September 22, 2010
Without a doubt, it was the most incredible hunt I've ever been on in my life. With so few hotspots offering trees big enough for stands, I'd been using ground blinds almost exclusively, along with my trusty Robo-Coy buck decoy. Because of regulations governing the area I was hunting, I was forced to remove the robotics that enable the head to turn and the tail to twitch. It didn't matter. The ultra-realistic decoy and 130-inch rack was good enough to draw over three-fourths of the bucks seeing it into shooting range.
And talk about bucks! Never in my hunting life have I seen so many bucks or averaged passing up even close to the numbers of P&Y bucks each day that I did then. I'm not exaggerating when I say that seeing close to 10 bucks in a two-hour sit, with three or four grossing P&Y, was an average sit. To make it even more thrilling, the vast majority of the big boys put on up-close-and-personal shows, while inspecting, attempting to intimidate, and ultimately trying to trash my decoy. As I said, it truly was the most incredible hunt I've been on in my life, and the decoy and ground blind combination made it possible.
I've played around with ground blinds for years. I was skeptical at first, initially only using blinds when I simply couldn't find the right tree. With each passing year and with each new trick discovered, though, that skepticism has disappeared.
Truth be told, the first time I paired a blind setup with a Robo-Coy, I knew something was up. Having set a blind next to a round bail, I was flat-out busted cold by a 160-plus-inch 10-pointer catching me watching a younger buck. One startled stare at my movement and several bounds later, he was gone. That portion of the experience surely doesn't sell anything. However, that same buck coming back four more times after that made a believer out of me. Unfortunately, I was still learning the tricks of ground blinds then and managed to mess things up every time, but I left the blind that evening knowing I'd stumbled across something huge. Using ground blinds with decoys are simply a marriage made in heaven.
THE DECOY FACTOR
No matter whether you hunt out of a tree stand or a ground blind, a decoy isn't going to work in every setting. Personally, I've never had good luck with a buck decoy placed in the woods. The same is true with blinds. Even in the case of a "brushed in" blind in the woods, the deer usually don't see it until it's well inside of their comfort level, and at that close distance the blind often spooks them. The only exception might be if you leave the blind in place for a long time and the deer get used to walking past it.
Of course, if a buck is itching for a fight, that most likely won't be the case with the decoy in the woods. However, the effectiveness of decoys drawing in bucks from a distance is still greatly diminished in the woods because of the cover and lack of visibility.
The visual aspect also holds true for doe decoys, though I strongly suspect that the "surprise" factor could be either greatly diminished or completely removed under certain circumstances. For instance, it stands to reason that a doe decoy placed on the edge of a likely doe bedding area in the woods could be a strong draw to bucks right before, during and after the rut. Unfortunately, though, the odds of having one or more real does blowing and stomping at the decoy are also extremely high. Therefore, I like to use decoys almost exclusively in fields, young clearcuts, meadows and other open areas.
Here, the surprise factor is removed and the visual draw can be maximized.
BUCK OR DOE DECOY?
Another consideration for hunters is whether to use a buck or doe decoy. Personally, I suggest using them together from about two weeks before the rut and continuing on until well after the rut. What message does a bedded doe with a buck standing over her send to other prowling bucks? Obviously, she's in estrus and he's guarding his prize. That's often a temptation that bucks simply can't resist. The results can be positively incredible.
During the earlier weeks of the season, going with a straight buck decoy is my choice.
The reasoning is twofold. First, this is the time of year that bucks are staking out their position in the buck hierarchy. Because of that, bucks have a hard time resisting coming over to "introduce" themselves to the new guy in the neighborhood.
Does are the X factor with buck decoys. If a doe gets too close to a decoy, even an ultra-realistic decoy like the Robo-Coy, she might well go on a snorting and stomping rampage. Granted, this occurs far less frequently with the extremely lifelike decoys, but it still happens. Fortunately, does usually aren't too inclined to want to hang out with bucks during the earlier weeks of the season, because some of the ignorant young bucks simply don't know any better than to chase them around and generally harass them. Because of this, does have a much higher tendency to steer clear of a buck decoy early in the season.
In my opinion, using a buck decoy early in the season is the slam-dunk route to take because the decoy tends to attract other bucks while being ignored by most does.
HOW LARGE A RACK?
Speaking of buck decoys, I believe that the standard rack sizes that come with the majority of decoys are too small. An analogy I like to use in seminars to get this point across is to ask people in the audience to picture themselves taking their significant other out to dinner. If the man of the house excuses himself to use the restroom and returns to find an 8th grader "hitting" on his significant other, he probably will be more amused than anything else. On the other hand, an attractive young man in his 20s may present more of a threat and make him take the situation a little more seriously.
Though it's always dangerous to apply human reasoning to a buck's reactions, I believe something very similar occurs when a buck spots a decoy. Most 150-inch bucks aren't going to take an 80-incher very seriously, but a 130-incher will likely get his attention.
My philosophy behind how big a rack to use is based on subtracting 10 to 20 inches from my general minimum standard. In most cases, that's around the 140-inch mark or higher.
Therefore, my 130-inch-racked Robo-Coy is big enough to get a bigger buck's attention, but not so big as to overly intimidate my target.
