February 15, 2022
As soon as it's whitetail season bowhunters hit the woods and fields en masse, hoping for a chance to procure some protein and possibly tag a trophy.
Some tote traditional archery gear, while others prefer more modern contrivances such as compounds and crossbows. Most rules and limitations of archery apply to all three, but there are some differences, and this is where the crossbow really shines.
First, let’s set the record straight. A crossbow is made up of strings, cables, limbs and a riser, and it doesn’t require gunpowder. So, it’s a bow — period! However, it does offer the distinct advantage of holding the fully drawn bowstring in place, eliminating the need to draw and move when game is close at hand. In some ways, that’s a game changer.
Without getting into too much detail, a deer’s vision is good but not great. Deer see colors in the blue-violet end of the visible spectrum very well and those in the red-orange range not so well. The simple solution to help offset this is to wear good camo clothing. A deer’s visual acuity is best on a horizontal plane directly in front of them and to the sides. While their field of view is wider than ours — due to their eyes being on the side of their head rather than facing directly forward — their peripheral vision is not as clear. In short, if you’re not right in front of them they may not see you, unless you move.
Hunting on the Ground
With a crossbow, you don’t need to move as much as with other bows, which reduces or eliminates the need to seek an elevated perch to avoid detection. Hence, ground blinds offer an alternative. And, while you can hunt at eye level without being seen, it’s also worth noting that you’re still committed to a specific location, which severely restricts mobility. Ditch the blind and your options increase significantly.
You can still split the difference by adding a little natural cover to enhance your concealment, which is why carrying a set of ratchet cutters in your day pack is a good idea. A ghillie suit will also go a long way toward breaking up your human form, and you don’t need to worry about possibly getting loose fabric tangled in your bowstring.
All this opens up a whole realm of possibilities. Rather than slipping into your treestand well before dawn to await daylight and deer, you could wait and then still-hunt your way in, a method made much easier by the narrower, more compact crossbows now dominating the market.
You might, of course, spot deer on the way. It’s not easy, but I’ve killed my share of whitetails on the ground with a compound, and the crossbow makes this feat easier.
As you are still-hunting, you might find an ideal ambush spot along the way. Rather than burning valuable hunting time waiting until midday to hike in, set a stand, let things settle down and return later to hunt it, you can simply plop down and start hunting then and there. This means you can scout and hunt at the same time, which can be a valuable timesaver when investigating new ground.
See if this sounds familiar: you scout a new area, find a potential honey hole and put up a stand. The fateful day arrives, and much to your chagrin, you discover the deer are traveling just out of range. It’s too late to move, unless you have a climber, and even that will cause a bit of commotion at the worst possible time. However, when hunting on the ground with a crossbow, you can simply get up and move.
This also eliminates the need to look for trees. We’ve all found a hotspot that would be ideal, if it only had a climbable tree. With a crossbow, you can simply set up against a fencepost, a sapling or even a brushpile. Wear a turkey vest with a rigid seat frame and you don’t even need that — you can recline in comfort even in a patch of CRP grass.
Crossbows are often a better option for hunting public land. Without the need for a fixed or climbing stand, you have more options for setup locations, and you can get back away from the roads and crowds.
A shooting stick is always a good idea to provide a stable rest. The telescoping type can be used fully extended while still-hunting or collapsed when sitting on the ground. In the latter case, you can often find what you need onsite in the form of a stump, rock, limb or even a stick. Situations will dictate your setup, but you usually have many options.
In addition to the aforementioned fencepost, you could set up on a pivot or other piece of farm equipment, nestle into the limbs or against the roots of a fallen tree, or crouch behind a stone wall. You could even use a layout blind in open field situations.
The list of advantages to hunting on the ground goes on. You’ll still need a rangefinder, but you won’t have to worry about compensating for steep downward angles. That also means a better chance of complete pass-through on broadside shots to the boiler room. No more long tracking jobs on one-lung hits.
You may even find ground hunting a little more exciting and challenging than treestand hunting. Watching a deer walk casually by from an elevated perch seems a bit less intimate. Down at eye level it’s a different story. The slightest movement — even breathing — might give you away. Scent control is even more important here, as is paying attention to wind direction.
If you hunt from a treestand like most bowhunters do, mix it up a little next year. Get down, move around and change the game.
Tip of the Month
Always match your surroundings. Any camo that breaks up the human form will work, but some patterns are better than others in certain conditions. Rather than an open, branchy pattern designed for the treestand hunter, you might be better off with one dominated by grass or sage brush, or a general-purpose pattern such as Realtree Excape (shown in photo).