By Gary Engberg
-- I've harvested my share of deer over the years using many different tactics and techniques while gun and bowhunting. Spending a considerable amount of my adult life in the state of Wisconsin has given me the opportunity to see and study white-tailed deer throughout the four seasons.
I live in south-central Wisconsin, which is a mixture of agricultural land and scattered woodlots. Since the 1960s and 1970s, many deer have made the transition from the older pine forests and hardwood stands of northern Wisconsin to the agricultural lands located in the southern half of the state. I'm lucky enough to see deer most every day and can walk a few 100 yards from my home and be in deer country.
Most of my early years hunting were spent in treestands, and I believe that hunters will still harvest more deer when hunting from treestands than from the ground. If bowhunting, you may need a little more cover to hide your movements and time to draw your bow versus aiming and pulling the trigger while gun hunting.
While on the ground, a hunter is able to get in touch with his game and experience some of the most exciting and exhilarating encounters with wildlife. What a hunter sees and experiences from being close to deer are memories that will last a lifetime. Imagine a nice buck coming within 10 yards of you and not knowing that you are there? You're able to see the deer's mannerisms, its sounds, physical characteristics, color variations, and movements!
Prior to writing this story, I talked with some local friends, Casey Blum and Dean Carlson, who I consider excellent hunters, and they have taken trophy deer to prove it! While they prefer to hunt from trees, they do not mind hunting from the ground when necessary. I thank them for some of their personal tips that I know will help me and hopefully you when going to the woods.
Even before you enter the woods and your hunting area, there are things that the ground hunter must do to insure a safe and rewarding hunt. First, research the area that you are hunting before you even set foot on the land. This can be done by using Google Earth (http://earth.google.com/) and finding topographic maps of the hunting land. By studying these maps, you can figure out the natural pathways, corridors, and funnels of the land that will give you a good idea of where deer will be, where they will move and where you should set up.
Try to know the lay of the land and how the wind currents blow where you'll be hunting. When ground hunting, the wind can be your worst enemy! A steady breeze is fine since it won't carry your scent like a swirling wind can, and a constant breeze can often help a hunter by disguising a hunter's sounds and movements.
It's of utmost importance to have a scent-free body. Take a shower before hunting using scent-free soap and shampoo. Brush your teeth, and when you are done eating and drinking, rinse your mouth with a baking soda and water mixture before going hunting. Don't have today's breakfast, coffee, and or tobacco on you or your clothing for a day of hunting. Remember, humans stink to deer and you have to do whatever is possible to cover up, mask, and eliminate your scent and smell.
Always, try to have a path to and from your hunting spot that you know well and that will not invade a deer's bedding, feeding and travel routes. You never want to wander aimlessly into your hunting area. Be prepared to arrive at your hunting location well before sunrise and plan to leave well after dark.
Having a handheld GPS or compass is a must. The GPS is the best tool you can possibly have at night. Try to use your topographic maps before the hunt to make sure that you have an easy way or a waypoint to help find your way out of the woods. Without a directional device, it could be a long and cold night in the woods.
Now, you've done all the preparation, studied your maps, and gotten yourself and your gear ready for the hunt. Remember, that the sun will always rise and set while you're in the woods. Try to keep it at your back at all times so that you are always in the shadows while hunting.
If you're going to be hunting from a ground blind, after you have the location picked out, clear the shooting lanes and put some brush and branches around the blind to break up its outline. Something equally important as preparing the site is to set up the blind at least a few days if not a few weeks before you plan on hunting from it. The blind will often spook deer if you're not careful. Deer always know what is in their home area and will notice any changes. Giving deer a chance to get accustomed to this addition will help when it comes time to hunt from the blind.
Personally, I prefer to set up around natural cover close to some major trail intersections, scrapes and rubs. Then I rely on good camouflage, scent elimination and the ability to remain motionless to get me close to the deer.
The time you spend sitting and still hunting is when your optics or binoculars come in handy and can make or break the hunt. While you remain motionless in your spot, scan the surrounding woods and fields with a good pair of optics. One of the most important things in hunting is to see your game before it sees you. Scan in every direction over and over again before you move. If the surrounding woods are thick, try to look into the heavy cover and beyond it.
Look for any part of a deer or any movement because you will rarely see the whole deer. This takes time to do properly, which is good because it slows you down and provides the patience needed to have success on the ground. Being cautious and patient will result in seeing and interacting with more game and having a greater chance at harvesting a deer!
If filling your freezer with venison is your only goal, you'll have better success hunting from a treestand. But, if you want a challenge and the chance to get nearly face to face with your quarry, take to the ground.
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