Story contributed by Mark Huelsing of soleadventure.com.
As I sit back and reflect upon last fall, and all the time I spent chasing whitetail with a bow, I recognize that it was a frustrating, arduous season. I didn’t catch up with any of the bucks that I was after, and I didn’t have the number of encounters that I was hoping for, but in several other ways it was a great season. After all, reliving fond memories from years gone by is good, but making new memories is infinitely better – even if those new experiences are full of trials and learning, and not just “success”.
Going into the fall of 2012 I decided to re-think many of the standard tactics that dominate our modern approach to bowhunting. Why should I limit myself to a treestand? Why should I hunt the conventional locations and corridors? What if I took a whole season to try new things?
Leaving the comfort and familiarity of a treestand and bowhunting from the ground was an eye-opening experience. It is, in many ways, a completely different approach to hunting whitetail, and I learned a lot over the course of the season. I wish I could say that I killed a mature buck from the ground, but although I came to full-draw on several, I didn’t have a chance to let an arrow fly. However, the experience of being at eye-level with a buck, from a distance of only three yards, far exceeded anything that I have experienced from a treestand.
It doesn’t matter if you are still-hunting through hardwoods, or setting up for an ambush – bowhunting whitetails from the ground is tough, but it something that I would encourage you to try!
Agile and Mobile
One of the obvious advantages of hunting from the ground is the flexibility of hunting from nearly any location on your property. No longer did I have to assess the day’s conditions and choose a stand location, now I could move to any location that suited the day’s conditions. Additionally, hunting from the ground allows you to react to slight shifts in travel patterns. Gone are the days of having to move a treestand (and hoping you can find a suitable tree!) because you realized that your setup was 20 or 30 yards too far off of the main trail of food source that the deer are using.
Besides the obvious strategies of controlling scent and using effective camouflage, I learned several key lessons that proved to be very important for getting within bow range of deer while on the ground…using quality gear is one of them.
When it comes to hiding yourself, conventional wisdom says that you need to get behind something. That is an effective concealment strategy, but it is problematic for a bowhunter that is looking to have range of motion and clear shooting lanes. As a bowhunter you need to pay attention to what is behind you, and rely on the background to break-up your human form. I always felt very exposed without something in front of me, but I fooled numerous deer by combining camouflage clothing and an effective background of natural elements to break up my silhouette. Another key element for effective concealment is paying attention to the sun. Which way is the sun headed and where will light be cast over the course of your hunt? Shadows are your best friend, if you can stay in them!
Reaching Full Draw
The next lesson that I learned was how, when, and where I could effectively draw my bow when deer were approaching my location. In terms of when to draw your bow, the earlier the better. Depending on the terrain and what cover is available to you – chances are you are going to have to draw your bow before the deer is in range. And you can’t just draw your bow and aim in the location that the deer is approaching from, you have to anticipate your best chance at a shot opportunity and setup in that direction. The deer may be approaching from the left, but your best chance at a broadside shot opportunity may be after the deer crosses over to your right side. Draw and aim where you think the shot will be, do not try to draw on the animal and “track” your aim as the deer moves.
A fast shooting bow, with an aggressive draw-cycle quickly becomes a liability when trying to draw the bow undetected and hold at full-draw for any extended amount of time. Most often, smooth drawing bows are a better option and provide all the speed necessary for a quick kill.
Drawing your bow early and remaining still presents a huge problem if you aren’t used to holding at full-draw for an extended period of time. Obviously this is something that you can train for in the off-season, simply by practicing holding at full-draw before releasing a shot. Additionally, you have to consider your bow’s setup – what poundage are you drawing, how aggressive are your cams, and how much of a “dwell zone” do you have at full-draw before the bow tries to leap forward on you? These factors are one of the many reasons that I love shooting a smooth-drawing, easy-holding bow. I know that I will be able to get to full draw and hold at full draw, even when my muscles are cold and tired.
Still-hunting also lends itself to “in-season” scouting. Gathering info in “real-time” is a great way to stay one step ahead of the bucks you are chasing.
Go to the ground! I can’t promise you that it will be easy, or that you won’t make a ton of mistakes, but I can promise that you will learn a lot, you will have the opportunities to hunt different locations, and that your heart will be beating out of your chest when a deer approaches you at eye level.