There’s something magical about hunting whitetails on the ground. I’ve always enjoyed still-hunting and hunting out of ground blinds – either makeshift brush blinds or a commercial pop-up. In fact, after several decades of hunting whitetails, I’ve only killed a few bucks out of a tree stand or an elevated box blind. Hunting on the ground level gets you up close and personal, and particularly for close shots with a bow or muzzleloader, there is nothing more exciting or challenging.
I started hunting out of homemade “brush” blinds years ago in the early ’80s for both deer and turkeys. Generally speaking these blinds are made out of whatever material is available. This might include anything from hiding in the limbs of a fallen tree to building a “Texas-style” brush blind out of shrubs, branches, cut limbs, sticks and small logs, high grass, leafy limbs from trees, or any other natural material that can hide you.
I use pop-up blinds whenever I can and prefer to use them over tree stands or box blinds. When the first commercial pop-up blinds came out, I thought I had died and gone to heaven. You could sit inside in a comfortable chair or on a small stool and glass the area in front of you or move around without fear of being seen. However, the first pop-ups I set up on the edges of fields or in the woods got me “busted” by does on a regular basis. I quickly learned that they needed to blend in with their surroundings in order to be “accepted” by the deer.
I firmly believe that being inside a pop-up versus being outside in the open air definitely helps to contain your scent and helps to minimize your long-term scent dispersal over a period of several hours. I have had numerous encounters with mature bucks at close range while inside a pop-up without getting winded. More often than not I was hunting with a cameraman so there was twice as much scent to worry about. Two years ago, while hunting in Kansas in a well-brushed-in pop-up, I had a mature 10-point buck stick his head inside the blind a few minutes after shooting light had gone. He never spooked or got nervous. He was simply curious, and he walked away with several other deer after satisfying his curiosity.
Pop-ups also provide great protection against the wind and cold. If you’re hunting all day in extreme weather, being able to withstand the cold and wind can go a long way toward helping you stay focused for long hours at a time. Sometimes while hunting in a pop-up in sub-zero temperatures, I’ll use a small propane heater. That, too, goes a long way toward helping you endure long hours of cold. It also ensures that you’ll be able to function properly when the moment of truth comes. I’ve had several situations in the past while bow hunting in open stands where I was so cold and stiff that I couldn’t pull my bow back when a nice buck appeared, thus losing an opportunity for a shot.
The only difficulty I’ve ever had was in learning to shoot a bow out of a pop-up. A rifle or muzzleloader has never been a problem. I always use a Bog Pod in a ground blind when using a rifle or muzzleloader. When bow hunting out of a pop-up, Sometimes I’ve found myself in a contorted position trying to come to full draw and make a shot out of a window. But with practice, I’ve been able to solve that problem.
Having hunted out of numerous elevated box blinds in many parts of the country, I long ago discovered that mature bucks are extremely reluctant to walk close to a rectangular-shaped box blind. They always seem to regard box blinds with a nervous distrust and always keep their distance. I’ve seen many a nice buck detour all the way around a box blind anywhere from 100 to 150 yards out. With a rifle, this may not be a problem, but with a bow, crossbow or muzzleloader, it can be a huge problem.
On the other hand, once a well-camouflaged pop-up blind is in place and accepted by the local deer, I’ve had numerous mature bucks walk within a few feet of my position with no hesitation whatsoever. To a mature buck, a square-shaped box blind standing on stilts is totally unnatural, and it immediately arouses suspicion, even one that has been in the same place for years. However, a rounded pop-up blind is a lot more natural looking and it certainly blends in with its surroundings much better. Therefore, mature bucks often pay little attention to them.
I’ve killed numerous deer and turkeys from ground blinds of all descriptions. My biggest buck ever, a 16-point non-typical taken in Kansas four years ago, was killed out of an Ameristep pop-up with leafy camo around it. I set the blind up in some high brush in one corner of a cut cornfield, the only cover around. The cut corn stood adjacent to a large wheat field on another piece of property. I made sure the blind was totally brushed in. The buck appeared just before dark following three does on a cold blustery day when it was spitting sleet and snow.
In addition to having taken a number of nice bucks out of pop-ups, the dozens of encounters I’ve had with deer are memorable. Last December, while hunting out of a well-camouflaged pop-up on the edge of an oat field, five does came up and stood looking into the blind for over 10 minutes. They were less than 10 feet away. I was hunting with a friend and we both sat motionless for all of that time. The does finally walked away without spooking. That was exciting! Even at that close distance, they never got our scent.
I’ve had certain situations where I couldn’t use a pop-up because of lack of cover. I always like to brush-in my blinds with whatever natural material is available as mentioned. In one situation, the wind was predominantly a north wind and the spot I wanted to set up in was a fencerow between an open field and an open cutover area. There was very little cover around, so I set up the blind and tried to cover it with grass, but I knew it stuck out like a sore thumb, so I had to move it to another location.
I’ve had very good luck with Ameristep, Double Bull and Hunters Specialties blinds. The quality of these blinds gets better every season. Since I often hunt with a cameraman, the blind has to be large enough to accommodate a cameraman and a camera on a tripod. As far as windows are concerned, I like to be as “closed in” as possible, but the camera always needs plenty of window space in order to pan as much as much area as possible. Deer, especially bucks, are sometimes suspicious of those open windows.
Since I often hunt in states like Illinois, Kansas and Iowa with either a muzzleloader or shotgun, I like to set up far enough back from where I expect the buck to appear so that I can get an 80 to 150-yard shot. Ideally, I shoot for trying to get a shot under 100 yards but that doesn’t always happen. However, you can set up too close. If you’re hunting late season food sources like corn or oats, you can literally have deer walk out 20 yards from where you are set up. Therefore, when I’m scouting, I look for areas where I can “tuck in” my blind far enough back from the “action” so that it can’t be seen.
I always use native vegetation to help camouflage my blind. I always carry a sharp knife and small handsaw in my pack for cutting limbs and saplings. My favorite cover is cedar. I’ll often look for a cedar tree that is 10 to 12 feet tall. Making sure the wind is right, I’ll cut most of the lower limbs off of one side of the cedar and tuck my pop-up into that cutout area. Then I’ll “brush in” the blind with cut cedar limbs, topsides and front. Sometimes this is so effective that deer walk by a few feet away without being alarmed. In areas where cedar is not available, I’ll use any natural cover that happens to be nearby: branches, cut saplings, broken limbs, long grass, anything that will help hide the blind.
I think portable ground blinds have had a huge impact on the way people hunt whitetails. Pop-ups get you in there a lot closer than you could get otherwise and they keep you hidden. A large part of the enjoyment of hunting is being out there, watching deer and seeing lots of game. Last year I videoed four mature bucks in a wheat field from a well-hidden pop-up blind over a four-hour period. I witnessed, bucks chasing does, fighting and all sorts of dominant behavior. Although I never pulled the trigger, it was one of my most memorable days afield last season. And those bucks, along with a dozen does that were in that field, never had a clue that I was there!
Posted by Duncan Dobie