"You shot most of these deer from ground blinds?" I asked in disbelief while thumbing through numerous photos of trophy white-tailed bucks.
My friend, Cody Warne, a diehard big buck hunter, manages unfenced open country that's home to more than 300 whitetails near Pierre, South Dakota. His main source of income comes from outfitting pheasant hunters (Warne Ranches (605) 224-1445), but he always saves a few weeks during the season to guide bowhunters and a few rifle hunters.
Since trees are harder to find in Warne's backyard than a vegetarian at a Rocky Mountain Elk Foundation banquet, he's resorted to using ground blinds.
"Last season we took six mature bucks from ground blinds," he said. "The biggest one, which was taken by a rifle hunter, had a gross score of 161 Boone and Crockett Club points. Two of the bow-killed bucks grossed approximately 150 points. I haven't found anything that works better than blinds at getting hunters within range of trophy grassland bucks."
If you page through any hunting catalog, you'll see there's been a revolution in ground blind designs during the past decade. Keith Beam and his business partner Brooks Johnson own Double Bull Archery ((888) 464-0409), a manufacturer of high-quality portable ground blinds, and this duo haven't only witnessed the ground blind revolution, they're largely credited with driving it. Celebrating a 10-year anniversary in 2005, their company is currently averaging 25-30 percent annual growth in ground blind sales.
"Whitetail hunters are getting the message that ground blinds are effective," Beam said. "Fifty percent of our blinds are sold during the fall, so we know they're being used for pursuing whitetails. Hunters are discovering ground blinds are a viable tool. Portable blinds are death on turkeys, but four-legged critters can be fooled just as easily."
Although naturally constructed blinds have been used for centuries, manufactured portable blinds are relatively new to the whitetail scene. And whereas much has been written and filmed about successful treestand strategies, information about ground blind hunting for whitetails has been less than ample. Myths about ground blind ineffectiveness and a simple stubbornness to change tactics have caused many treestand hunters to shy away from hunting on the ground.
Don't be fooled: If you're looking for a way to tag a treestand-savvy whitetail, ground blinds could save your season.
Every deer hunter knows whitetails are acutely aware of their surroundings. If there's anything out of place, they notice it immediately. I experienced this last season while hunting from a ground blind along Montana's Powder River. Setting up the blind the afternoon before, we hunted from it the following morning. Whitetails filed by the blind as if on cue, but they knew something wasn't quite right, and the biggest buck stayed 50 yards away- too far for a bow shot through the thick willows.
Warne has had similar experiences, so he doesn't take any chances. He places his blinds in likely ambush spots several days, or even weeks, before deer season begins. That way, the resident deer have time to get accustomed to seeing the blinds. Warne says after a few days, whitetails will still glance at a blind, but they don't act as if something evil has invaded their home.
To speed this acclimation process, Warne uses round hay bales to help blend his ground blinds into the environment, and he's even coated the shiny material of some blinds with a mixture of mud and grass. Like farm machinery left in a field, whitetails eventually learn to live with the new landscape features.
In contrast, Beam and Johnson often travel outside their home state to pursue whitetails, and time constraints make it necessary for them to hunt from a blind the same day it's set up. Through experience they've learned to rely on a "50/100" rule: If they can see only 50 yards or so in an area they wish to hunt, they place a blind in heavy cover and surround it with brush to hide it from approaching deer.
But if they find themselves in a more open environment such as a cottonwood river-bottom, where they can see 100 yards or more, they set a blind in the open or against a tree and put shoot-through netting over the blind's windows. Beam and Johnson believe whitetails trust their eyes in open areas, and if they see a blind from a distance, they aren't as apt to be nervous about it when they get closer.
Besides offering complete concealment, blinds also provide scent protection many hunters overlook. (Of course, it's still important to keep your body and clothes clean, and I wear a scent-containment suit whether I'm hunting from a treestand or blind.) If you keep the majority of a blind's windows closed to eliminate breezes from passing through, your scent won't be carried downwind as it is while treestand hunting. Having one or two open shooting windows is usually enough, and you can peer behind a blind by using small slits or partial openings in windows.
To increase scent containment in a blind, always place it downwind of where you expect deer to appear. Beam also advises hunters to push ground debris against the inside of the blind to create a berm. This blocks breezes from drafting out the bottom of the blind, and also keeps your boots on bare dirt, producing less noise if you need to swivel in your chair for a shot.
Besides using blinds at strategic ambush locations, Warne lures whitetails to his blinds by creating waterholes. Using everything from heavy-duty plastic to line a hand-dug hole, to burying a child-sized swimming pool, he builds waterholes adjacent to crop cover such as sunflowers and corn. Rain usually fills these small reservoirs, but during late summer when rain is often unpredictable, Warne fills the holes with water from a tank pulled behind his ATV.
Whitetails often bed in these crops before the autumn harvest, and the waterholes are a convenient place to drink. Most encounters with deer occur just before the end of shooting light as thirsty whitetails, which have been bedded in the hot sun all day, sneak in for a quick sip before feeding. Ground blinds allow you to take advantage of their water weakness.
The ground blind revolution isn't the end-all answer to whitetail success, but it does offer you another option when faced with a whitetail that won't succumb to treestand strategies.