Updated: Jan 28
This year, for the first time in my Whitetail bowhunting career, I've been focused on ground setups. It sort of just evolved out of necessity while bowhunting a new property that doesn't have suitable size trees for a stand setup. Looking back though, this ground game for whitetails truly began last season.
It was late October, I didn't want to relocate any of my treestands on this particular afternoon. I was being a bit lazy. But there was this hot corner of the woods, near the oat field that the deer were feeding in and I really wanted to hunt the spot. While scouting the area for a quick set-up, I happened to find a natural divot in the ground surrounded by some good cover that was 12 steps from a heavily used trail.
The depression in the shrubby ground made the perfect ground blind and I had a doe walk down the trail right toward me! It caught me off guard and I had to scramble a bit to pick up my bow and get ready as she quickly made her way down the trail toward the one shooting lane I had. She stopped with just enough of her brisket showing past a medium size poplar sapling. I drew my bow, and she was still unaware. I remember thinking "don't hit that sapling" as I released the arrow toward the deer. The arrow veered wildly in front of her face and out into the field immediately after striking the aforementioned sapling. Exactly the wrong thing to be thinking immediately before an arrow release. Pro tip.
But that evening's experience got me thinking about ground blinds and the reasons they might be useful. I still have tree stands in place around my main hunting property, but I've sat on the ground for the majority of my hunts this year. I've had animals many times approach within only a few yards of bow range...so close. I've also had non-target species like Moose that I feel like I could've easily killed if I had a tag. I definitely feel that I am in the game on most of these hunts from the ground.
There is a tangible intimacy that comes with hunting on the ground. Things are close. Mice, grouse, and passing moose are right there with me during the hunt. Up in the trees, I feel more secure and removed from the environment around me. Maybe I'm not explaining this properly...it's just a feeling I get during the different experiences while bowhunting. I do really enjoy the raw feeling that comes while hunting from the ground. Any shot opportunities are going to be eye-to-eye. It is intense to say the least.
This season, on a new property, I've sat exclusively on the ground so far. This is because the fencerow that the deer are traveling has nothing but brambles and old willows. A treestand here simply is not an option. There are a few great ambush spots in that fencerow, and again, I've had several close encounters including yet another clean miss at about 20 yards on a doe. She was very alert having caught me moving as I readied for the shot, she simply dodged the slow-moving arrow that flew from my antique recurve.
Ground hunting whitetails is definitely another level of challenge to be sure. On the ground, where the deer are accustomed to identifying trouble there is zero room for error. Wind directions and appropriate levels of movement are absolutely critical. I mean they're critical in a tree stand too, but this is even more so. I am well into my 2nd year of not shooting a whitetail with my bow (after being away from bowhunting seriously for the previous decade), and I really don't need any more of a challenge on these animals. So nobody needs to think that I am suffering from delusions of grandeur here. I do really want to connect again with my trad gear. But on the other hand, I have killed numerous mature whitetail bucks with a bow, and many other non-trophy animals over the years. I am enjoying the process of these hunts and re-learning old skills that I once took for granted. The harvest drought doesn't need to end any time soon as long as I'm enjoying the hunt.