Canada geese, however, giants do make a molt migration to find open water where they can safely sit out their flightless period as they grow new feathers. Some resident geese will fly hundreds of miles during the molt migration. Those banded in eastern South Dakota have been found as far north as northern Saskatchewan and Manitoba. The molt migration usually takes place in summer, and many early-season goose hunters key on it as the birds return to their breeding sites in September. In some cases, however, molt migrants don't come back home until later in the fall. The longest known molt migration for a giant Canada goose nesting in South Dakota was 1,300 miles—from Brookings County in that state to Ferguson Lake in Canada's Nunavut territory. 

Aside from the molt migration, giant Canada geese typically stay in one area year-round. They are hardy birds, and they generally live in temperate regions where inclement weather doesn't force them to move. But when extreme cold locks up open water and deep snow covers fields, the geese will move south until they find food and a place to roost. The bands that my friends and I have collected during our late-season goose hunts bear this out. Almost all the birds were banded within 20 miles of where we shot them. The one exception is a band from Owatonna, Minnesota, which is about three hours north of where we hunt. I shot that goose on a day when the high was zero degrees, at the end of a prolonged cold snap that presumably pushed the bird into our area.