Ground Attack: Bowhunting Whitetails without a Blind
September 06, 2012
The most popular way to hunt whitetails is from a treestand. It has been the preferred method of bowhunters for quite some time and will probably remain that way. An increasingly popular method for taking whitetails is using a popup blind. Popup blinds can be put up quickly, can easily be transported to a new location, conceal movement and make hunting in bad weather more enjoyable. I have hunted from treestands. I regularly use ground blinds, but in the last several years I have given up both methods when chasing whitetails. I prefer to hunt from the ground without a blind. Many of you reading this may think I am nuts, because hunting from the ground without a blind can be (and most of the time is) extremely difficult, but achieving success from the ground is possible.
I've spent a considerable amount of time hunting big game in the West. Almost everyone who lives in the West hunts everything — including elk, mule deer and bears — from the ground without a blind. Hanging around Western folks slowly rubbed off on me, and I decided to hunt whitetails from the ground without a blind. This style of hunting has been difficult yet rewarding.
Off to Maryland
One of my favorite whitetail hunts of all time took place a couple of years ago in Maryland, where I was part of a group invited to test W.L. Gore & Associates' new OptiFade Forest camouflage pattern. We spent a couple days learning about the science of Gore-Tex and OptiFade and then spent a few days hunting whitetails. When I arrived in camp, I quickly informed everyone that I prefer hunting from a ladder stand or from the ground because I have cerebral palsy. I was brought to a ladder stand the first evening of the hunt. I can normally get in and out of ladder stands OK, but that day I forgot my rope for pulling my bow up the tree. So, I decided it was safer to hunt from the ground than try to get up the ladder while holding my bow.
I surveyed the landscape like I do in the West, looking for a good ambush location. I found a fresh scrape, a good runway heading to a food plot and some tall cattails. I hid on the edge of the cattails in a spot where the wind was in my face. A few saplings in front of me provided me with a little extra cover to break up my outline. When hunting from the ground, many people bring chairs or stools. Although that is the more comfortable way of hunting, I often sit on my knees. At times, I must stretch to avoid being in a lot of pain, but sitting on my knees makes me disappear into my surroundings better than standing or sitting on a chair.
I wasn't hunkered down in the cattails very long when a doe and a young buck worked their way past me at 30 yards. They were oblivious to the fact I was on the prowl a short distance away. As the evening dragged on, my body started to ache, but I remained motionless because less than an hour of light remained before dark.
Shortly thereafter, a mature, 10-point buck stepped out of the cattails only 25 yards away. He instantly started working a scrape and a licking branch. While he was busy working the scrape, I was focused on trying to get a shot. The problem was a small sapling in the way of a good, clean shot. So, I waited to see what the buck would do.
There was a runway a few yards in front of me that went right to that scrape. I was hoping eventually he would leave the scrape and work his way in my direction. And that's exactly what he did. After licking the licking branch and peeing in the scrape, he started walking down the nearby runway. When he was at 20 yards, I couldn't get a shot because he was looking in my direction. There was brush in my way at 15 yards and 10 yards. My only hope was for a five-yard shot, directly in front of me. The seconds passed like hours as he worked his way down the runway, but eventually he was only about six yards in front of me. As his eyes passed behind a small tree, I drew my bow. When he stepped out from behind the sapling, he was a mere four or five yards away. I aimed and let the arrow fly. The rest, as they say, is history. He ran 30 yards and fell over. The mature buck was a little busted up, but was 4 or 5 years old. According to the landowner, he was at the top end for the state of Maryland.
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Some may say this hunt was just luck, but that is not the case. One week before the Maryland hunt, I was in a similar situation in Texas. I had a 150-inch buck at seven yards without a good shot because he was looking in my direction. I was on the ground in Texas, hunting from behind a pile of cedar branches. Getting up close and personal on the ground is very doable.
