Who says you have to climb like a monkey to smile like a Cheshire cat?
As the average age of whitetail hunters continues to rise, so does the number who choose to hunt from the ground. And many have learned ground-busting bucks isn’t as difficult as they thought.
Whether you use a pop-up blind, natural brush or spot-and-stalk, hunting whitetails from a treestand isn’t the only way to go. For bowhunters, being eye level and up-close and personal with the deer adds even more excitement.
One of the reasons so many of us originally turned to treestands is because we can get away with a little less scent control. When hunting from the ground, you’ll have to pay close attention to the little details.
Having hunted from the ground for years, I’ve adopted an extensive scent regimen that has kept me from being detected in most situations. That process would be an article in itself, but I can mention the basic necessities.
First, always hunt the wind and use a wind checker. If the wind shifts, go to plan B and move to a different location. Do not fool yourself into thinking it will be okay just this once, or that your blind will hold your scent. In both cases, it won’t. Period.
Since I rarely use a blind, I‘m extremely mobile. I check the wind every hour, and if it changes, I move.
If you have a smartphone, there are numerous weather apps that show hour-by-hour predictions for wind direction. Those apps are handy, but always use a wind checker, too. The weatherman can be wrong, and various land features affect wind and air currents like obstacles in a stream. Also like a stream, air can flow in swirls and eddies, possibly carrying your scent to an already cautious buck.
In addition to paying strict attention to wind direction, I wear a Scent-Lok suit, including a head-cover, which I carefully wash and store in an airtight, scent-free container. And I don’t put it on until I reach my hunting location.
THE 3-D EFFECT
In addition to being scent-free, I like to wear a 3-D leafy suit or a Ghillie suit. They can be hot and cumbersome, especially if worn over a carbon outfit, but nothing breaks up the human outline like a Ghillie suit.
Another alternative, a 3-D leafy suit, does a great job and can be lightweight.
Rob Smollack from ASAT Camo has mastered the art of ground hunting while wearing a 3-D leafy suit.
“A 3-D leafy suit does a great job of messing with a whitetail’s eyes,” he said. “The leaves blowing in the breeze really help you blend in.I typically hunker down in the brush and hold still. It’s amazing how many deer walk right by me. I have killed more than 100 whitetails from the ground, and I never use a blind.”
USE GROUND COVER
A few years ago, I took an old buck in Maryland from the ground while wearing OPTIFADE from GORE-TEX. Every other hunter in camp was hunting from a treestand. I ended up hunting from the ground because I left my bow rope back at camp. I looked around and found some cattails and cleared a little spot inside.
I had several mature bucks walk by the first evening, including a broke-up warrior that I shot from 4 yards! The buck freshened a scrape 10 yards from me, walked down a runway and stopped broadside before I shot him.
On another Kansas hunt, I shot a buck while hiding underneath a pine tree that had low-hanging branches. I sat on a 5-gallon bucket, cleared out a few limbs and got ready. When a buck walked by at 25 yards, I drew and shot him without being detected.
The key to not being seen is to use the natural cover and move only when the deer’s eyes go behind a solid object.
I like to set up in the edge of brush piles, cattails or corn rows. When none of those are available, find a small depression in the ground or a tree with an extremely large trunk that can break up your outline.
If you have access to the area before the season starts, make a brush blind like you would for gun hunting. Instead of building a circle-like structure that is hollow in the middle, I pile up brush and climb into the pile so I become part of the brush.
Pop-up blinds are another option, but I haven’t yet perfected the art of hunting from them.
Brooks Johnson, the former owner of Double Bull Blinds, says there are two ways to use a popup blind: Stick it out in the wide open where every deer can see it, or brush it in well and leave it set up.
“One mistake many hunters make is positioning a blind right off a runway 50 yards from a bedding area,” he said. “The moment a buck rises from its bed and sees it, he comes unglued. When a deer spots a blind where it walks daily, it doesn’t have time to get used to it and will most likely flip out.”
Another mistake when purchasing a pop-up blind is buying the largest one in the store. Large blinds are harder to conceal, boxy and catch more wind, which sometimes makes them noisy.
When hunting from a pop-up blind, I prefer an extremely small model that has barely enough room for drawing a bow. Small blinds are lighter, more portable, easier to set up and blend in with their surroundings. I prefer anything that isn’t shaped like a large box.
Even when using a bow, spot-and-stalking a whitetail is not out of the question.
Joel Maxfield from Mathews Archery has taken numerous big bucks by slipping within bow range while they’re bedded down.
“I typically have the best success stalking whitetails in wide-open farm ground where there is tall CRP or crops I can use for sneaking,” he said. “Much of my success is because a buck was locked down on a hot doe. When that happens, the buck’s attention is on the doe. If I can see him from a distance, the distraction of the doe gives me the opportunity to slip into bow range.
“I use binoculars and play the wind,” he continued. “It sometimes can take a long time to get within range, but I’ve used that formula with success many times.”
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This article was published in the August 2014 edition of Buckmasters Whitetail Magazine. Subscribe today to have Buckmasters delivered to your home.