PLACING YOUR DECOY
The best decoy placement relative to the use of a ground blind differs slightly from that of a tree stand. I advise placing the decoy five yards shy of your comfortable shooting range. For example, if your comfortable shooting range is 30 yards, place the decoy at 25 yards. This draws the deer's attention farther away from the blind.
When pairing the buck decoy with a bedded-doe decoy, I recommend placing the doe a little closer to the blind directly in the buck's line of sight and orienting it in a broadside position.
The final touch is to add an estrous-drenched scent wick near the doe decoy and a buck-urine wick near the buck. Place the scent wick on a stick or on the ground just behind the decoy. Never apply the scent to the decoy. In fact, do all you can to ensure that the decoy gives off no odors at all.
Frankly, the combination of ground blinds and decoys is so effective that I believe decoys are a must for serious ground blind hunters. Going back to the hunt mentioned at the beginning of this article, in 10 days' time I had over 60 different bucks within 80 yards of my ground blind and decoy setups. That number goes way up if you include the same bucks making repeat visits on different sits. Not one ever spooked from the blind/decoy combination!
HIDING YOUR BLIND
Knowing how to get the most out of your ground blind is the next most important part of the equation. Since we're talking exclusively about using ground blinds with decoys around open areas, we'll focus primarily on that. However, I do want to note that if you decide to use a ground blind by itself without a decoy, I believe you are much better off placing the blind in the wide open and not brushing it in at all. By doing that, the deer will see it from a distance, get used to it and determine that it's harmless.
When deer approach openings, their senses are on high alert. They are far more likely to notice a freshly concealed blind on the edge of a field, clearcut or meadow than one tucked back in the woods 100 yards or so. Because the blind is at least somewhat concealed, however, the deer tend not to notice it until it is already inside their comfort zone, as mentioned. That's what usually makes them turn and bolt or stomp and snort.
When the decoy is placed out in the field, they see it from a longer distance and often dismiss it the same way they would a new round bail of hay.
Of course, the beauty of using decoys with blinds is that the decoys become the focal points of the deer's attention. And even if a deer does notice the blind nearby, a buck or doe seems to accept the blind as not being a threat because the decoy wouldn't be there if it was. Still, you're best off when the deer doesn't notice the blind at all. Therefore, always try to place your blind outside of an approaching deer's line of sight and in the darkest shadows whenever possible.
Next, match the blind to its surroundings. If the area is relatively open, simply snug it next to any available cover and lightly brush the roof and sides. If the edge is composed of thicker cover, always try to slip a blind next to a tree with overhanging braches. Cut just enough of the lowest limbs to be able to get the blind up. This allows the overhanging branches to effectively break up the roof outline.
In either setting, place the blind off of the edge a few yards and stick some branches in the ground at various distances in front of the blind. Doing this creates a more 3D effect and results in better concealment. Additionally, if the mesh doesn't affect arrow flight, keep it down. Doing so eliminates the unnatural "black holes" and helps hide movement inside. If your broadheads can't shoot through mesh, use cover to help blend in the outlines of the window.
Lastly, you tend to get what you pay for with ground blinds. If you buy one of the cheaper models, you'll likely be highly disappointed. They can work fine for turkeys, but the quality of materials, window systems, tightness of the fabric and host of other factors can result in shine, noise and movement of the blind that can easily tip off a woods-wise buck.
HIDING THE HUNTER
To remain undetected inside the blind, odor control is a huge first step. To reduce the odds of being silhouetted and winded, keep the windows behind you closed. This encourages airflow from behind to wrap around the blind, as opposed to going through.
Packing debris around the bottom also aids in cutting wind flow, as well as providing a natural cover scent filter to any air that creeps out under the blind.
When packing the bottom of the blind with ground litter, use the grass and weeds from inside the floor area first. Providing a bare dirt floor allows for more silent movement inside while you are hunting.
Being absolutely quiet is another important factor in remaining undetected. Because slight shifts in the chair may be required, quiet clothing is a must. And while we're on the topic of clothing, I recommend wearing a black shirt, hood and gloves. Camo serves no real purpose inside a blind. The blind's interior is black, so wearing black helps make you more invisible, especially if the windows are open. Because the face and hands must be aligned with the window to shoot, it's very important to wear dark gloves and a facemask.
OTHER SOUND TIPS
Make sure that shiny watches, rings or other jewelry do not show. Also, darkening the limbs of your bow with black face paint where possible can provide further advantages.
Finally, focus on minimizing movement. That begins with orienting the chair for the most likely shot location. Having your chair face the front of the blind may increase your comfort, but it could also dramatically increase the movement needed to prepare for the shot.
I find it very helpful to place a bow holder in the ground in front of my chair. A great one that I like to use is the "Bow Jaws" bow holder. That way, all you have to do is grab your bow and be ready for the shot. Little things like this may seem trivial, but they can be critical when a mature buck is standing 12 yards away. At that distance, the slightest shift in a chair can blow the deal.
Blinds and decoys truly are a deadly combination. All it really takes is using the appropriate decoy and blind concealment methods and taking the steps necessary to remain undetected. If you've never tried it, give it a go this season. There is nothing in the world like the rush of watching a big buck interact with a decoy at ground level a few yards away!