Deer hunters are always looking for intuitive ways to beat a mature buck at his own game. New and innovative products hit the market each year with promises of improved hunting success by beating the odds that are exponentially stacked against us. Books hit the store shelves, adding to the frenzy of authors offering their self-fulfilled prophesies. Year after year, ideas are mirrored and duplicated, but at the end of the day, it’s still deer hunting as usual!
In an inoffensively earnest manner, I’ve always questioned everything to do with hunting giant whitetails. In my 30-plus years of hunting, my reproach of many hunting techniques and proscribed opinions of “how it should be done” has followed me through many of my articles and publications. Even though I am a firm believer of expanding knowledge through many sources, I am rarely critical of the author but rather of the material itself. Questioning everything in life expanded my foundations for discovery but has probably made me difficult to live with, if you were to ask my wife!
To question everything that anyone has said about hunting deer might have a pejorative ring to it, but it’s not meant to. I love to pick things apart and examine how they work; that’s the nature of this beast. Once learned, teaching these ideas will also solidify a better understanding of the material in question. I learned this lesson decades ago after receiving my flight instructor license through the Federal Aviation Administration. After completion of my flight test, the examiner said to me, “Congratulations, Marc. You now have a license to learn.” Trying diligently not to appear anemic, it was only a year later I fully understood what he meant after I was riddled with a barrage of questions from my flight students. Anything dissected, analyzed and explained over and over again will certainly give a person a better understanding of any topic.
One beautiful fall day, while sitting in a treestand and watching a monster buck elude me again at the 90-plus yard mark, it occurred to me that being stationary in a treestand isn’t the only way deer can be hunted. Or is it? I thought. I haven’t seen articles or seminars on ground hunting whitetails, so maybe it shouldn’t be done that way, I pondered. It also crossed my mind that this might not be the time to find out! As this behemoth buck crossed over the top of a hill, memories of hunting turkeys successfully from the ground was enough fuel to propel me from my treestand in pursuit of his travel itinerary. Fortunately for me, I was dressed to kill, literally, in my Ghillie suit as I approached the edge of that hill. As fate would have it, as I peered over the hilltop, he had already turned around and proceeded to head back in my direction. I had no choice but to remain in a kneeled position, albeit no foliage to blend in with the cut bean field I was affixed to. Appearing like a bush in my Sasquatch-like attire, the 204-inch Illinois bruiser fell minutes later to my 125-grain Muzzy broadhead, sent via airmail from 30 yards away.
The aforementioned story is just one example how expanding above and beyond the “normal” approach of hunting whitetails can be effective. With the cornucopia of deer hunting material available to the public, it’s very rare to see the method of treestand hunting questioned. Although there is a place for hunting from a treestand in everyone’s book of strategies, equal time is not given to pursuing whitetails from the ground. Generation after generation of hunters are hunting by rote, a form of repetition, rather than “questioning” or dissecting the strategies used by so many hunters. With the harvesting of a mature buck being so difficult, wouldn’t you think it’s time to consider the possibility of hunting these creatures in a different manner?
One of the most important reasons for anyone considering hunting mature whitetails from the ground should be the most important reason of all: Big bucks often live in areas that won’t support treestands! If you enjoy hunting deer in the early and late season like I do, hunting from the ground will put you on top of unpressured deer and will stave off the phalanx of hunters trying to remove the largest bucks in your area during the rut. Being able to penetrate a big buck’s hideout from the ground is not only exciting but a feat that can be done under constantly changing conditions, unlike hunting from a treestand. For those hunters who are limited by physical issues, or have problems with elevated positions, hunting from the ground may be a solution for them too. Needless to say, safety is increased tenfold and the issue of falling from a tree is obsolete!
Contrary to popular belief, a big buck’s senses can be beat from the ground, and I do it often. Throughout the years, I have tested and refined products (and techniques) that deer find perplexing at the very least. To say that I’ve had deer on several occasions within 7-10 yards of me would be an understatement. Understanding how deer see and smell was the turning point for me in succeeding with an increased annual harvest. Busting myths like “deer can’t see color and ultraviolet rays” really helped in defining not just what to wear, but also how to wear camouflage. Picking the optimum time for a ground assault as opposed to just “anytime’, was paramount to my success too! Issues like scent control can be even easier to overcome from the ground, compared to above, in many situations. It’s a different type of approach with unbelievable rewards.
