The abrupt sound of snapping wood and wire caught me off guard. Familiar with the area, I had heard this before. Not 30 yards directly behind me was an old ragged barbed-wire fence with a large gap. Deer easily slipped through it often as evidenced by the ancient trail leading to and from it. Does, however usually made much lesser noise crossing through the sizable gap. I knew this by the number of them that had seemingly appeared out of nowhere on many hunts.
It was an early October evening and there was a slight westerly breeze. Tucked in a mott of heavy cedar and pecan trees, this spot always had produced good whitetail encounters when the basic rules of sound and scent were employed. Looking up, I saw the tall tripod stand that was once securely tethered to a giant pecan tree. It had since been covered with fallen limbs and was practically an afterthought despite its close proximity to the very chair I sat in. I could barely remember the last time I had been perched in it.
Before long, a young, but attractive 7-point buck moved in from my right and was soon feeding in front of me. Though careful, the deer settled in within 25 yards of my blind - a creation made from native brush and camo cloth attached to limbs and T-posts. No, it wasn't the type of animal I was hoping for, but the anticipation and subsequent 20-minute encounter was entertaining. This was early in my bowhunting days and I easily became addicted to the challenge of face to face encounters with whitetails.
Natural ambush setups existed long before the portable blinds we see today. Bow hunters and rifle hunters alike have used thick stands of brush, fallen trees and the like for concealment. This continues to be a viable still hunting alternative, although it does take more time to build and maintain. Perhaps the biggest mistake hunters make with make-shift blinds is failing to create a dark, solid background to avoid being silhouetted. If it can't be achieved with surrounding native brush, it's important to hang something in the back of the blind. I've often used black weed cloth along with cut brush. Though many hunters adamantly prefer elevated stands, ground blinds have plenty of similarities to their skyward counterparts. Locations are chosen based on travel corridors and feeding areas and wind direction needs to be accounted for. From a low position, the latter certainly presents more of a challenge regarding scent control.
Portable Commercial Blinds
The abundance of pop-up ground blinds we see today represents an easier approach. Though there are different styles, the common denominator is that they can be erected in mere minutes - and sometimes seconds. They also come in camo patterns suitable for any environment. However, it's still a good idea to compliment them with cut native brush and luckily, most commercial ground blinds come equipped with loops for attaching branches. Though they may mask human scent to some degree, they're still at ground level and scent management can't be overlooked. Perhaps the biggest advantage of enclosed portable blinds is that they conceal movement much better than their DIY counterparts. Oh, and you can't ignore their benefit on rainy days.
There Goes the Neighborhood
Deer are keenly aware of their surroundings and the sudden addition of a ground blind won't go unnoticed. My Disdain for deer stomping and snorting alone are enough motivation for me to manage my hunting surroundings - from their perspective. Set up your blind a minimum of a couple of weeks prior to hunting it. Consider what your initial reaction would be to your neighbor across the street erecting a storage shed in his front yard. You get the idea.
The best circumstances for ground hunting of any kind are wet days and moderate breezes. The noises made moving to, from and inside ground blinds scream for damp ground. However, with many dry hunting days being likely, clear the inside of the blind of any leaves or brush. Further, consider clearing a path to it. Another consideration is to set up near a running creek or river - and even within earshot of occasional road traffic. The latter may seem nonsensical, but common sounds that whitetails are accustomed to hearing can mask the sound of your movement.
Steady wind and to a lesser degree, still days, are optimal for ground hunting. From a scent perspective, heavier winds are much better suited for treestand hunting. Either way, put the odds in your favor by using cover scents or scent neutralizers. There are plenty on the market and they work in my opinion. If you are a doubter, what do you have to lose?
Keep Your Head on a Swivel
Getting in the best draw and shooting position can be a challenge. Though a stool is better than sitting on the ground, changing position often results in abrupt movement. You've worked hard to have a shooter buck within range, so don't blow it in the end by having to rotate your chair. A chair or bucket that quietly swivels is a great alternative. I've ignored this strategy more often than I'd like to admit. More often than not, it has ended with the stomp and whistle from a buck or adjacent nanny doe.
The Bottom Line
Though I still hunt from tree stands at times, I prefer hunting at the deer’s level - where I can clearly observe its mannerisms. Honestly, with most of my deer hunting taking place in Texas, tree stands are not always good alternatives anyway. Aside from the piney woods of East Texas, it can be difficult to find live oaks and other trees suited for them. Similarly, much of the South Texas brush country lacks tall trees at all. Either way, there's just something special about encountering deer and creation with my feet firmly planted on the ground. Is anyone available to help me move an old tripod stand out of a Cedar and Pecan thicket? If so, it's yours.
Based in Texas, Jerald Kopp is President of 1st Light Hunting Journal. His content is largely about hunting strategies and the outdoor lifestyle – often from a Christian perspective. Jerald is an avid outdoorsman with deer hunting and whitetails being by far his greatest passion. In 2005, he established the Empowerment Outfitter Network (EON) – a faith-based non-profit organization that provides hunting opportunities for disabled and terminally-ill children and youth. When not hunting, he spends his time traveling and enjoying life with Amy, his wife of 30 years. Jerald and Amy have two adult daughters and a son-in-law.