December 07, 2016
While 90 percent of my whitetail bowhunting in the past 28 years has been done from treestands, in the past five or six years I've gotten a taste for how effective ground blinds can be. As a result, I now routinely use them every fall with good success. That success hasn't come easy, mind you, but rather through a lot of trial and error, not to mention having the good fortune to hunt with outfitters who use ground blinds almost exclusively. My intent is to pass along the things I've learned from my DIY experience, as well as some of the knowledge from those who earn a living helping hunters find success from ground blinds. I truly believe if you follow this advice, you will quickly learn just how deadly a ground blind can be.
Pop-up ground blinds have opened up a whole new world of bowhunting opportunities. Ground blinds and certain game animals, such as turkeys and pronghorn antelope, go hand in hand. Why? Because those two species in particular seemingly pay little attention to blinds — period. In most cases, all you have to do is set the blind up on a waterhole or fence crossing for antelope, or on a field edge for turkeys, stake it down, climb in and wait.
Whitetails require a little more forethought and strategizing when it comes to hunting them at eye level.
Location Is Key
Unless I'm on an outfitted hunt, where the guide has done much of my homework for me, I spend a lot of time looking for optimum places to set my blinds well in advance of the season. I do this via long-range scouting with optics, as well as with multiple trail cameras and old-fashioned boots on the ground scouring of my hunting areas. Keep in mind that "perfect spots" for a ground blind aren't only found where you can't find a tree suitable for a stand. Ground blinds can be very effective just about anywhere if they are set up right.
Deer, like humans, prefer the path of least resistance. For this reason, when choosing a spot to set your blind up, you need to think funnels. Any change in the terrain, no matter how slight, that affords deer easier travel from Point A to Point B is worth considering. For example, some of my most productive ground-blind bowhunts, particularly out West, have taken place when my blind was set within bow range of a fence opening, or even just a low spot in a cattle fence. I've also had good luck setting up in thin strips of timber connecting two larger chunks of timber, and on saddles farther back in the woods.
Once you've found a funnel with lots of good deer sign such as trails, rubs and scrapes, the next step is setting up your blind. As I mentioned, hunting deer from a blind takes a little more forethought than it does for other game animals. The most important consideration is timing. You MUST set up your ground blind well in advance of the season, and you must brush it in. Deer are familiar with everything in their environment, and anything new or out of place will give them cause for suspicion until they get used to it. Sure, you might get lucky and fill your buck tag on a same-day set, but the odds of that happening aren't very high. I set my blinds up a minimum of two weeks prior to hunting from them — a month ahead is even better, in my opinion.
Look for relatively flat ground with some cover to help break up the blind's outline. A slight depression in the ground will also help lower the blind's profile. Setting the blind up against thick cover, a bluff, or even the edge of a creek or lake, prevents deer from getting around behind you to get your wind. Don't place the blind too close to any trails you expect deer to be using. Forcing them to pass too close to your blind will only spell disaster.
Make sure you have a good entrance and exit plan in place, preferably one that allows you to slip in and out from the backside of the blind. This not only hides your approach and departure, but also prevents your contaminating the area in front of the blind.
Two more things to consider when setting up your blind are wind direction and sun direction. The former goes without saying, but sun direction is one thing a lot of hunters don't take into account until it's too late. When positioning your blind, you don't want the rising or setting sun to be shining directly into the front window of your blind. Facing into the sun makes it more difficult to see approaching deer (not to mention it can give you a headache) but, even worse, the sun will light you and your bow up like a Christmas tree and make your movements inside the blind much more visible to deer. The sun's rays could even reflect off things such as your broadhead, eyeglasses, or the lens of your video camera and spook deer.
Speaking of wind, not only can it get you busted in the traditional sense by a whitetail's nose, it can also get you busted by their eyes. What I'm talking about here is movement of the blind itself caused by wind. Make sure you stake down all four corners of the blind securely, then go the extra mile and use the tie-down cords found on the hubs of most commercial blinds to further anchor it in place. You can also hang your pack from a hub inside to help hold the blind down.
Hunting from a Blind
After several weeks have passed and the deer have come to accept your blind, it's time to hunt. When hunting from a treestand, you obviously want to wear camouflage that best blends in with your surroundings. The same goes for hunting from a blind. Since the majority of pop-up blinds have a blackened interior, the obvious "camo" choice is black clothing. You need to wear a black, long-sleeved shirt, head cover and gloves, especially on your bow hand, as that will be the closest thing to your shooting window when you come to full draw. Sit as far back in the blind as you can while still being able to draw your bow without your elbow making contact with the blind's back wall. And, make sure all windows in the back of the blind are completely closed to avoid being skylined.
Buy the best blind chair you can, and make sure it's silent when shifting your weight around, especially during the act of drawing your bow. A good backrest is a must, too. When positioning your chair in the blind, turn it almost 90 degrees to your expected shot for maximum range of motion.
