Deer hunting seems to be synonymous with tree stands, and for good reason. Perched high in a tree, a hunter can evade the watchful eye of a whitetail just long enough to draw back his bow, or see far enough in the woods to squeeze off a shot with a rifle. But many hunters are finding that due to the method’s popularity, deer are wising up.
“So many people hunt out of tree stands that when the deer are walking in the woods they’re looking in the air,” said Gary Williams, a hunter from Hayes.
Reggie Himel, from Iowa, La., said that over the years he’s noticed similar behavior. “The deer are educated and are looking up at the trees a lot of times,” he said. “They’re seeing changes in the air. They know it’s different than what they saw yesterday.”
Deer that are heavily pressured, such as herds on public land, are quick to understand that humans mean danger. And if they’re keeping their eyes to the sky, it can be tough for hunters in a tree stand where it’s impossible to be fully concealed. At the end of the day, no matter how high you climb, you’re exposed.
Williams, a lifelong deer hunter, figured the solution to the problem was simple: He began hunting from the ground. He’s killed plenty of deer this way because the animals don’t necessarily pay attention to what’s right in front of them.
“I’ll use a ground blind in high-pressured areas even if there are trees to climb,” he said. “If you can put up a ground blind and conceal it well, make it look like the surrounding brush, most of the time the deer will never notice you.”
Camouflage is key
You’d think the opposite would be true from hunting eye level with deer. After all, the keen animals are nearly always on alert, carefully scanning the woods for any sign of danger. If they can spot you in a tree, they should be able to do the same on the ground. But Williams said that by just following a few simple protocols, you may find hunting from a ground blind is a better method.
“Hunting in a blind provides a different advantage on getting that buck of a lifetime that you don’t have access to because there aren’t any trees to climb,” he said. “You can get as many opportunities as you do out of a tree stand. You just need to brush it well and pick the right spot.”
When Williams is searching for a location for his blind, he said he’s on alert for the same things he would be if he were hunting with a tree stand. He identifies food sources, bedding areas and trails. Normally, he sets up at least 20 yards from a heavily used trail.
Blinds made of natural vegetation are easy to setup and cost nothing. On the other end of the spectrum, factory made models from companies like Redneck blinds offer quality — but pricey — options. Williams likes pop-up blinds, which provide him with the option of mobility and are relatively inexpensive, lightweight and ready to hunt in seconds. Although they all come in camouflage patterns, he doesn’t rely solely on that for concealment. He uses nearby vegetation so it blends in better to the surrounding landscape.
“I put it in a shaded area under a tree with a canopy over the top,” he said. If the sun is shining directly on the blind, your silhouette could be visible. Plus, light entering the interior would make the hunter inside visible.
“Most of the time I put the blind between two bushes to help with the outline,” he said. “In the marsh I get cut grass or willow branches and surround the blind with them to break it up.”
Williams said it’s best to brush a blind at least two weeks before you hunt. That way the deer in the area are accustomed to the change in scenery. But he said you can brush a blind and hunt out of it on the same day if you need to, such as on public land where permanent blinds are not allowed. “In an area where the deer are not used to seeing hunters from ground blinds, you can get away with brushing it then hunting a day or two after,” he said.
Inside the blind, which is normally black, camouflage has no purpose. Himel, who bow hunts public land, said he wears black to blend in with the dark interior. He also takes steps to reduce his scent, and pays attention to the wind direction. He uses scent-killing spray on his clothes, as well as his ground blind. But when compared to hunting in a tree stand, he said odor isn’t as much of an issue as on the ground.
“Ground blinds hold your scent in,” he said. “It’s better than a tree stand in that way. In a tree, you’re exposed to the winds.”
In some parts of the state, a ground blind may be the only option for hunters. In Louisiana, the woods can be thick, especially early in the season. Sitting in a tree can obscure your view where smaller trees like willows and buttonwoods dominate the landscape.
In the marsh, there might be no trees at all, like where Williams hunts on Lacassine National Wildlife Refuge. Especially in these areas, setting up the blind right is paramount. On most pop-up blinds, there are windows with zippers. Williams advised to only slightly open one, just enough to shoot out of and provide a small shooting lane.
“You may want to see 360 degrees around you, but if you open all the windows your scent goes everywhere,” he said. “Plus, the deer will see you moving in the blind before you see them.”
Chuck Rozas, a public land hunter from Breaux Bridge, doesn’t normally hunt out of ground blinds for the majority of the season. It’s a method he prefers when one of his three children tag along in the woods. He said it’s safer than having them climb a tree, and a perfect way to introduce kids to deer hunting.
“They have killed a bunch of deer that way,” he said. “You don’t have to climb in a tree and they get a close encounter. A couple deer they’ve shot have been within 5 to 7 yards.”
Williams has experienced his fair share of close encounters as well. He said hunting from the ground presents a different challenge than tree stand hunting. “I’ve had deer walk 10 steps from me without ever spooking because I was concealed so well,” he said. “You’re eye to eye with the deer. When you’re only a few steps away from a big buck on the ground, that’s a whole different feeling than sitting in a tree.”