By Mark Huelsing
One of my goals for this season is to kill a whitetail from the ground with my bow, without the use of a blind. I have labeled this mission, “Operation Groundkill”.
I set this goal for three reasons…
1) Hunting from the ground is a rush! There is nothing like being up close and personal with a deer on the ground, especially when it is just a few yards away.
2) Hunting from the ground is a challenge. I am on a constant quest to become a better hunter. I judge this not by what I kill, but by how I kill it. Hunting from the ground will force me to hone my hunting skills and instincts.
3) Hunting from the ground opens up new opportunities. Let’s face it – there are some spots where a treestand, or even a ground blind, simply will not work well. Instead of skipping these spots, I want to adapt my hunting methods to suit them.
I don’t have a ton of experience hunting in this manor, but I have already had some amazing encounters this season. Here are a few simple things that I have learned as I have set myself free from the tree and started to hunt on the ground.
Get comfortable. I have had good luck setting up on the ground in ambush points. I pick these spots in a way that is similar to how I determine treestand locations, along travel corridors and pinch points. To hunt from the ground at one of these locations you have to set yourself up so that you can be comfortable. You can’t be moving around, shifting your weight, or constantly changing positions. Comfort is crucial to keeping your movement down as you wait to ambush a whitetail buck.
Be quiet. Moving around in the whitetail woods is a noisy affair. Leaves, sticks, rocks…everything makes noise and disrupts the stillness of nature. When you setup you have to clear your immediate area in a way that will allow you to be completely silent as you make the minor movements that may be necessary to get in shooting position. Another noise to consider is your gear. Does your bow make any noise when you draw it back? Are your hunting clothes as quiet as you thought they were?
Kill your scent. All bowhunters know that scent control is important, but it is especially vital to diminish our scent when we are hunting on the ground and coming within short range of the animals that we are after. I can’t tell you how exciting it is to have a buck 4 yards away from you at eye level, but that will never happen if you don’t control your scent.
Range in advance. Things happen fast on the ground. Deer have a way of showing up out of nowhere, and many times you won’t have the time or opportunity to range them. I always range several landmarks in advance so that I can determine what distance an incoming deer will be at. Things look a lot different from the ground, and it is easy for distance to deceive you, especially when you are hunting in steep terrain, as I often do.
Determine where you can shoot. When you are on the ground you are on the same level as every bush, thicket, and branch. It may appear that you have shooting lanes in many places, but all it takes is one little deflection to send your arrow off course. Determine where, exactly, that you can shoot and carry hand pruners to eliminate any obstructions as soon as you setup.
Know how and when to draw. Timing is everything on the ground. You can’t wait too late to draw your bow and risk getting busted, but drawing too early can lead to shakiness. Every situation is different, and often things don’t go as planned. Personally, I tend to draw early and rely on the bow-holding strength that I built up over the summer. Another tip is to draw and aim where you expect to shoot the deer, and not where the deer is when you draw. If you have a shooting lane to your left and the deer is headed towards that lane, then draw and hold on that lane and wait for the deer to come through. Don’t draw on the deer and “track” them with your bow – that is too much movement!
Use cover. Obviously using natural cover is important to keeping yourself concealed. However, don’t try to put yourself behind cover, which will limit your range of motion and shooting opportunities; instead, focus on placing yourself in front of quality cover. What is behind you is important for determining how your human shape will be concealed. Speaking of concealment…
Camo everything. I put a high value on camouflage when I am hunting from the ground. I attempt to cover up every bit of skin, including my face and hands. (I can’t stand face masks or gloves, so I use paint for my face and hands.) I also make sure that I keep anything bright or reflective tucked away in my bag. I think that sometimes we place too high of a priority on camouflage when rifle hunting, or hunting from a treestand, but camouflage is crucial for hunting form the ground at close ranges.
Track the sun. In addition to natural cover and camouflage, one of the most effective tools for concealing yourself is using natural sun light. Put the sun behind you and lurk in the shadows. Determine where the sun is moving and how it will affect the light over the duration of your hunt. Whatever you do, don’t get caught with the sun beaming towards you.
– Mark Huelsing is a regular guy with an irregular passion for bowhunting and the outdoors. If he is not bowhunting, then he is planning towards it, training for it, and writing about it at SoleAdventure.com