I’ve been hunting from the ground most of my adult life. Like most hunters, my father put me in a ladder stand made of 2-by-4s and plywood at a young age, and from this perch I learned how to watch squirrels, birds and the occasional deer without the fear of being seen.
As time moved forward, however, many things began to change, and in the late 1990s I decided it was time I tried something different: hunting from a ground blind.
As far as I knew, I was the first person in my immediate family who had even dreamed of the notion of hunting eye level with my prey, and my idea was met with a lot of negativity.
“Just won’t work around here” was the only justifiable answer my family could come up with, as none of them had ever tried ground hunting before.
But young minds are hard to change, and I was set on the idea of getting up close and personal with my deer.
The first year was tough, but I learned a lot.
My stand was simple — camouflaged burlap I tied to three saplings that were just far enough apart to accommodate one small hunter and chicken wire topped with leaves and pine straw for a top.
I wish I had taken pictures of this blind because, looking back, it was near perfect. Near perfect, meaning that it wasn’t — the afternoon sun would throw my shadow against the back wall of the blind, and deer could easily see any movement from behind.
The mornings, however, were simply amazing. Every time I hunted it, I had deer within 30 yards and killed several from the small, primitive hut.
This proved it was possible to be successful, the experience quickly lighted my fire for hunting low to the ground.
I’m about to share with you some of the ins and outs of a trial-and-error style of hunting that I have come to love. My friends have now come to enjoy it, as well, and a few of them have made some of the best ground blinds I’ve ever seen for less than a crisp $100 bill.
Anyone can buy a tent and set it up, but what I’m about to show you goes way further than that.
Here’s the method to my madness:
Establish a reason
Hunting from the ground is extremely fun, but it’s not easy.
When you think you’ve found the perfect spot to hunt, the first thing you’ll need to do is try to find an elevated spot from which to hunt first.
Elevated hunting is preferred amongst hunters because it works so well. Deer have no natural predators that hide in trees besides hunters, so why would they look up?
You can place a lock-on stand in a tree and even the passing hunter wouldn’t see it, but throw a ground blind up and it will stand out like a sore thumb. If someone put a new chair in your living room, you’d notice too, right?
I only hunt from the ground when it’s the only choice or when I want a challenge, because it can be extremely hard.
As they say, though, the hardest things accomplished are the most memorable — and the deer you kill from the ground are usually the ones you’ll always remember.
In 2008, I was bowhunting in a pine plantation out of a store-bought ground blind that I’d set up a few months prior. The reason I was in a ground blind was the canopy was just too low to see from an elevated platform, so the only option I had was to go low.
It was opening day of muzzle loader (primitive weapons now) and the smoke poles were singing all around me, so I knew deer were there.
Finally, as the sun reached over the pines, I saw a head easing out from my left side window, and I immediately was on point.
The small spike came in to feed semi-cautiously, but I could tell by its body language that it would settle in if I let it.
Trembling with excitement, I watched it feed for 30 minutes, but eventually I couldn’t stand it anymore.
I drew my bow to shoot, but when I released I flinched and watched the arrow sail over the deer’s back as it tore out in a cloud of dust.
I was disgusted, but I knew to sit still and nock another arrow.
Ten minutes later, the same head popped up, and I focused on the task at hand.
This time when the deer put its head down, the NAP Spitfire went through one side and out of the other with ease.
While everyone else was hunting with a gun, I got it done with a stick and string from the ground.
It was hard, trying and tense but it’s a hunt I’ll never forget.
This is usually the hardest part of hunting from the ground.
Ideally, I like to set up months in advance and let the animals get used to the blind being there, but sometimes that isn’t an option.
When you decide a ground blind is needed, the first thing to do is figure out where to put it. Right off, I look for natural cover to help the stand blend in.
And I’m looking for it in a southern direction. The main reason for this is the sun: I want the sun to my back at all times for shade and so deer will have the sun in their eyes when looking at the blind.
I strongly feel that when I have a stand set up in this position I can get away with a little more movement before getting busted by the deer, so facing southeast or the southwest is usually a good idea.
I put this to the test several years ago with a murder of crows that were feeding in my corn at 20 yards. Crows are like ducks, and if they see movement they don’t expect, they’re gone in a blink of an eye.
I came to full draw on more than 15 crows one sunny morning and they never flinched. I knew then that the sunlight and shadows had done what I hoped.
