Believe me when I tell you, humans are creatures of habit, myself included! Fortunately for our bi-pedal hunting brethren, whitetails can be very habitual too! Like the old adage says… “Old habits are hard to break”. My three decades of hunting have led to some good and not so good habits. Luckily, I’m flexible enough to realize not all habits are good ones. Let me explain.
Hunters have been conditioned to believe that whitetails can only be hunted from tree stands. The arguments against hunting from the ground are lengthy and varied. Lord knows I’ve heard all the benefits of hunting from an elevated position. No doubt, the advantages of hunting in a tree stand can tip the scales in your favor. But I’m here to tell you that stand hunting is not the only way to kill deer. A recent hunt in Orleans County will prove my point.
The 2011 deer season was interesting to say the least. The soybeans were harvested a week or two before the bow-opener. The corn was gone before the soybeans! By the way, I think it rained almost every day for two straight weeks. I figured my food plot would be an automatic hotbed for deer activity. But to my surprise, the area was receiving little to no attention. The cornfield directly south of my “food plot stand” received more visits than most computer search engines. Don’t get me wrong; the deer sightings were encouraging, I just needed a few “up close and personal” visits to get my adrenaline flowing.
I watched the same activity day after agonizing day. Then a light went off in my head. The light said, “Hey stupid, why don’t you get out of that tree stand and try something different”. The deer were avoiding me like the plague. I didn’t have time to hang another stand, so I felt maybe a “ground attack” was in order. What did I have to lose?
When I say “ground attack”, I mean that in literal terms. No ground blind hunting this time. I’m talking about using the terrain and natural cover to my advantage. Paying strict attention to wind direction. Hunting deer like Native Americans did a century or two ago. Why not? Before the advent of portable tree stands, the ONLY option most hunters had was to hunt from the ground.
My strategy was to get downwind of the deer activity and hunker down in the best cover I could find. The afternoon of October 25th I was greeted by more rain, but the rain subsided, and the deer traipsed into the cornfield as if on cue. This evening, my “ground attack” would be located along a lengthy hedgerow that separated two food sources… corn and alfalfa. As the sun continued to slip behind the trees, I glanced to my right and saw a nice eight-pointer freshening a scrape. A few minutes later, the buck decided to do an “about face”, and proceeded to walk right down the edge of the hedgerow I was standing in! One thing was abundantly clear… this buck was going to walk by me at less than five yards!
I managed to draw my bow without being detected and the deer sauntered by without a care in the world. That is, until my 125-grain Wasp sliced through his lungs, and punched a hole through his opposite side! The eight-pointer ran about 110 yards and dropped within sight. What an awesome hunt! Talk about a close encounter! I just killed a mature buck, at less than five yards, from the ground!
This particular “ground assault” remains firmly implanted in my hunting memory bank. As crazy as it sounds, I guess I had to experience it to believe it! We hunters, including myself, become so conditioned to the way things have always been done that we sometimes forget that THERE ARE OTHER WAYS TO KILL WHITETAILS! The hunter who can adapt to differing conditions and “think outside the proverbial box”, is the hunter who will enjoy the fruits of his/her labor. If you find yourself needing a change of pace, or just need to get a little closer, consider an all out “ground attack”. I’m glad I did!
Ground Pounding is not for the faint of heart. If you’re up for the challenge, consider these tactics.
- Wind direction, wind direction, wind direction. Shifting breezes will foil a hunt and send deer into the next county. If the wind direction changes… get up and move! Check wind direction constantly. I carry a little squeeze bottle with talc in it to check thermals. Buy one. They’re inexpensive and worth their weight in gold.
- Make sure to have plenty of cover to break-up your human outline. Too much cover may prevent a good clean shot. Too little cover may expose your location. Drawing a bow on a wary whitetail is one of the most difficult tasks to accomplish. If you think it’s tough from above, try doing it on the ground!
- Get comfortable. Stealth means being able to remain quiet and motionless. Ground-level hunting means you have to be extra careful to avoid all of a deer’s senses. A hunter can sometimes afford a mistake when perched in a treetop, but the ground assault spares no mercy.
Utilize terrain features. One advantage of ground hunting is the hunter can stalk and re-position at a moments notice, options a tree stand hunter seldom experiences. Getting into position and following a deer’s movements can sometimes provide better opportunities and better shot angles.
Hunting from the ground can be extremely rewarding and fun. If you find yourself wanting to PURSUE deer as opposed to “waiting for something to happen”, try an all out “ground assault." You’ll be a better hunter.
By Gerry Rightmyer
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