You can’t always find a climbable tree in good whitetail habitat.
For several long days, I’d faithfully hunted from a permanent ground blind in northern Michigan, and I was beginning to think I was wasting my time.
I’d probably overhunted the blind, repeatedly drawn back by my father’s news of spotting a mature buck in the area and by the lure of an impressive buck I’d seen a few days earlier. The buck came out right at dark, so I didn’t have an opportunity to shoot.
With the memory of those wide antlers fresh in my mind, I settled into the blind for an afternoon hunt.
Seeing no deer by 4:00, I was fidgety. I picked up my binoculars and began to glass the brush and small poplar trees in front of the blind.
I was admiring the work of some industrious beavers who’d built a dam in a pond just behind the cover when I saw the buck. I didn’t have to count points to know I wanted to put my tag on it.
For 10 long minutes, I watched the deer pick its way through the brush. Each time it disappeared, I worried and begged it to keep coming.
As soon as the buck cleared the brush, I squeezed the trigger. The ground blind turned out to be the perfect setup.
Long before there were commercial treestands, hunters built simple ground blinds and waited out whitetails.
Today, some hunters have gotten so habituated to using treestands, they pass on an area if it doesn’t have any climbable trees.
Whitetails don’t need straight trees. They spend much of their time in brushy, thick cover, where they feel safe. If you don’t hunt those areas, you’re passing up some of the best deer habitat available.
As with treestands, if you spend time hunting from a ground blind and learn how to use it, you’ll greatly increase your options in the woods.
One of the biggest advantages of using ground blinds is you can put them anywhere. They work as well in an open field as they do in the deep woods. They’re the ultimate in flexibility.
Ground blinds also provide concealment, allowing you to get up close and personal with deer without sending them running to the next county.
“I would rather use a ground blind over anything else, because you can move in one and just relax a little more,” said bowhunter and writer Jay Strangis. “And because you’re not shooting downward, you get good, killing shots.”
While you can usually get away with moving a little more in a ground blind, there are limits. At one time or another, anyone who’s ever hunted from the ground has been spotted adjusting position or reaching for a snack.
My father nearly blew the buck of a lifetime when a doe spotted him standing up to stretch. It took several minutes of remaining frozen (not to mention fervent prayer) before the doe looked away and relaxed.
Ground blinds also can be very mobile, a big plus if the wind changes direction or you keep seeing a buck at the other end of a field.
When a deer offers a shot, a ground blind lets you draw your bow or shoulder your gun with much less chance of being seen than when making those same movements from a treestand. If you have a young or inexperienced hunting partner, ground blind hunting is the way to go. Not only do they conceal movement, but they also are much safer.
Of course, ground blinds aren’t perfect.
They offer less visibility than treestands, and it can be difficult to see and shoot behind you. How you place a blind and where the windows are in relation to shot opportunities are critical.
Scent control is an issue as well. At ground level, wind isn’t going to carry your scent over deer. Pay attention to scent control when hunting and pay strict attention to detail when setting up the blind.
“When a doe discovers something new, she will generally circle downwind to check it out,” said legendary hunter Mark Drury. “It’s very important not to have any human scent on the blind.”
When setting up and brushing in a ground blind, wear rubber boots and gloves, along with scent-control clothing. When you’re done, use a scent-eliminating spray on the blind and surrounding ground and vegetation.
Hunting television personalities Lee and Tiffany Lakosky often use ground blinds with great success. One of Lee’s favorite techniques is to dig down and bury the edge of his blinds where they touch the ground. Doing so provides extra scent control and makes the blind more stable.
Whitetails don’t like surprises, and they know their travel routes as well as you know your living room. Do you think you’d notice if someone set up a blind in your house, even if they “brushed it in” with furniture?
Fortunately, whitetails adjust rather quickly to benign changes in their environment. When possible, set up a ground blind at least two weeks before you intend to hunt it. Brush it in to blend with the surroundings.
When hunting open fields, place the blind right out in the open where deer can see it from far away.
“If it doesn’t move, deer don’t perceive it as a threat,” Strangis said.
If possible, set the blind where it’s difficult for deer to circle behind you, or downwind.
Also be aware of where the sun will be when you’re hunting from the blind. For example, don’t face the blind westward if you’re planning to hunt in the afternoon.
Leave the windows in the same configuration you’ll use when hunting. That will give deer time to get used to those black holes that can wig them out.
Unless you’re using a decoy, it’s not a good idea to use calls from a ground blind. Blinds don’t bleat or grunt, so you’re alerting deer that something’s not right.
“I don’t rattle, because most of the time I’m set up in thick stuff, and I can’t see what’s out there,” Strangis said.
One great place to use a ground blind is near water. Set the blind right next to a pond, lake or spring, and you’re sure to catch a buck coming in for a drink at dusk.
“Where legal, I’ve set up a pontoon blind on the water,” said Whitetail Properties co-owner Dan Perez.
Standing crops create another perfect ground blind setup. Last year’s hunting suffered when farmers weren’t able to harvest corn before the deer seasons. Bucks throughout the Midwest stayed holed up in beige jungles while hunters twiddled their thumbs in unproductive stands.
Whitetails often travel just inside corn edges, so carve a spot in a cornfield corner and use stalks to blend the blind into the field. Make sure you have the farmer’s permission before doing so.
“Last year, I shot a 165-inch buck on the edge of a standing cornfield from a blind I’d brushed in and left up for a week before hunting from it,” Drury said. “If you have a field that’s been partially cut, put the blind on the edge of the standing corn facing the cut part.”
While commercial ground blinds are great, you don’t have to buy anything to make a great ground setup.
Whether in thick cover or deep woods, find a small open area and do what Strangis does: build a pit blind. Start by digging a hole large enough to place your feet in. Surround it with brush, limbs and tall weeds. Pretty soon, you’ll have a blind about 4 feet tall that’ll get you eye level with Old Mossy Horns.
Don’t hesitate to use abandoned man-made items, either. One time I was hunting some timber between a soybean field and a bedding area and climbed inside an old rusty truck. The deer were so used to the clunker they never noticed I was there.
“A few years ago, I was hunting in Texas, and I found a little dilapidated shed,” Strangis said. “It was on the way to a feeder that was 100 yards away, so I just went inside and knelt on the wooden floor.” That afternoon, Strangis had a front-row seat to a heavyweight bout between two bucks before he arrowed one of them.
The number of ground-blind possibilities is limited only by the wind and your imagination. Wood piles, dilapidated buildings, round hay bales and even broken manure spreaders will double as ground blinds.
The next time you’re looking up in the air for a decent tree to sit in, remember the perfect setup might be closer to your feet. Read Recent Articles:
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• Get Up and Go! You need a Plan B when treestands and food plot vigils aren’t working. This article was published in the Winter 2010 edition of Buckmasters Whitetail Magazine. Subscribe today to have Buckmasters delivered to your home.