September 27, 2021
By Josh Honeycutt
The most popular deer hunting methods are treestands and elevated blinds, but these are no match for the action-packed adrenaline that comes with killing deer from the ground. While bowhunting from the ground is usually not a great tactic for small private properties, it can be a good play for large private lands and public properties.
There are numerous reasons to use this tactical approach. First, you don’t need a treestand or ground blind to do it. That’s less money and energy spent on purchasing and hanging treestands.
Secondly, it’s easier to shift if the wind changes, or if you need to react to deer travel patterns. Sometimes, you might notice deer are passing just out of range, and it’s much easier to adjust if hunting from the ground. You might also see a big deer that you want to pursue, but it’s much harder to do that when hunting from an elevated position.
Third, there aren’t always trees where you need them to be. Hunting from the ground solves this problem. Just find the right spot and sit down.
Of course, hunting from the ground presents plenty of challenges, too, and hunters must ask themselves questions that treestand hunters do not. It’s always important to go with your gut. Instinct is a product of experience and wisdom. You might not always make the right call, but over time, you’ll get better at it.
Here are 20 tidbits of info to help get the job done.
1. Boost Scent Control Efforts
Hunting from a treestand doesn’t prevent deer from smelling you, but when done correctly, it can certainly help reduce the odds. You don’t have that benefit when hunting from the ground, though. That makes it even more important to improve your scent-management protocol. Wash clothes. Store them in scent-reducing containers, spray down, minimize sweating, check the wind, hunting accordingly, etc.
2. Use Reliable Wind Checkers
Weather apps predict the wind direction, but not how the local terrain on your hunting grounds impact and change it. Rarely does the wind blow exactly as predicted. Remember that.
Also, powder isn’t the best tool to monitor it with. It falls to the ground too quickly to get a good read, or to see what the wind is doing further away from the stand. It could be traveling the right direction for 10-20 yards but doing a 180 and blowing in a different direction beyond that. Milkweed is the best item I know of to see exactly what the wind is doing.
3. Choose The Right Time
Deer are skittish critters (all the time). But bucks are slightly preoccupied during the late pre-rut and rut. Their rising testosterone levels make them more apt to make mistakes, and once the rut hits, and does enter estrus, they’re much less likely to pick you off. That said, don’t wait for the rut to hunt deer from the ground, but don’t skip that window, either.
4. Choose The Right Terrain
Certain areas offer more advantages to those who hunt from the ground. Areas with varying topography offer height advantages without the use of a treestand. Clear-cuts and other areas with downed trees provide an abundance of cover. Rocky areas with large boulders are natural ground blinds, too. The list goes on. Hunt in advantageous terrain.
5. Go In Light
Take as little gear as necessary. This allows you to be quieter, stealthier, and less noticeable. It also preserves energy, which is necessary when hiking way in on private or public lands.
6. Camo Up
It’s crucial to wear good camo that keeps you hidden and breaks up your pattern. The best way to do this is to wear a leafy suit, which helps make you less like a blob, even with minimal cover.
7. Still, Find Some Good Cover
Even if wearing a leafy suit, it’s important to find quality cover you blend with. Downed trees, thick brush, and other objects offer this. But don’t just use cover to minimize the odds of being seen. Use the terrain and cover as downwind barriers that decrease the odds of deer entering your scent cone, too.
8. Sit On A Stool
The closer to the ground you can sit, the better. Generally, chairs sit higher up, making it easier for deer to see you. Sitting on a stool, or even on the ground if you can still effectively and safely draw your bow, is a great way to have a smaller visual profile, so to speak.
9. Use A Bow Stand
Hunting from the ground means minimal movement. It’s imperative to keep your compound bow in a vertical position and at the ready. The best way to do that is by using a collapsible, lightweight, low-profile bow stand.
10. Set Up For Further Shots
When hunting from a treestand, I prefer 10- to 20-yard shots. When hunting from the ground, it’s best to back them up to 25 to 35, maybe even 40. At these distances, it’s much easier to get drawn back.
11. Consider Carrying A Crossbow
I’ve shot deer from the ground with a compound bow and no blind, but it’s hard. It’s much easier with a crossbow. When and where regulations allow, consider taking a horizontal bow instead.
12. Deploy A Stake Blind
The smallest synthetic blind a hunter can use is a roll- or fold-up stake blind. It offers 1-3 feet in cover, which is usually perfect for bowhunting from the ground. Combine that with some natural cover and you’re good to go.
13. Build Permanent Blinds
Building permanent elevated blinds is becoming very popular on private lands. This not only elevates the hunter for better visibility for the hunter but also reduces the odds of being seen, smelled, or heard by deer. Of course, these can be built or purchased.
14. Buy A Hub-Style Blind
Smaller popups are very difficult to bowhunt from because their width generally isn’t wide enough to allow bowhunters to comfortably come to full draw. That said, larger hub-style blinds are perfect for bowhunters who want to remain at ground level. These also help reduce the odds of deer from seeing, smelling, or hearing you. But remember, it’s best to brush these in long before the season opens.
15. Use Natural Blinds
You don’t have to build a blind to use one. Boulders, brush piles, cedar trees, single-trunk trees, split-trunk trees, creek banks, ditches, crop field edges, grass clumps and edges, hay rolls, stone walls, and other items serve the same purpose.
16. Have Some Distractions
Bowhunters need a distraction to get to full draw. Given that, they can do certain things to draw a deer’s attention. Where legal, scent wafers can distract deer just long enough to draw back. Mock scrapes, horizontal rubbing posts, decoys, and other things work, too. When they do, you'll have quite the story!
17. Be Extra Still
Whether hunting from a blind, or not, remaining motionless is a must. Deer can see very well, and pick up on the subtlest of movement. The only remedy for that is to not move when you can see its eyes. Move when its head is behind cover, when it’s looking directly away, or when it’s distracted.
18. Give Still Hunting A Try
Slowly and carefully easing through travel routes, staging areas, and even bedding areas is an excellent way to cross paths with a deer on the ground. It’s an art, though, and you must learn patience. Cover ground very slowly. Remain still for long periods and glass. Be meticulous.
19. Learn To Fox Walk
The native Americans had a great method of walking silently in the woods. Technically, this was and still is a form of stalking. It requires very careful, deliberate movement, and certainly demands stealth capabilities. To begin, the hunter moves slowly, and takes steps when game isn’t looking. Then, when taking a step, they land on the outside of the ball of their foot. Then, they roll to the inside of the ball of their foot. If no loud object is felt, lower the heel and toes, and slowly transfer body weight to that foot. Wearing moccasins makes this much easier. While this technique was used by most tribes, the Chippewa were credited with being masters at it. Give it a try on your next hunt.
20. Put On A Spot and Stalk
Lastly, if you see a deer in a position to stalk, do it. Wear moccasins or pull your boots off and go in socks. Get the wind in your favor and slowly close the distance.
All things considered, killing deer from the ground is no simple task. But it isn’t impossible, and there are certainly things hunters can do to increase the odds of success. Give it a try this season, and good luck.