Occasionally, though, an idea that warrants further thought emerges from the sun-starved bowels of a blind. Last November, when Julie Geiser of North Platte called to invite me to spend a morning goose hunting, I was quick to accept. Severe weather in the Dakotas had moved a huge concentration of Canada geese into Nebraska, and I was anxious to watch some of them set up on decoys. But when she said there was something she and her husband Tom wanted to show me, I knew I was going to be the guinea pig for a new invention.
Julie is even more right-brained than most waterfowlers. An artist and a poet, she has great ability to visualize an idea without a formal plan. Tom can listen to her description, then set to work making it a reality.
Julie and I arrived at our hunting site in the dark with a trailer load of decoys, and I was certain that somewhere among them was their latest invention. Because Julie is a wildlife artist and carver, it had to be a decoy — perhaps something that waddled, flapped its wings and honked uncontrollably.
It most likely would have feathers, which it probably could preen, and it might even molt before the day was over. I was even more convinced that the invention was a decoy, since joining us later with Tom would be Garry Dodge and Don Brown, a taxidermist.
We pulled off the road onto an alfalfa field that had received its regular four cuttings over the summer, leaving the alfalfa short and attractive to geese. Several huge round bales sat randomly around the perimeter of the field, and Julie pulled up next to a pair of them, where we unloaded our guns, heaters and paraphernalia.
"We’ll start here and string out a long, hook-shaped spread of decoys to the south and leave a large opening about there," said Julie, pointing, "where we’ll place just a few decoys. Then we’ll set a similar spread to the east of the opening. Behind the blind, I have an area for a few decoys in the plowed field next to the alfalfa."
I was anxious to unload the decoys and discover the Rube Goldberg invention certain to be packed within. Conventional decoys kept emerging, however, magnum and super
A half dozen magnums were scattered in the opening between the two crescent-shaped lines of birds to encourage geese to land there. Julie carried two dozen standard-size shells into the plowed field and grouped them as a sleeping flock.
While I attached heads to the last decoys, Julie drove the truck to a cluster of bales, parked it out of sight and returned to the two bales pushed end to end, where we had left our guns and the rest of our gear. Picking up her gun, she stuck her hand into the hay of the east bale and fiddled with something momentarily. Suddenly a door opened, exposing a hollow cavity two bales long, a bench, a heater, gun racks and all the other things that make an enclosure a blind.
I was amazed at how authentic the bale blind appeared. I had expected a pit blind and assumed I just couldn’t see it in the dark. I had worked near the twin bales for half
The roomy blind was about 10 feet long and five feet in diameter. A wide bench ran the full length, with gunracks on the opposite wall. The supports, floor, bench and interior walls were painted stark white, a trademark of Julie’s blinds. She believes a white interior increases visibility, especially in an entirely enclosed blind.
Its full enclosure is one of the best features of the blind. Many blinds allow geese a good look inside, and hunters who are seen don’t shoot many geese. Even if hunters manage to conceal themselves in open-port blinds, the large, dark openings are obvious from above, and blind-wary, late-season geese tend to avoid such traps. A covered pit blind is ideal, but many landowners, having had bad experiences with pits and tractors at spring planting time, are reluctant to allow hunters to dig pits.
Consequently, many hunters have to construct above-ground enclosures in perfectly manicured fields of corn or hay. Since blinds are located on nearly every half-section bordering the Platte River, the trick is to blend the blind into its surroundings while making it comfortable and functional.
Great success often comes to a few hardy hunters who lie flat on their backs between the rows of corn covered with stalks. Forget the windbreak, propane heater, bacon and eggs to be found in a good blind. Forget even a cup of coffee. The only salvation in this rugged method of hunting comes when the geese fly early.
Doing without bacon and eggs and a heater is not part of the agenda of these four hunters, and the round-bale blind, because of its unique shape, offers a pot-bellied
Tom, Don and Garry arrived in time for breakfast but not in time to help with the decoys. Julie claimed that such timing was becoming routine, but she hustled together three more heaping plates of breakfast. The blind was
comfortable even with five hunters. A storage area behind the bench and room under the seat kept our gear out of the way.