With your chair in place, adjust your main shooting window. Keep your shooting hole as small as possible and vertical in shape. Deer tend to disregard this more than big, gaping horizontal holes. It's a good idea to maintain smaller holes on either side of your shooting hole (cover them with brush) so you don't get caught off guard by approaching game.
Next, double-check all your clearances for your top and bottom limbs, as well as your string, especially if your chair has armrests. Never assume you have clearance — draw your bow several times with an arrow on it and adjust accordingly. Also make sure you have enough clearance for your arrow, particularly from the bottom edge of your shooting window.
Use your rangefinder to determine distance to any and all possible shot locations, and then commit those ranges to memory. Keep your rangefinder around your neck to double-check ranges from time to time, and for those unexpected shots.
While you can get away with considerably more movement inside a blind than you can in a treestand, it still pays to keep that movement to a minimum. Stashing things such as your binoculars, grunt and bleat calls, rattling antlers and snacks close at hand will eliminate unnecessary movement and keep noise to a minimum. I hold my bow in my lap during times of peak deer activity, but I make sure I have a ground blind bow holder so I can set my bow down yet still keep it at the ready. When hunting from a blind, I remove my quiver and stash it close by, but I prop up a backup arrow within reach in case I get a second shot.
Keep in mind your fiber-optic pins will not be nearly as bright as they are outside, due to the lack of ambient light. You will be looking at dark (or darker than normal) pins, especially on overcast days. If this becomes an issue, use a sight light (where legal).
When your hunt is done, make sure to leave your shooting window open so deer continue to be accustomed to the dark, open hole. If snow is in the forecast, wedge a branch under the hub in the roof to keep the weight of the snow from collapsing the blind.
The only way to get more confidence in hunting from a blind is to use one more often. While I'll never give up treestands, there are places where a blind is simply the better choice. Blinds are also great options during inclement weather, as having a roof over my head and the ability to even use a small propane heater will keep me dry, warm, and in the field during those times when I'd call it quits if I was hunting from a treestand.
Blinds also help contain your scent, making it less likely you'll get busted by an unexpected wind swirl at the most inopportune time. Trust me, I'm speaking from experience.
Lastly, blinds are a great way to introduce youngsters to hunting (not to mention giving you parents more time to hunt, with kids in tow). Just make sure to bring plenty of quiet snacks and toys to keep them occupied when deer activity slows.
Ground Blinds & Accessories
The Ameristep Shifter ($179.99) got its name from your ability to make it look like it belongs in the environment where you set it up. How so, you ask? For starters, it's clad in Kryptek Highlander camo, a pattern that creates a 3-D effect and makes the blind virtually disappear when viewed from both close and long range. Combine this groundbreaking camo pattern with the ability to add native vegetation to the Shifter's customizable Shock Cord System, and you've got yourself a ground blind that even the wariest game won't notice. The dual window system (split magnetic curtain and toggle window design) gives you a bunch of great shooting and viewing options. It has a 75-inch shooting width and a 67-inch center height, and its Spider Hub frame makes for super quick and easy setup and takedown.
The 84-inch center height of the Ameristep Haven ($219.99) makes it an excellent choice for those bowhunters who prefer to shoot standing up, as well as for recurve and longbow aficionados who need added limb clearance. Integrated camo brush loops make it easy to attach foliage for brushing-in the Haven, which is already pretty much invisible thanks to Mossy Oak's new Break-Up Country camo pattern. The Haven's split-window curtain system provides you with optimal viewing and shooting configurations. Its 75-inch shooting width makes plenty of room for you, your buddy and lots of hunting gear.
When hunting from a ground blind, there are a couple important accessories you are going to need, starting with a quality chair such as the Ameristep Tellus ($49.99). To be honest, this blind chair's sling-style design makes it almost too comfortable. But that's OK, because comfort should be your No. 1 concern, especially when hunting from dark to dark during the rut. Its shock-cord frame design allows you to set it up quickly. There's a gear pouch in the front for keeping your calls, cell phone or water bottle close. It will accommodate hunters weighing up to 300 pounds and it folds to 15x4x4 inches for packing in the included carry bag.
As mentioned, I usually hold my bow in my lap during times of peak deer activity, but this can sometimes grow tiresome, which is why I always make sure I have another way to keep my bow at the ready. A great product for doing just that is the Ameristep Ground Blind Bow Holder ($12.99). The steel holder stakes down inside the blind and features an adjustable, rubberized bow cradle that allows you to grab your bow in a heartbeat.
Gun hunters, meanwhile, know it's not easy to hold the crosshairs steady when shooting freehand. Ameristep keeps you steadier, and more accurate, with its padded Hub Blind Gun Rest ($9.99), which easily attaches to your blind's hub poles.