When hunting from the ground, I am extremely mobile. I am able to set up where I want to and I don't have to worry about finding a good tree to hang a stand or if the wind is the right direction for a certain stand that was already hung. When hunting from the ground, I can hunker down anywhere I want as long as I have brush, grass or trees to break up my outline. If the wind isn't right for the exact spot I am planning to hunt, I find a spot nearby where the wind is right, which is one advantage of being super mobile.
When hunting from the ground, I pay close attention to the wind direction and make sure I am scent free. I usually wear a carbon suit and spray down my gear and boots with Scent Killer spray. If there is one thing that ruins my hunt more than anything else, it is deer circling behind me and catching my wind. When hunting from a treestand, you can sometimes overcome a marginal wind. That is not the case on the ground.
It's What to Wear
One way I am able to remain unseen is by wearing a 3-D leafy suit. There are many brands on the market, and most of them work well at breaking up the human outline. By hunting in front of or behind brush and by wearing a 3-D leafy suit, you can usually beat the eyes of the whitetail. It is amazing how the 3-D effect of leafy wear really helps me disappear. I always wear a 3-D leafy head cover as well. Deer are good at picking out the human outline, especially the head when we are looking around and moving.
I always wash my clothes in clothing wash that doesn't contain ultraviolet (UV) brighteners, and I spray down with a UV killer. There is much research that indicates deer can see UV light. By washing and spraying my clothes down, I can outsmart the eyes of a deer. It can be a hassle, but it is well worth it when hunting from the ground.
It is also important to note I hunt almost the same way from the ground as I would from a treestand. I like hunting near a food source, a water source or over a mock scrape. Scrapes work well because they often distract the buck while I am preparing for the shot. Food sources and water make for great ambush points.
Case in Point
Rob Smollack from ASAT Camouflage loves hunting from the ground. He has killed more than 100 whitetails from the ground without using a blind. He likes this option because he can easily get up and move during the day if needed and doesn't have to move treestands, ground blinds or lots of gear.
"I am from Montana and am used to hunting from the ground," Smollack said. "A few years ago, I killed a decent buck in Wisconsin from the ground. I often rattle for a while, move and rattle some more. If bucks won't come to me, I go look for them. I rattle, grunt and then move. Eventually I end up within earshot of a deer. I called and rattled in the buck in Wisconsin."
When employing this tactic, Smollack looks for downed trees, standing corn or thick trees to hide in to break up his outline.
"I have noticed when hunting in the Midwest that many deer spend more time looking in trees for predators than they do on the ground," he said. "Staying still when I need to and blending in while rattling and calling has worked well for me."
It is important to note that on the Wisconsin hunt, Smollack killed a buck and a doe while all of his hunting buddies who were hunting from treestands went home empty-handed. Smollack enjoys stalking corn rows, slowly slipping through swamps and methodically going after deer.
"I think hunting from a treestand is boring. By hunting on the ground, I am creating my own luck instead of hoping a buck walks by," Smollack explained. "I am never stuck in one spot for long before moving if I don't have any action."
When hunting from a treestand, even a climbing treestand, mobile is one thing most hunters are not. They get comfortable with one spot because by the time they get their treestand up and in position, you are committed to the spot for the day. When hunting from the ground, if you see deer are traveling through a certain area several hundred yards away, you can sneak in that direction.
"I will sit in a certain spot for an hour or so or even a few hours if I think it is the right thing to do but for me, the joy of hunting from the ground is the fact that I can be on the go if needed. It makes the time pass much faster," Smollack said.
Maybe you know of a good runway without any good treestand trees. Maybe you want to hunt in a field that has tall grass but no trees. Maybe it is time you give hunting from the ground a try. Tall grass, a few trees or a small depression in the middle of a field is all that is needed to turn a bad spot to hunt into a good one. Hunting from the ground with the right camouflage and cover is much easier than you might think. Nothing beats the heart-pounding action that accompanies staring into the eyeballs of a buck at ground level when he is just a few steps away.