There’s more than one way to hunt whitetails, but the most effective way to fill a tag is to find a feeding area or a well used trail and wait for the deer to come to you. Patience always pays, but how you wait might also determine how long you wait. Whether you choose to shimmy up an arrow-straight cedar or plop down at the base of a big oak tree, the decision to sit high or sit low can make or break a hunt. Either approach has its advantages . . . and shortcomings.
On the Ground
Maybe you don’t like the idea of climbing a tree or perhaps there aren’t any trees big enough to hang a stand where you hunt. Whatever the reason, hunting from the ground doesn’t have to be a handicap. In fact, it can actually put you at an advantage in some situations.
We have a lot of food plots surrounded by young cedar trees, so there really is no place to hang a tree stand. We do have some tripod and tower stands, but they aren’t always an option for every hunter. Tripods can be pricey or, if you want to build one yourself, they can be pretty time-consuming.
Perhaps the most obvious advantage of hunting from the ground is the mobility it provides. Instead of toting a portable climbing stand every day or sticking to a permanent stand all season, staying earth-bound allows a hunter to choose the perfect spot as the situation unfolds. On many occasions, we showed up to hunt a field only to find the farmer harvesting the crop or disking.
Food sources are constantly changing and sticking to the ground allows you to stay on the move with the deer without worrying about finding the right tree, which might not be there in the first place.
Then, too, mature bucks eventually figure out where permanent tree stands are located and learn to avoid them. Even a hunter sitting owl-still in a tall tower stand might get busted by a seasoned whitetail.
On the other hand, ground hunting enables a hunter to set up in places where deer never expect to find danger and at key times in the season. In some cases, a ground blind can also put you in areas that give a hunter a better view than he’d get in a tree stand.
You can also beat the wind by hunting from the ground. A tree stand will keep my scent up off the ground, but if you know where the deer will be coming from, you can get in such a position that the wind will carry my scent away from the deer.
Places For Pop-Ups
In order to hunt effectively from the ground, it’s vital to have at least some sort of cover. Pop-up blinds, which can be purchased from sporting goods stores are the best option here. These aluminum or fiberglass pole-framed tents are swatched in camouflage material and offer good protection from the eyes of curious whitetails. Some even provide scent inhibitors. Typically, a hunter sets up a comfortable fold-up chair in the blind when he begins his vigil.
The portable pop-ups are virtually invisible to wild turkeys but, for some reason, deer tend to at least notice them, especially if they aren’t tucked into a bit of natural vegetation. Of course, portable ground blinds – even those that fold into small packages – can be cumbersome. Sometimes, too, you just don’t have one when you need one. These are the occasions when a hunter simply lops off a few handy branches from the nearest shrubbery and builds a natural blind. You just stick a bunch of branches in the ground a few feet out in front of me to break up my outline. You can use anything you can reach as long as it has some leaves on it. Make sure to put it out far enough and low enough that it doesn’t get in the way of your gun barrel and you can shoot over it. Even with that cover, make sure to move very slow. All it takes is one wrong move and you’re busted.
Bird’s Eye View
Most hunters prefer to hunt from a tree stand or tower blind. The concealment and vantage point that they offer are unequalled. Of course, some hunters are leery of getting far off the ground. But despite the legitimate safety concerns about climbing 10, 20 even 30 feet high to get above deer, portable tree stands are extremely safe if used properly. Always wear a safety harness, even when climbing in and out of a stand. That’s as important as wearing it while actually hunting from a stand.
Hunt a lot of tall, straight mature trees with thick ground cover underneath. You can’t see anything from 10 or even 20 feet up, so you really have to go way high, and even then, you often only see the tops of the deer’s heads or backs. Hunting at nosebleed altitude is really the best option. Also hunt on the edge of clear-cuts. If you don’t get up extra-high in that situation, you’ll stand out like a sore thumb because there often isn’t enough cover behind you down lower to help conceal yourself.
Aside from the height advantage, modern portable tree stands also give hunters plenty of mobility, although not quite as much as a hunter who foregoes any tree stand and sits on the ground. Modern tree stands are light, quiet, and easy to set up and take down. In the right tree, there really is no limit to how high a hunter can go safely.
Hiding Out Up High
Hunting from an elevated stand has its advantages, but hunters who assume they’ll go undetected 10 or 15 feet off the ground have a lot to learn about deer hunting. Some whitetails sometimes never look anywhere but up in the treetops as they stroll through the woods.
Deer can still wind you and they can still spot you, no matter how high up you go. They know when something is out of place. You have to pay attention to those things. Try to climb a tree that has another tree growing next to it. Use that other tree to break up your outline. Also make sure to sit as still as you can, even when you don’t see deer. You never know when a big buck will come sneaking up behind you, so you better always be ready.
By getting up a tree in less than five minutes, you can easily change positions without fear of wasting valuable hunting time. That’s important. Once the deer gets into the perfect spot, he settles in for the day, especially if he’s hunting during the rut. Plan on staying in the stand from sunrise to sunset if there’s a chance the bucks might be chasing does.
No matter what you do, buy a blind or a stand that’s going to be comfortable to sit in all day. That will help you stay alert and it will help you stay in the woods longer.