Like most everyone, I started out bow hunting from a tree stand and still do most of my hunting up above the scent and sight line of deer.
But after my first two or three years, someone stole my climbing stand. This was during my "mountain man" period. I was actually living off the land at the time and simply couldn't afford to buy another. So I learned to hunt from the ground.
It can be done. So I thought I would share what I've learned about this most challenging and rewarding way to hunt, just in case some of you would like to get down and walk around once in a while.
Stalking to within bow range of a deer is not as difficult as many may think. If you've learned to be a good squirrel hunter, you can approach deer using the same methods, but you do have to stop more often and stop for longer periods.
In fact, I see more deer when hunting from the ground than I do from a stand, mainly because I am mobile and cross paths with them more often. I sure haven't killed many this way, however, because I do most of my hunting from a tree stand and use a compound bow.
What I've learned is that color-blind deer don't see as well as most people believe. What they are extremely adept at is detecting the slightest movement. Hunting deer from the ground is not much different than hunting turkeys from the ground. They may notice something strange about your shape or form, but if you don't blink for however long it takes, they will go on about their business.
The problem is that to draw and aim a compound bow requires considerable movement and some time. When you are that close, it is rare when they don't see you draw, and they usually bolt before you even get a chance to put the sights on them. A practiced "instinct shooter" with a recurve would have a much better chance.
The most important thing is being aware of the direction of the wind. A deer may see you or hear you, but if you stay still long enough, they won't leave. If, however, they get the slightest hint of your human stink, they're gone in an instant-no questions asked. Just from the feel of it, I am able to determine the direction of the slightest breeze and pay attention to it constantly. If you can't do that, it is a good idea to tie a short piece of very light thread to the end of your bow and pay
attention to it.
Stalking them really isn't the best way to hunt from the ground, however. I will move around quite a bit when I'm ground bound, but I spend most of my time siting or standing in natural blinds. One of the best is a fallen tree. If it still has some leaves on it, all the better.
I climb right into the middle of it and then practice swinging the bow around and drawing to be sure I can shoot through the openings. The irregular cover of the twisted limbs not only breaks my outline and masks small movements, deer don't seem to expect danger from within it.
Fallen trees on an otherwise open area are similar to isolated cover in a lake. Deer usually pass very near to them. They feel secure next to them and they seldom look into them. So, when I'm hunting from the ground, I most often follow visible deer trails and look for trees that have fallen within bow range of the trail. In hilly or mountainous areas, those on saddles or benches are ideal.
Fallen trees are best, but a brushy area, or even the base of a tree broader than your shoulders will do, just as it does for turkey hunting. It is important that wherever you chose to sit is in full shade, and it is very important is that the natural blind be above, not below, the deer's path. As they travel, they often look down a slope, but seldom up it.
The very best place to hunt from the ground, however, is along an open field-not where they come to or enter the field, but where they venture along the edge after coming into the open. Deer usually avoid these open areas, except during the low light of early morning or late evening. Late evening definitely is best.
Open areas make them very nervous, and when in the open they spend a lot of time scanning the open area for approaching danger while they graze, or socialize or whatever. Rarely do they look back into the woods, and, because the contrast between the open field and the darkened woods (especially along pine thickets) is so dramatic, you can get away with drawing and aiming without detection, as long as you are in the darkened area behind the brushy edge of the field.
Hunting from the ground is very challenging and less productive, to be sure, but it's not as boring as sitting in a tree for hours on end.
There is something very real and rewarding about ground-bound bow hunting.Ground-Bound Bow Hunting
Ron Kruger has been an outdoor writer/photographer/editor for over 30 years.