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Don’t write off ground hunting

Thursday, July 06

By CHRIS MARING

It started out like any other October afternoon. My mother came to my bedroom door and attempted to wake me up from my midday slumber. I had elected a shift change at my first “adult” job.  I decided third shift would be my best bet for tree time.

After a couple attempts, I finally collected wits and prepared for my daily three-hour ritual. 

The wind was out of the west so I decided to hunt a little strip of timber my landowner called “Tennessee.”  I had a stand along the east side of an inside corner.

To my surprise, the landowner was already there. Jim was sitting in a grain truck along the edge of an unpicked corn field. He said, “Your hunt may get a little noisy tonight.”

They were going to pick the corn field and I started to wonder if I was wasting my time. As always, I decided to give it a chance. I quick timed it between the corn rows making it to my stand just in time to hear the combine start.

About an hour in and after three passes of the combine, I was becoming impatient.  The weather was downright hot for October and my stand was in direct sunlight. My impatience turned to frustration. I decided to climb down and sit in the shade to the south. 

At least, I was going to be comfortable. 

Then the dreaded night shift nap was about to set in. Any night shifter will agree boredom and comfort is a recipe for an afternoon nap. I leaned up against a log and closed my eyes. 

Shortly into my nap, I was awoken by the sound of the combine disengaging and shutting down. The farmer had filled his hopper and parked his combine. Luckily, the noise woke me. To my surprise a big doe had sneaked in on me. She was 12 yards to the west. 

While she was enjoying some browse along the field edge, I drew my bow and took aim. The bow recoiled and the hit was a little far back. The big doe headed north laboring. I watched her until she disappeared from sight. 

Two hours later, I returned with help and recovered my first deer. She traveled less than 200 yards.

The doe seemed to be a gift from above. Two years and 9 days from the first time I walked into the deer woods, I finally tagged my first deer. I struggled terribly the previous two seasons because I was following the “rules” that I learned from watching outdoor shows and from reading hunting articles.

When I started my hunting endeavor, the formula for success was tree stands, tree stands and more tree stands. I was more or less brainwashed into believing a deer couldn’t be killed without sitting in the tree tops. Those early years, I found myself working on my rummage sale tree stands more than actually hunting.

To this day, I still think about how that doe changed my approach to deer hunting. Even though the hunt was a fluke, it laid the ground work for many future successful hunts.

Ground hunting has many advantages. The biggest is mobility. A hunter can hunt just about anywhere from the ground. Some of the best spots are void of trees that allow hunter concealment.  I learned that lesson at Jim Edgar Panther Creek. 

The park has deer everywhere, but after the first week the older whitetails start filtering out into the CRP, standing crop lands and new growth areas. To intercept deer that are limiting their movement from CRP to crop lands, alternative hiding spots are required. 

I found myself hiding behind bushes and sitting in standing corn fields waiting for shot opportunities. These were not traditional set ups, to say the least, but they were effective.

Another advantage ground hunting offers is hunting pressure, or the lack thereof. Hunters love to mess with their tree stands. They like to trim shooting lanes and tweak stand accessories. Depending on the time of the year, that can have a catastrophic effect on deer patterns. 

One small piece of ground I hunt is a prime example. The property is 10 acres of scrub that deer use strictly as a bedding area. I never enter the area until it’s time. I will sit on the ground along a steep ledge overlooking trails entering and exiting the scrub. Every season, the first hunt provides more shot opportunities than any other hunt.
 
That spot is a perfect example of how deer are aware of your presence no matter how careful you are.

Ground hunting can be productive on public land hunts as well. First, hunting from the ground keeps your hunting spots private. A lot of hunters use another’s tree stand as a scouting tool. Some even take it a bit farther and use the stand. I’ve seen a few arguments break out over this situation. 

Ground hunters who keep their set ups clear of debris have the opportunity to keep their spots undiscovered.

And based on personal observations made while hunting on public and private lands, deer respond to calls much better while hunting from the ground.  The obvious thought process is that deer might pick up on the source of the call. 

My experience has been bucks, including big bucks, are more direct in their response to rattling and snort wheezes. Numerous times they have come too close for comfort in aggression mode. I have had second chances on a few bigger deer from the ground as result of this mindset. Often, responses from a tree stand can be mixed. Bucks walk in cautious trying to catch unusual sounds or scents and are more apt to flee.

With the advantages, there’s always the downside. For ground hunting, there are 2 big disadvantages. 

Hunters have to sit still. Regardless if you are brushed in a downed treetop or in a pile of CRP grass, any movement is magnified while sitting on the ground. Tree stands definitely offer more concealment for antsy hunters.  A ground blind or tent can help with concealment but restricts a hunter’s vision and shoot opportunities.

The second disadvantage is scent control. A tree stand can help elevate some faint scents over incoming deer.  There is no real cure. The best thing to do is use the wind to your advantage, use scent-control products and clothes to help reduce unnatural smells. In this situation, using a urine based scent may help you get that extra second needed to seal the deal.

Don’t get me wrong, for most hunters, a tree stand is their best opportunity to harvest a deer and ground hunting isn’t for everyone. It is just another tool in the arsenal that can make you more successful. Breaking the norm and changing strategies often lead to some of the biggest trophies. 

Be safe and shoot straight!

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