Whitetails do not leave the woods at 9 a.m. and return at 3 p.m. They are out there every day, rain or shine, all day and all night long. I hunt all day, every day of the season. I will not step out of the woods during legal shooting hours. You must take what you need with you to stay for the day. Hunger and thirst are killers for me. I take plenty of snacks and water with me that I can get to quickly. My pack has a hydration bladder that I highly recommend.
One thing that will ruin your sneaking is to have a predetermined destination. Whether you realize it or not, by having a destination you mentally give yourself a set timeline. If you say to yourself, “I’d like to be at my stand at 3 o’clock,” then you’ll be at your stand at 3 p.m. In order to do that, however, you’ll end up moving too fast and you’ll start bumping animals. Ground-hunting or still hunting takes commitment and mental discipline. You cannot have a destination. You have to “go with the flow” and not have any restrictions.
Rifle or bow position is key when slipping through the brush. You need to have your rifle or bow in your shooting hand and ready for action at all times. When Mr. Big shows, time might not be on your side. Your rifle or bow has to be ready to go into action at a second’s notice. If your rifle is slung over your shoulder, rarely will you have time to get to it if a big buck appears.
I’m a firm believer in the two-second rule. From the time you see your buck to the time of lost opportunity, approximately two seconds elapse. During those two seconds, you need to see the buck, judge him, get your sights or crosshairs on him, and touch off the shot. Anything longer than two seconds is a true gift.
WEAR QUIET CLOTHING
Your clothing must be head-to-toe camo. Even if you have hunter orange requirements, wear camo under it. I rarely use face paint or head nets — they seem to get in the way — but I do use them from time to time if I feel exposed. If you keep your face shadowed, you should be good to go. A half-mask facemask with the elastic top is a good thing to use. You can keep it around your neck until you see a deer. Then all you have to do is pull it up.
Your clothing has to be super quiet. You will be in brush and stickers all day long. Noisy fabrics belong in the trashcan. Although not totally necessary, if you really want to go all out, I have used and had great success with ASAT Camo Vanish Pro 3-D Leafy. This camo does a great job of breaking up my human outline. I’ve had deer pass within mere feet while I was wearing it. Even if a deer looks right at me, it never seems to associate what it sees as being any kind of threat.
MONITOR THE WEATHER
When planning any daily hunt, I find that www.weather.com is invaluable to me. I usually start looking at weather conditions a couple of days in advance of my hunt, and I monitor wind and weather conditions hour by hour as I get close to the exact time of the outing. With this site you can see weather fronts coming or going and wind changes or temperature drops 24 hours out, and you can plan your hunt accordingly. Team this up with a satellite overhead view of your hunting area and you will be well prepared.
No matter how tired I am at the end of the day, I always prepare my pack for the next day before I go to bed. I know what the weather should be doing and I have everything packed accordingly. By doing this I can grab my pack and go without panicking or forgetting things.
PUTTING IT ALL TOGETHER
Will Primos of Primos Calls says, “You can’t shoot a big buck where he’s at. You have to shoot him where he is going to be.” This advice is sound and time proven. Look at your satellite map and think of all of the doe bedding areas marked on the map. Add in the wind factor and plan your hunt accordingly.
You should know from prior scouting where the deer typically feed at various times of the year. If it’s during the rut, you know the bucks will be cruising, looking for the does.
You want to place yourself between where they are and where they want to be.
I firmly believe that deer pattern hunters. Those deer you bump on the way to your stand in the morning or afternoon soon learn to avoid the area altogether. If you are ground-hunting, you can hunt a different place every day. You will not be bumping deer if you play your cards right and go extra slow. Deer cannot pattern you, because there is no Hunters often ask me how I get to my stand without bumping deer. It seems that every time some of these same hunters go to their stands in the morning, they hear deer run off, snorting and carrying on. I tell them to wait until daylight and sneak to their stand and still-hunt on the way. Some of these hunters have taken this advice and have seen an increase of deer in the woods and a decrease of instances in which the deer were spooked.
I know of one gifted hunter who, for five years in a row, has never made it to his stand without shooting a mature buck! It can be done!
Now I’m not saying that ground-hunting is better than hunting from a hot tree stand. But being on the ground affords you flexibility to move quickly if you need to. Here is an example of a ground-hunting incident that took place a couple of years ago.
While out sneaking along, I saw three does and a very nice buck about 80 yards ahead in the brush. They stood up and started to feed. I couldn’t see how big the buck was, but I could tell that he was definitely big enough for a closer look. The deer moved off into a draw on the left side of the ridge. As soon as they were out of sight, I started moving quickly to the draw on the right side. I figured these deer were going to a creek bottom.
Guessing they would go either left or right at the bottom, I played a hunch. In case they went to the right, I wanted to be there when they arrived.
I broke into a full run, moving as fast as I could without sounding like a marching band going through the woods. I came to the top of the ridge and looked down into the bottom.
I figured there was no way those deer could have made it that far in such a short of time, so I waited. In about five minutes, I saw t
wo does on the far side of the creek. Then I saw another doe, followed by the buck. They had no idea I was there. I put the glasses on the buck and saw that he was a very nice buck indeed. He probably would have scored around 135. I let him go. I considered it a very successful sneak, even though I had run three-quarters of the way!
BE AGGRESSIVE AND RESOURCEFUL
Do the unexpected. Never follow deer, but try to get to where you think they are going before they get there. Hunting from the ground gets you out of the same old deer-stand grind that sometimes makes a hunter sloppy. To me, when you are in a tree stand, you are “locked in,” and it’s easy to get into a rut that is almost impossible to get out of. I’ve spent my share of time hunting from tree stands, sitting there daylight to dark for days on end, always wondering what was going on over at that other bedding area, or always wondering if that buck I was after was using a different ridge.
Ground-hunting allows you to get out of that stand to give it a break and to do some in-season scouting. You can get out of that tree and slip over to that other ridge and find out what’s going on over there. And you can do it without scaring game.
If I want to just sit and watch an area for a while, I typically try to set up in an area from which I can see a lot of real estate. One of my favorite spots is on a ridge overlooking a creek bottom. Typically, I like to watch spots where three or four drainages dump into a relatively small area. With a setup like this, you have a lot going for you. You have the advantage of watching three or four travel corridors converging into one area, and you are above the creek-bottom wind currents while pretty much being hidden from a moving deer’s line of sight.
Try to note areas like this during pre-season scouting. Try to identify the best ridge to be on so you can see the most and have the best shooting lanes. If you find an area like this, you’ll no doubt find plenty of big scrapes and rubs in the bottom. Deer activity can occur at any time of the day. I find the most deer activity between 9 a.m. and 3 p.m. This makes it a prime place to sneak into early in the morning. By the time you get there, it will be starting to heat up with activity.
CALLING WORKS WELL
This is a prime place to break out your grunt call and work a big buck into range. I blow my call down into the creek bottom and let the sound resonate to the surrounding ridges. I don’t know how many times I have had bucks come to the creek bottom searching for the source of the grunts only to end up finding an incurable case of lead poisoning.
If you are tired of hunting out of that same old tree stand day after day, tired of hunting the same old way, give hunting from the ground an honest attempt. Hunt that buck on his own terms with this highly successful technique. The rewards you get will be beyond comprehension because you are putting the “hunt” back into hunting.