Geese were flying fairly regularly, and, looking up from our plates, we discovered one already standing in the decoys. It had landed without circling, testimony that neither the blind nor the jabber and laughter coming from within was a concern.
The blind fools humans as readily as it does geese, Tom said. One morning early in the season, he and Julie were in the blind waiting for geese when the landowner arrived and began moving bales. He eventually pulled his tractor and bale mover up to the blind, and Tom assumed he wanted to visit. When Tom threw open the lid and stood up, the farmer almost jumped off his tractor. He had been trying to figure out how the two bales got where they were, since he was sure he hadn’t dropped them there, and he was glad Tom showed his head before he hooked onto the bales.
Although relatively unusual in Nebraska, round-bale blinds are not new to waterfowlers nationwide. Some are framed with electrical conduit or other materials, but this blind is woodframed. All four hunters had helped build the blind and were eager to talk about its construction.
The ends, 5-foot circles of plywood, are made from two 4-by-8-foot plywood sheets spliced to make an 8-by-8-foot square. Each circle is squared off by cutting along a 30-inch line drawn from edge to edge, and a door is cut in one end.
The ends are attached to the floor, a 30-inch-by-10-foot rectangle made of two-by-fours decked with plywood. Eye-bolts through the frame permit the blind to be staked securely.
Support for the curved walls of the blind is provided by four 10-foot two-by-fours that connect the ends at about 9, 10, 12 and 3 o’clock. The 10 and 12 o’clock members also support two curved lids, each about four feet long, covering the shooting ports.
The curved lids are made of welded electrical conduit frames bent to match the arc of the circle and covered with the same paneling used for the walls. They are hinged to the 10 o’clock two-by-four brace, opening out and down and stopped by ropes.
Front and back calling ports allow hunters to see out and keep their calling from being muffled. The ports also increase air circulation, reducing the risk of carbon monoxide poisoning in the fully enclosed, heated blind.
The exterior is coated with oil-based stain and covered with hay held in place with chicken-wire mesh. The wire is creased, forming a groove in the hay to make the blind appear to be two bales placed end to end.
Hay from a round bale is easily unrolled to make "batting" for covering the blind. Relatively little hay is required, and blind builders should be able to purchase a partial bale.
The result is a tight blind that completely conceals hunters and blends perfectly with its surroundings. The blind can be hauled easily on a trailer, saving them the work of digging a new pit when they want to move to a new location.
Finally, the blind works. Many geese were harvested from it last season, and we were successful the day I hunted there, too. One modification that might improve its performance is to alter the lids covering the shooting ports.
Although the two-by-four-foot openings provide plenty of elbow room when hunters stand up to shoot, geese tend to flare when the large doors flop outward. Shooting at
Because of the blind’s shape, lids that dropped inward probably would not interfere with shooting, especially if they were somewhat smaller or were hinged in the center like a bi-fold door. Another possibility would be devising lids that travel on curved rails so they would slide around the contour of the bale inside or outside the blind.
Two safety concerns are worth emphasizing. The danger of carbon monoxide poisoning should not be underestimated, especially in a nearly air-tight blind where heaters and stoves are used. Poorly ventilated blinds can be death traps. Viewing holes and calling ports can increase air flow, and blocking the lids slightly open also will improve circulation.
The threat of high winds also is a concern, and blinds should be well anchored. In October, 65-mile-per-hour winds had rolled the Geisers’ original bale blind almost a quarter of a mile until it crashed into a stand of trees and was destroyed. Tom thinks the wind would have rolled an occupied blind, and they were lucky not to have been in it. We hunted from a rebuilt blind.
No doubt somewhere, sometime, a couple of hunters will be sitting in a round-bale blind breathing fumes and trying to figure out why the birds aren’t decoying. They will come to the sudden and alarming realization that their blind is the only round bale in the field and will devise a plan for decoy blinds to distribute around the field and make their blind fit into its setting ... maybe a spread of 100 would work...