Jim Orth needed a simple blind for hunting Lake St. Clair. A staffing recruiter and outfitter from Michigan, he runs clients on the 430-square mile lake mostly during weekends.
When the weather turns, it can pose some extraordinarily harsh conditions, but Orth hunts a shoreline that blocks the wind and public boating access is close by, so it’s not as risky as making long runs on open water.
His boat blind frame is made of 2” PVC pipe, making it lightweight, inexpensive, rustproof and easy to build with simple tools. Orth, who took third in the 2015 B&B contest, lives near Detroit and has been hunting waterfowl since he was 14 years old. Now 36, he continues to hunt an area of Lake St. Clair just 20 minutes outside the city.
“We have a lot of deep water, so we get plenty of diving ducks,” Orth said. “But, we also get lots of mallards, especially early. We shoot cans, bluebills, redheads, buffleheads and others. Right now, I have two boat blinds, but I am going to build a third one because they have been so successful.”
Orth sets out around 100 to 150 Avian-X mallard, bufflehead, and pintail decoys, plus a Mojo Mallard spinner for each boat. He uses 1-pound strap weights to hold the floaters in place. If the hunters desire, he stakes the boats close together so friends can talk boat-to-boat and hunt over the same spread.
Orth shoots a Beretta A390-ST with a full choke, Federal Black Cloud BBs and uses a DuckBuster sight by Dead Ringer. His favorite calls are the Big Lake T-Rex and The Force mallard calls and D2T2 diving duck call.
“I started out duck hunting with my grandfather, Jim Paulin,” Orth said. “When he passed away a few years ago, I inherited all of his hunting gear and didn’t have anyone to hunt with, so I decided to try guiding. Then, I began hunting with the pastor of our church, Matt Trombley. Now he guides with me out of the second boat.”
A Blind is Born
When Orth was young, he hunted at Harsen’s Island, a public area operated under a draw-permit system. It was a long drive from the family home.
“We hunted from a canoe that had a 2-hp engine,” he said. “But now that I’m older and working, I had to figure out a way to be home by 10 a.m., and could not afford a commercial collapsible boat blind.
So, he bought a used 14-foot MirroCraft and found some good spots on St. Clair. It is an aluminum boat with a deep-V hull and has a 9.9-hp Evinrude outboard. Orth turned the boat bottom side up and painted the entire hull with tan, green, yellow and brown acrylic latex paints to cover it with a grass-like camouflage pattern. Then he bought some 2” PVC, 90-degree bends and tees and PVC glue.
He assembled the blind frame inside the boat, measuring each section of pipe and cutting it with a table saw. The framework is essentially a rectangular box. It has four upright sections on the port and starboard sides that are attached to bottom and top rails with tee fittings for the two central uprights with 90-degree bends on the ends.
“The blind is so easy to set up every hunt from it is nothing but fun.”
On the bow, stern, and rear upright sections, inline tees are located near the tops and face the interior of the boat. Once he had assembled both the port and starboard side frames, he glued everything together with the exception of the lateral braces that fit into the inward-facing tees.
“When I fold the blind down, the two sides rest on the seats,” he said. “I slip the three lateral support braces out of the tees and put them in the boat. When I am setting up the blind at the ramp, I fit the lateral support braces back into the tees.”
Using aerosol paints specifically formulated for use on plastics, he painted the framework. Then he attached the bottoms of the side frames to the aluminum boat seats using metal conduit clamps and self-tapping screws. The clamps allow the PVC pipe frames to rotate freely so he can quickly collapse or erect the blind.
“I also made a top that fits about half-way across the boat to help hide the hunters,” he said.
Orth attached the top to the frame with zip ties and braces that extend down and rest on the seats. By changing the angle of the braces, he can adjust the height of the top.
“I glued tees to the ends of the braces and looped zip ties through them and around the top frame so the braces can rotate,” he said. “I usually just put the braces on and off whenever I need to use the top by removing the zip ties.”
Orth attached green-coated wire garden fencing to the two side frames and top using zip ties. To the garden fencing, he attached Speed Grass mats, also with zip ties. The Speed Grass extends beyond the bottoms of the side frames to the waterline.
Speed Grass also overhangs the top like a fringe to help hide the hunters’ faces. The top of the blind is about 2½ feet above the seats. He hides the engine with a factory-made, camouflage cover.
“I leave the front open when I am going between the boat ramp and the hunting area,” he said. “That keeps down the wind and helps visibility. Once I arrive, I put in the front brace and attach a Speed Grass mat to it using some big rubber twist ties I got at Tractor Supply. It is a little tricky trying to tell someone else how to do it in the dark, so I usually do it myself.
“When I move from the back of the boat to the front, I just push the sides outward and take out the lateral braces. Then I put them back in when I move back to the stern.”
Orth keeps the boat stationary by tying it off between four green garden stakes poked into the lake bottom.
He usually leaves them in place and puts a white bleach jug over them so he can find them in the dark. The great thing about using PVC pipe was Orth was able to fit all parts of the frame together and then take them apart before gluing everything together to make the final assembly.
The entire blind is so light two hunters have no trouble putting it on or taking it off the boat. To remove the blind after the hunting season, Orth simply uses a power drill to remove the screws holding the conduit clamps to the seats.
You might think PVC is not sturdy enough to make a durable blind frame, but Orth said he has only experienced two problems. Once, he hit the dock with the blind and it broke one of the top sections and he used some camouflaged duct tape to make a temporarily repair. Another time, a hunter lost his balance and grabbed the frame, cracking it near one of the tees, an easy thing to fix. Orth usually sets up close to the shoreline in order to blend in. He said it is extremely effective.
“On opening day last season I had a great hunt with two active duty Marines,” he said. “The ducks didn’t even know we were there until it was too late. We got one canvasback, two drake mallards and one hen mallard, plus one coot. Another day, I had two hunters along and we shot nine buffleheads. The blind is so easy to set up and works so well that every hunt from it is nothing but fun.”