Experiencing the Ground Game

My typical bow or gun hunt for deer has me perched high in a tree, looking down on deer as they travel to bed, feed, or avoid other hunters. Occasionally I’ve set up on the ground mainly due to lack of any trees in the area I’ve chosen to hunt. This past season I chose to hunt in a couple ways that meant I’d be forced to be grounded. Early October found me in South Dakota bowhunting mule deer by spotting and stalking them. Trees are few and far between on the wide open prairie where the mule deer choose to bed in brush or waist tall grass. Crawling into bow range and waiting for the deer to stand up to offer a shot is a much different hunt than I’m used to back home in Wisconsin. In my home state I occasionally hunt from the ground when conditions dictate, but that is usually my last choice, until this past year. I discovered a ground blind that I could use on the prairies of South Dakota or the farmlands of Wisconsin. Hunting from this blind is a deadly tactic that allowed me to hunt effectively, especially in the late season.

A Blind Ambitions Bale Blind, made in Wisconsin, allowed the author to hunt effectively from the ground.

Seeing deer from ground level at close range is a hoot, especially when you’re more used to watching them from a treestand.

On my South Dakota bowhunt, a lot of places I hunt are public or “Walk In” hunting. Many of these spots allow for cattle grazing, and cattle are responsible for cow pies which I try to avoid while crawling in on bedded deer. It adds a new dimension to planning a stalk. Plowing through fresh cow pies are the least of my concerns though, while belly crawling into range on a deer. During a stalk, you must be aware of everything you may encounter along the way that could spook your target animal. While stalking, if you only focus on the deer you’re trying to shoot,  and you make noise, get seen by other deer you hadn’t noticed, startle or bump into some hidden critter unintentionally, it could ruin your stalk. Say you’re belly crawling 100 yards through the prairie grass to get close enough for a shot, but 50 yards into your crawl you spook a pheasant that cackles and takes flight. Every deer within a couple hundred yards is now looking in your direction to see what spooked that bird. Most of the time this means it’s “game over”, as the deer then spot you and bound away to a safer place. Having to constantly monitor your surroundings while spotting and stalking, keeps you engaged and actively hunting all day long. Occasionally, everything goes right and you are able to get a shot. Welcome to another form of hunting that is addictive.

If you’ve done much travelling in the Lower 48, you’ve probably noticed how a lot of farmers and ranchers nationwide are baling their hay in big roundbales. These 5-6 foot diameter roundbales dot the landscape in rural America. A company in Wisconsin, Blind Ambition Bale Blinds, has capitalized on this practice by producing a blind that looks exactly like a roundbale. I hunted out of one this past fall and had excellent success having deer come in close while I sat inside. The deer accept these blinds because they consider them to be just another roundbale. These blinds are also portable so they can be easily moved if necessary. The blind was effective all season but especially so during gun, muzzleloader, and late bow season. During those seasons deer were actively feeding in cropfields putting on weight for the rough winter ahead. This type of ground hunting also got into my blood. During and after the gun season, when deer are especially spooky from being heavily pressured by the pumpkin crowd, blind hunting was at its’ best. Being a bit worn out myself, from hunting in the wind, rain, snow, and cold, the blind offered a good place to get out of the elements and yet be right on top of where the deer were feeding. Having deer walk passed within a few yards or even bedding down up against the blind was enough to convince me that I’ll need to put in more time tucked into this bale blind in the future. Another bonus is that you get great shots at standing deer as they feed within range of a properly placed blind.

I love hunting from a tree stand, but past season showed me that I didn’t have to climb a tree to get close to deer. I’m looking forward to the upcoming season and more encounters with deer at ground level.

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