HOW IT’S DONE
When I plan to hunt deer from the ground, I use a checklist that I follow diligently. It’s a conglomerate of rules that I have refined over many years. Even though these rules are no more difficult to adhere to than basic rules used to hunt from a treestand, they are different. They are as follows:
1. If at all possible, pick windy or breezy days.
2. Wear a ghillie suit, no exceptions.
3. Bath each and every time you hit the timber with no-scent soap.
4. Wash your ghillie suit in a scent- and UV-free detergent.
5. Soak your ghillie suit in a carbon bath product and let it drip dry outdoors.
6. Wear old tennis shoes (soaked in a carbon bath) or light boots.
7. Use a self-containing arrow rest so your arrow doesn’t flop around.
8. Use high-quality sight pins with ample light gathering capabilities.
9. Lighted nocks are a must.
10. Remove all glaring items like watches, etc.
11. Always walk in the shadows of trees if possible.
First and foremost, just because you’re hunting from the ground, doesn’t mean you’ll have to still-hunt! Many hunters are under the assumption that I’m constantly in pursuit while in the timber. I like to have my readers think more along the lines of picking a tree, or an area, that you would like to hang a treestand from but simply stationing yourself there on the ground instead. I very rarely move once positioned. Where I place myself is based on many hours of scouting and I only relocate if and when the time calls for it. The luxury of hunting from the ground is that it allows the mobility if needed, without all of the noise and hassle of relocating a treestand. I often will glass my hunting area for hours until I spot the animal I’m looking for and make the necessary adjustments accordingly.
It is very important how you choose your hunting days. You’re on the ground and everything is amplified! As the wind blows, the woods is full of movement, and your draw becomes nearly undetectable. Deer will not be alarmed from the movement created from drawing your bow. The wind also makes the noise from your shoes unnoticeable when walking. It’s very easy to walk and to draw down on your game under these conditions! Rainy days are great also, as long as it’s not a driving rain. The softer leaves offer a much quieter stroll through the woods. If you’re executing a ground hunt while it’s raining, temperatures should be above freezing. If there is even a hint of humidity on the leaves, the leaves will freeze and make a horrible crunch sound.
The ghillie suit does an excellent job of disfiguring a person’s profile like no other camouflage available! Many times deer will walk right up to you, unalarmed, trying to figure out what you are, if they even notice you at all. In fact, I have drawn down on my prey while looking directly at them as they stood there trying to decipher what I was. It’s an unparalleled feeling! Keep in mind that it’s the human profile that alarms deer of our visual presence. If they can’t see the shape of your body, they’ll walk right past you, granted your scent is under control! In fact, I had trouble finding a ghillie suit that served as great camouflage and that was also ergonomically designed for bowhunting, so I contacted one of the leading ghillie suit manufacturers, Bushrag (www.bushrag.com) and worked with them in creating the Marc Anthony bowhunter suit.
The No. 1 question I’m attacked with regarding hunting whitetails from the ground refers to scent control. Scent control is a serious demon but can easily be corralled. Although everything on the ground is less forgiving, controlling scent is no more bothersome than fooling a deer’s eyes. One must educate himself on the byproducts of human scent and prepare accordingly. One serious mistake I often see hunters make when trying to hide their scent is just that — hiding their scent. Masking human scent is a procedure that begs for failure.
Eliminating scent on the other hand, is something every hunter needs to work toward. Even elevated in a tree stand, most hunters aren’t aware that they’re broadcasting their scent over a wider area than they would be if they were hunting from the ground. Scent drops and is carried into the wind at a much greater rate, and distance, than it is from the ground. On the ground, scent falls within the immediate vicinity of the hunter. Attempting to eliminate human scent isn’t as difficult as it might seem. Washing the bacteria from your body prior to any type of hunt can greatly increase your odds of capping human scent.
Soaking your clean camouflaged clothing in a carbon bath, is not only effective at killing the cause of your scent as it grows, but is also inexpensive!
Last but not least, don’t forget about your breath. I wear cheap carbon masks under my head mask to kill odor while I hunt from the ground or from a treestand. Think about this: When you breath, you are exhaling about 388 cubic feet of air per day, or about 16.1 cubic feet per hour. These are serious numbers folks! Can you imagine what is happening when you are pumping out 16.1 cubic feet of bacteria-ridden air from your lungs into your immediate hunting area? You are polluting your territory with a “danger sign” that will ward off your target animal and invite insects. Planning on hunting for three hours? You just pumped out more than 45 cubic feet of odor, saturating your scent-free clothing with human waste. Sound disgusting? It is!
With this knowledge, can you see why a mature buck (other than during the rut) would never come within 100 yards of your location?
In summary, the door opens wider with another technique available. Don’t discount hunting whitetails from the ground as a viable way to invite another buck home to visit the other guests you have hanging on your wall.
Ninety percent of the two dozen Pope & Young deer I have taken, (five of which meet Boone & Crockett all-time minimums) have been taken from the ground.
Remember, everything discussed in this article regarding scent control and camouflage should be considered if you hunt from the ground or from a treestand.
Why not climb the upper echelon of thrill and success by coming down to ground level?