Successful deer hunting with the bow demands by far the greatest skill in woodcraft and stalking, plus the most intimate knowledge of the personal habits and characteristics of the game.
-Lawrence Koller, Shots at Whitetails
Concealed amidst a splendid tapestry of multicolored leaves, the vigilant archer waits in eager anticipation for the arrival of a reticent buck, a denizen of the forest wilds, dormant, and yet to emerge from his bedding site. Beyond the melancholy babble of a little mountain brook, only the occasional rustling of deciduous leaves that still cling precariously to the branches that bore them breaks the hushed silence.
The location’s serenity is intoxicating, so much so that even the chatter of a resident squirrel becomes a boisterous interruption to the tranquility. It is here, perched aloft in obscured solitude that the archer comes to rosin up his bow and silently seek the antlered roe. Although the bowhunter can find great solace and contentment by pitting his acquired still-hunting skill against a whitetail, few indeed routinely take up this challenge.
Perhaps we have been conditioned to believe that the only thoroughly practical method to killing deer is from an elevated platform, which is now commonly known as a tree stand. The percentage of archers sitting aloft each autumn far exceeds those going it afoot. They take great pains to scout out the perfect location, strategically place their stand in the right tree, at the appropriate height, exercise all of the necessary scent controlling precautions, figure out the most silent approach both in and out, and hope above all hope that a deer walks within range.
Due to gravitational pull, and given the fact that the typical bowhunter has no ability to silently swoop down to gain a better advantage, the tree stand hunter becomes vulnerable to the whims of the whitetail’s course. Certainly the use of calls, rattling antlers, and attractant scents can all solicit a deer’s curiosity and entice the animal to walk within shooting range, but should the animal get hung up and come no closer, all we can do is watch in utter frustration.
Tree stands come in a variety of shapes, sizes and designs. They are cumbersome and take time to place, and none too quiet regardless of how diligent one is to keep the noise down. Limbs, branches and brush require trimming to create optimal shooting lanes.
The flip side to the negatives of being posted above the forest floor is in the archer’s ability to remain relatively undetected. This vantage also offers hunters the freedom to draw on an unsuspecting target without fear of spooking the animal. Human scent becomes less of a concern, not that it should be ignored, but the higher up the tree you are the better your scent will disperse well out of range of a whitetail’s highly efficient olfactory senses. By being above the action, the archer has a command center view of all that transpires below and out to the furthest scope of visibility. This becomes incredibly helpful even if a shot is not presented or you elect not to take a certain animal as it facilitates ones ability to assess how the deer are using the area.
There are a variety of methods that can be employed with your feet planted firmly on the forest floor while bowhunting whitetails. The reason so many archers opt to hunt from tree stands is simple; it is far easier to kill a deer from above. However, don’t buy into the notion that a deer cannot be had from the ground while carrying archery tackle. All of the deer I have vanquished with a bow have met their demise at eye level with this hunter.
Indeed it takes cunning and finesse to creep close enough to an unsuspecting whitetail and put an arrow into him, but therein lies the challenge.
There will be situations on the ground where, despite your best efforts, the bow cannot be drawn back due to the animal’s position in relation to yours. There will be instances, several if you stay at this game for very long, where the whitetail will get a snout full of your scent and be well out of range as fast as it took to write this last sentence.
The ground cover will not always be quiet enough to tread without sounding like a herd of elephants stampeding across shelf ice. Finding a suitable spot to break up your outline exactly where you need to be positioned sometimes presents an unfortunate dilemma. Every movement on your part must be calculated and deliberate, there is no room for any miscues or letting down your guard when hunting deer from the ground.
The benefits of this mode of hunting offers the still-hunter the ability to be mobile; moving when necessary, repositioning to get a better vantage or prepare for a shot that otherwise would have not been possible. It allows for in-season scouting that can lead you to forest hot spots that were previously unknown. Set-up locations can be readily changed without any more effort than moving; this is especially helpful when the wind alters its direction. To accomplish this using tree stands would require the hunter to either have multiple stands or take the time to dismantle a portable stand and move it, which will take considerably more time and energy and risk spooking deer in the process.
There is also the option of creating ground blinds in strategic locations. These improvised hideouts can be anything from rolled-up hay bails, farm equipment left in a field and fir boughs thoughtfully placed, to an actual dug out hole. Your imagination becomes the only limit as to what type of ground blind will work best for you in each hunting situation that may be facing you.
I have a good friend, Ray, who was bowhunting a specific buck a couple of years back that had no other options but to resort to using a ground blind due to the lack of a suitable tree to hang a stand in. Rather than giving up on the animal or becoming frustrated, he dug himself a small depression behind some short growth firs, just enough to conceal most of his frame when seated and set up on the animal a couple of afternoons later.
Situated in his makeshift blind, Ray patiently watched a group of does casually feed 20 yards in front of him. Fortunately for him, the slight breeze remained constant, blowing from the deer to where he silently sat. Thirty minutes before last light, the deer suddenly became alert and began staring back towards the direction from which they first emerged. Intuitively, Ray sensed something was coming and readied himself.
From the confines of a tangled thicket, out stepped a buck with his attention completely focused on the females. In order to get the shot he needed, the buck would have to come another 10 feet. And to add to the drama that was quickly building, Ray would not be able to draw his bow until he was able to stand up and doing so prematurely would alert the buck to his whereabouts.
The does did not feel comfortable with the buck so close and began to wander out of sight, which providentially caused the buck to move as well. In one fluid motion, at precisely the right time, Ray rose and drew on the buck, and at the same time gave a deep guttural grunt. The buck stopped instantly and jerked his head towards the bowhunter, but it was too late. The arrow was well on its way by the time the animal knew what was happening. Granted, this scenario was an all-or-nothing proposition, but because it was executed properly without being forced, Ray came home with an outstanding trophy that perhaps could not have been captured in any other way.
Success can be measured in many ways and regardless of whether you find it from aloft or with your feet planted squarely on the ground, a whitetail taken with archery gear requires the utmost proficiency from he or she who seeks to accomplish this hunting feat.
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