I do pay attention to the wind, but not nearly as much as one would think.
Historical research has proven that during the early fall our wind is usually going to come from the east or the south, but it’s never consistent enough for me to fully bank on. Rarely do you get a north or west wind this early in the year, unless there is a cool front coming through.
I’d rather have the sun help me here than the wind because I can choose not to hunt on a poor wind day versus having to limit my movement because of the possibility of the sun in my face at some point during my hunt.
Also, winds in Louisiana during October and November have a strong tendency to change direction, and more times than not you won’t have the wind fully in your favor, anyway.
Another thing is remember this: You will never ever be 100-percent scent free unless you’re inside a bubble. Being scent free is something that the commercialization of deer hunting has brain washed hunters into believing.
My favorite line to use when people talk about being scent free is, “How in the world did the Native Americans ever kill anything?”
Instead of trying to be scent free, my theory is to be “scent mixed.”
When I set up my blind, I make sure I have a solid dirt floor. No grass, weeds or leaves will be beneath my feet — just soil. I do this so I can move around without the possibility of making a sound on the ground, and so I can periodically scratch spots on the floor to emit the odor of the soil.
I like this because it will mix with my scent and, when a deer smells that mix, it makes it harder to pinpoint just how close I might be. If I have a heavy mix of soil, the deer could perceive me to be several yards farther than where the stand actually is and will be looking past me instead of at me.
I also like to grab pine needles and leaves from gum trees as I walk in to my stand. I wad them up in my hands and rub them all over my clothes and body.
When I’m done with them I don’t throw them on the ground — I stuff them in my pockets, boot and even in my hat. Later in the hunt, I like to refresh them when I’m sure nothing is around.
I have had very good success with scent mixing in recent years.
Just like when duck hunting, brushing-in a blind is possibly the most-critical part of the ground blind hunting process. It must blend in for the deer to get comfortable and not spook.
After I figure out where to place my blind, I stand back and visualize how I want to brush it in. If there are large trees and saplings in the area, I look for large items to incorporate. If the spot is thick with underbrush, then I’m on the hunt for vines, willow limbs and other material that might be thick with leaves.
Pine plantations are a wonderful place to find cover, as the limbs will usually be easy to cut and gather.
One thing I love to find is holly. Holly limbs seem to work very well, but for only a few days. They die rather quickly, so they soon stand out more than cover up.
Also, I pick my brushing material several 100 yards from where I’m hunting: Fresh-cut vegetation will raise awareness in any animal passing through that area.
I also like to tuck my stand in a group of trees when possible. The more stuff immediately behind you the better. Trees all around help to break up the round pattern that most store-bought ground blinds have.
Also, look for treetops that have fallen nearby, and try to work your stand into that rubbish. The deer will already be used to that top being down and might pass right by without paying it or you any mind.
It’s going to stand out, but the goal of brushing it makes deer more comfortable by providing something that looks a little more natural than a plain ground blind.
Thinking outside the box
Like I said earlier, my first ground blind was burlap and chicken wire, and it was wonderful.
To have a good ground blind you don’t have to go out and spend a few hundred bucks — you can do it on a budget, if you really take the time and put in some elbow grease.
Farmerville’s John Anderson went all-out in his design of a homemade ground blind in 2013, and what he created was something that was not only practical but was economical, as ell.
Anderson calls his blind “The Stump,” and for good reason: It looks like a stump sitting in the woods.
In the summer of 2013, he heard from an employee that a local electrical company was going to throw away some very large 8-foot metal wire spools. Always being one to seize an opportunity, Anderson got one spool and started making plans for a ground blind he wanted to hunt from on a creek bank where the tree canopy is very low.
After visiting a local groundhog sawmill (i.e., a portable mill), Anderson acquired some scrap cypress boards the mill couldn’t use. These boards were anywhere from 2 to 12 inches wide, and were anything he could put his hands on.
The total cost in the screws, welding rods and sweat equity brought the cost of The Stump to roughly $53 — total.
“Once I started finding the scrap material, it all started coming together,” Anderson said. “The roof is some plywood and roofing felt that I had and vinyl flooring that someone was going to throw away.
It works great, so far.”
The Stump is roughly 7 feet tall by 8 feet around and has enough room for four adults.
“It’s almost to the point of being too big, actually,” Anderson said. “I’ve got plans to build one this year that’s 6 feet around to bow hunt from.”