May Not Always Be The Best Strategy
A Simple Ground Blind Made of Camo Cloth Offers Stealth and Mobility
by Bob Humphrey
It seemed like an ideal setup: a narrow wooded funnel between a large open field and several houses. Heavy trails and a pair of fresh rubs indicated at least one buck was using this narrow band of woods to reach an area of dense bedding cover. Normally I would be perched in one of my portable tree stands. But this day I decided instead to hunt the first 30 minutes or so from a makeshift ground blind, then still-hunt the swampy bedding area.
The sun had yet to top the trees, but there was ample light when I heard a faint rustling just upslope from my position. I had scarcely turned my head when I saw antlers. It was a big eight-pointer, easily in the 125-class, and he was working his way down the trail toward me. I quickly scanned for an opening as I pressed my body back against a small rocky outcrop. As the buck stepped into a clearing he paused, then lowered his head to nibble an acorn. I drew back and my twenty-yard pin settled behind his shoulder. I took a deep breath, held it, and released.
Instead of the dull thud of an arrow striking flesh however, I heard a sharp "ping," and the deer bolted.
A quick study of the area revealed the reason for my miss. There on the ground, where the buck was standing lay a freshly-cut sapling, scarcely larger than a pencil. My arrow, which was hung up in a tangle of branches, was clean - no blood, no hair. I cursed my bad fortune, but felt some satisfaction at having outwitted a mature buck.
Beginning this September, many archers in Maine will participate in a season that spans more than three months and includes the opportunity to take up to three deer. Most will probably hunt from stands. But a few will set out afoot. If you've tried it, you know how difficult, but successful it can be. If you haven't, you may want to add this most challenging method to your repertoire.
Tree stand hunting is the most common method for archers. Being on an elevated perch offers much greater visibility, particularly in thick cover. It also affords a better chance to move in the presence of deer without being detected. Finally, it helps with scent control by getting human odor up, off the ground. Conversely, bowhunting on the ground is more difficult, but certainly not impossible.
In fact, it offers several advantages, the most significant one being mobility. Once up a tree, you’re committed to that spot, unless you expend considerable effort and risk disturbing the area by moving. A grounded hunter on the other hand, can pick a spot at random, and change locations with a minimum of effort. They also have the ability to still hunt and stalk deer. Watching a big buck pass by just out of bow range is one of the banes of tree stand hunting.
Afoot, the bowhunter has two modes to choose from: still-hunting or stand hunting. In the latter case, it is often advantageous to build a blind. A makeshift blind can often be fashioned from vegetation and fallen branches, and the ice storm of '98 provided a nearly unlimited supply of blind material in some areas. Still, some hunters prefer to carry a portable blind. Portable blinds range from simple to complex. My personal preference is a bolt of camo material and a few clothes pins, which fit in my fanny pack and can be fashioned into an adequate blind most anywhere. Others I know have purchased or made blinds consisting of little more than camo material and stakes (made from old arrow shafts or fishing rods).
The most elaborate blind I've seen consists of camo material and hooped rods, which unfolds into a small "tent." Whichever you choose, it is important to place yourself downwind of trails you anticipate deer will move on.
Scent control is even more critical when hunting on the ground and there are several ways to accomplish this. Masking scents are okay, but may alert deer to the presence of something, putting them on edge. It's best to use plant scents like fir and cedar rather than animal (fox, skunk) or food (acorn, apple) scents. I prefer odor elimination. Several products are available including scent wash for clothing; scent shield sprays for body and clothing; and Scent-LokTM suits, which absorb human body odor. I was skeptical about the latter until I tried it last spring on a bear hunt.
A blind is certainly not necessary; however camo clothing is. The pattern you choose can be a matter of personal preference, but it helps if you can match your surroundings. The key is to break up your outline. Leafy patterns like AdvantageTM and Break-UpTM , are popular but PredatorTM is among the best for breaking up the human form. Another option is a 3-D leafy suit, now available from several manufacturers. I tested this on turkeys last spring and was genuinely impressed with results. If they can fool a sharp-eyed turkey, they can definitely dupe a deer.
Camo clothing and scent control are also important when still-hunting and stalking, as is movement. The former becomes the latter as soon as a deer is sighted, and to stalk within range of a deer is without question the most challenging method of bowhunting. It takes extreme patience and stealthy movements. If possible, use trees or other obstacles to obscure your approach and move only when the deer is not looking in your direction.
A certain amount of noise is acceptable as the woods are often filled with the clamor of feeding birds and squirrels. Still, each step should be slow and delicate. Moving slowly also reduces the even-paced gait of a bipedal human. When the moment of truth comes, I like to be behind a tree so I can draw without being seen. Then, I lean out and take the shot.
Those hunting the early bow season may also be pestered with biting insects. A fine mesh headnet can help, but sometimes obscures your vision. Another option is using repellent, but most have a very strong odor. There are some however, available in earth or other natural scents.
The greatest advantage of hunting on the ground is flexibility. When the wind isn't right or that favorite stand just isn't producing you can move to another locale and begin hunting immediately, without the hassle of lugging and erecting a stand.
It takes meticulous attention to scent control, appearance, and movement, and is more challenging. But then, the greater the challenge, the greater the reward.
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