Shoulder to shoulder with my dad and brothers, I nestled into the hollow we had created at the base of a big tree. Paper-thin beech leaves rattled above us. That was how I shot my first deer, and many more after that. Although I did hunt from a treestand man times as an adult, I have since returned to my roots. I deer hunt from the ground; no blind or stand needed.
Hunting from the ground seems to have lost popularity over the years as treestands and ground blinds have advanced far beyond what they once were. But hunting from the ground is not a lost art, and it’s an option every hunter should keep in their back pocket—especially if you’re looking to improve your woodsmanship. Sure, it’s cool to shoot a deer while you’re 20 feet up a tree. But shooting a deer from the same level as your quarry will certainly bring a new feeling of accomplishment.
First, let’s distinguish between ground hunting and still hunting. Ground hunting typically involves posting up in one spot, and staying put. You check the wind, find a good hide in a likely area, and wait there for deer to come along. This is how I killed my first deer. Still hunting involves moving slowly—and I mean slowly—through the woods. You cautiously take a few steps, especially when the wind can hide your sound and movement, wait and watch, then repeat. For the purposes of this article, I will refer to what I do as ground hunting, although I hunt using both of these techniques. I still-hunt my way to a likely spot, stay there for a while, and then still hunt my way out or to a new spot when I decide it’s time to move on. Each hunt is a little different. It depends on the time I have to hunt, the weather conditions, my mood, whether I’ve got my daughter with me, and so on.
Now, it doesn’t matter if you are a gun hunter or a bowhunter. Ground hunting is a feasible technique for any method or season. Several years ago, I got permission to bowhunt a small apple orchard in a residential area. There were no trees suitable for any kind of treestand, or any spots where a blind wouldn’t stick out like a sore thumb. So I chose to tuck myself behind some thick brush and dead tree limbs before the sun came up. The group of deer I was expecting came through at the same time they always did. At one point, the largest doe looked right at me as I knelt with my compound at full draw, shaking as I willed myself not to let down. When the doe turned to look in the opposite direction, I took the perfect quartering-away shot. This was the hunt that made me realize what I’d been missing while I was up in a tree. On the ground, I’m in the middle of it all.
Yes, stands and blinds are incredibly useful, and they offer many advantages (such as high vantage points and good concealment, respectively). But hunting from the ground has its advantages, too. You don’t need any extra equipment, which means hunting this way is cheap and easy. No packing in stands or carrying chairs through the woods. No struggling to set up a blind in the flicker of your headlamp beam. Just grab your bow or gun and find a spot with natural cover. Blow downs, tree stumps, and thickets along deer trails all fit the bill. You’ll also find that hunting from the ground can often help you access areas you wouldn’t be able to easily hunt otherwise, such as steep, thick, or distant spots. If you’re hiking into a new area and you don’t want to carry a lot of gear, don’t. Still hunt it instead.
Because you’ll be hunting on the same level as the deer you’re pursuing, they’ll often have the advantage. Playing the wind and practicing scent control is key. Do not make any sudden movements. Move slowly, and when you are on the move, stop often. Many times, I have been relaxing against a dead log or taking a break from my slow walk to a spot to lean against a tree when I turn my head and see the white flicker of a tail only yards away. You can’t always see very far when you’re on the ground, which is part of the fun. Often, you will transition from boredom to heart-pounding excitement in a split second.
Ground hunting is certainly not for everyone. If you’re hunting a specific buck or only have large areas of wide-open timber and no cover in sight, you’re probably better off in a treestand or a ground blind. Like those staples, this technique is another tool in your tool kit. But if you just want to go kill a deer and learn a bit more about the habits of whitetails on their own turf, then ground hunting might be the best thing that ever happened to you.