By: David Blanton
One Spring I was invited to hunt wild turkeys on a friend’s new piece of land. After our turkey hunt, we walked the property with deer hunting in mind. I quickly recognized travel funnels and other areas that whitetails would use. It was obvious that much of the acreage couldn’t be hunted from tree stands. There were no suitable trees, and in some places no trees at all. The best way to hunt this type of property for deer was from ground blinds.
My buddy was unfamiliar with ground blind hunting, and frankly a little skeptical. But ground blinds are great solutions for a wide variety of whitetail hunting situations. So I explained the benefits of ground blind hunting, and outlined techniques and tips for success.
Effective ground blind hunting is not about popping up a unit and waiting for a whitetail to wander past. You have to set up smart, brush in the blind, consider the wind and your scent, play the details when hunting, and practice intensely for the shot.
Deer may not tolerate your ground blind at first. So put it out a few weeks to a month in advance of the season; use more time if you can. Late summer is a great time to situate ground blinds. This lets the deer get used to your blinds before bow season starts.
Set up ground blinds to maximize your field of view. As we walked my friend’s property, I noted a couple great spots. One was along a river corridor where deer would surely travel. Another was on a logging road that led up a ridge. This was also a natural travel funnel. It was nice to pick out these spots, and others, without acting like a logger seeking out a tree. With ground blinds, you have great opportunity to set up right where you want.
Staking your ground blind down securely is important. I also run lines from loops and tie the blind to nearby saplings or fenceposts. Don’t count on the stakes for holding your ground blind down in a strong storm or big wind.
Keep the zipper entrance to the back or side of the blind, and always approach and enter from a different direction than where you expect the deer to be.
Cut a trail to your ground blind, coming in from the backside. Don’t approach from the front, where the deer will be. Bring a garden rake and clear out leaves and twigs on the path of your final approach. Get in with a minimum of noise, scent and commotion. Know how you will get out at dark without spooking deer and educating them.
The blind’s camouflage is important. Fortunately, these days there are many good patterns to blend in with a variety of habitats. If you’re going to set up alongside a marsh, field edge or beaver pond/meadow area, Realtree Max 1 Advantage is great. In traditional timber situations, Realtree AP is perfect with its bark and leaf graphics. In a cornfield setup, or along the dry reeds or cattails of a wetland, Realtree Advantage Max 4 is the ticket. When the snow flies, switch to Realtree AP Snow.
TECHNIQUES FOR BRUSHING IN:
“Brushing in” a ground blind is a good idea. Just setting up a blind and relying on the fabric’s camouflage pattern — as good as camouflage is these days. — just isn’t quite enough. You need to add to that blind and give it a more natural look.
Brushing in blends your basic blind camouflage with the surroundings. The goal of brushing in is to get rid of the sharp corners and edges a blind has — features that are unnatural in nature. All successful ground blind hunters go to the trouble of brushing in their blinds. It’s a necessity.
Cut and use natural vegetation — live or dried — from the area. Around a cornfield, lean cornstalks against the blind. Cedar, juniper, pine and other evergreens make great brushing-in material where they occur on the landscape. Cattails and tall grass are good too.
You’ll need a high-quality pair of hand-held brush snippers or pruners, and a folding saw for bigger branches. Cut sticks and small limbs (up to an inch in diameter) from trees, zip tie them together, then lean them up against the front of the blind. It makes it look like a thicket. Don’t worry about covering the windows while you’re doing this outside-the-blind work. Once you get inside, you can open the windows and use your snippers to cut out brush that’s covering the opening.
Don’t just set up your blind in the open. Back it up against woods, a fenceline, a brush patch, the edge between harvested and standing corn, a cattail wetland edge, and so forth. When my friend and I were scouting, we found a great place. A big tree had toppled, and the root ball happened to be at the right spot, so I suggested backing up a blind right into it. Even the wariest whitetails won’t see that blind, especially if its brushed in and my friend does his part to hunt the right wind and eliminate scent.
WIND AND SCENT CONSIDERATIONS:
Ground blinds hide movements you make. This is a huge benefit, especially when you have new or young hunters along. But don’t misunderstand: Ground blinds aren’t child’s play. Ground blinds are serious hunting instruments, and you still have to hunt smart.
You need to work the wind. Prepare several different locations so that you’re not squeezed out of a hunt because of the wind. For instance, you might want different blinds set up for a west breeze, a flow from the north, or a push coming out of the south. Only hunt a specific ground blind when the wind is right for it.
Your ground blind isn’t a cure-all for keeping your scent away from the deer. Keep the wind in your favor — from deer to blind. Always go through your usual checklist of scent control measures — shower with Scent Shield soap, take your hunting clothes out of their airtight bag in the field, activate your carbon … all this effort is essential to fool a whitetail’s nose.
The ideal spot is to get the ground blind off to the side of where you anticipate the deer to be. Don’t plop your blind on the travel route or in the feeding area. You want to be in range, but off to the side.
When you set up a blind, climb in and look around. Try to anticipate what approach the deer could take that would give you the most trouble — catching you off guard or creating an odd-angled shot — and then rehearse for that worst case scenario. Figure out how you will adjust and get ready for a difficult or unexpected shot.
It’s absolutely critical to keep your blind’s back and side windows up. If you don’t, deer will see right through and catch every silhouetted move you make. That light-to-light situation from side to side, or front to back, is the quickest way to spook a deer.
Always wear dark camouflage inside a ground blind. Blacken your face, or wear a face mask. Wear a black skull cap (we call it a toboggan down here in Georgia) or a stocking cap.
Practice and rehearsal is essential before hunting from a ground blind. Set up your ground blind in the yard in early summer and practice shooting at deer target from inside. This lets you set your stool to the right height for seeing out and making the shot. That’s important because every year I hear stories about hunters shooting arrows through the blind material and missing deer. The hunter could see the deer, draw and get a sight picture, but the arrow didn’t clear the bottom of the shooting porthole.
Here’s another shooting-related preparation essential. In states where you can’t use lighted pins, you need to get used to shooting without that bright spot glowing on your sight. Fiber optic pins don’t light up where there’s no natural light or sunlight, and there’s little of that in a blind. If you practice in your blind beforehand, you can get used to this look and challenge. This is better done at home rather than discovering the issue when you’re drawing on a live deer.
Ground blind hunting for whitetails is extremely effective. Many times the right spot just doesn’t have the right trees, or any trees at all. Don’t be a one-dimensional hunter and abandon a good spot for a lesser spot that happens to have a good tree. You want to set up where the deer are.
The keys to good ground blind hunting are setting up smart (and early), brushing in, playing the wind, taking care of critical details during the hunt, and practicing your shooting from a blind beforehand. With this well-grounded approach, you’re sure to be rewarded with a whitetail on the ground this fall.
The Dark Side:
When glassing from a ground blind, don’t lean forward or get near a window. Deer will spot the movement and you. Pushing a couple more feet ahead isn’t going to magnify your view appreciably anyway so don’t risk it. Hang back in the dark recesses of the blind.
David Blanton, of Georgia, is Executive Producer of Realtree Outdoors