By Adam Parr
Growing up hunting the highly pressured state of Michigan, I pounded into my head that in order to kill big deer, I had to hunt from a tree. Not only that, it had to be the right tree in the perfect location and hung at least 20-25 feet off the surface of the Earth, or why even bother?
As the years go by and as I progress as a whitetail hunter, I’ve found that leaving the stand at home and hunting from the ground can be quite effective, given the right circumstances. I’ve also found it to be more enjoyable from the standpoint of hauling less gear into the woods, which saves time, energy, and likely, sanity. I cut my teeth in areas of high hunting pressure with small tracts of land and never in my wildest dreams would I have thought hunting from the ground would prove effective. Boy was I wrong. Once I was able to overcome “the treestand is the only way” mentality, it opened up a whole new world of deer hunting altogether.
Here are four scenarios to consider leaving the treestand at home and hunting from afoot.
Unknown Property or Public Land
Diving into an unknown area with a stand on your back can be both intimidating and frustrating at the same time, and this especially holds true for a morning hunt when entering in the dark. How many times have you walked into a spot you picked out on a map, only to be left with zero trees suitable for a stand? Unfortunately, I’m guilty of this more than I’d like to admit. I can't tell you how many times I was certain I would be able to find a tree, and the next thing you know 30 minutes has passed and I’m soaked in sweat as the sun peeks over the horizon. All of this chaos can be easily eliminated when you simply leave the tree stand at home. In addition to having a more enjoyable first hunt, hunting from the ground allows you to be more flexible in adjusting to real-time deer activity.
Tip: When hunting new property for the first time, treat it as a scouting mission, but with a bow in your hand and a tag in your pocket. This will help you cover more ground in a quicker manner and will keep you from getting hung up on potentially old sign.
Often our time spent afield is limited, so it’s important to take advantage of every opportunity, even if it’s just for an hour in the woods. Too many times we are forced to stay on the couch when wind conditions are not ideal for a stand, while options are endless with a ground approach. With only an hour or two to hunt, setting up a “run and gun” treestand can waste precious time that you already don’t have.
Tip: If you’re hunting during the rut, get aggressive and move closer to doe bedding areas to catch a buck on his feet in search of a hot doe.
When I first stepped foot onto Kansas dirt in pursuit of whitetails a few years ago, I was floored by the amount of trees (or lack there of) in the surrounding areas. Where could the deer possibly be in this barren landscape? I quickly realized that whitetails utilize every square inch of terrain, from open grass fields to wooded river bottoms with little predictability in their patterns. With this in mind, hunting from a stationary stand location can often leave you out of range and out of the game. Western states consist of open habitat, which means deer movement can be all over the board, so hunting from the ground gives you the ability to close the distance for a shot opportunity at a moment's notice.
Tip: Don’t overlook small patches of brush or weeds, even if it is surrounded by open terrain. Whitetails can pretty much hide anywhere, and they don’t require much for cover, so be sure to glass small pockets from a distance to uncover an overlooked big buck hideout.
As much as we love the high intensity action of the rut, it’s guaranteed to be filled with sporadic and unpredictable deer behavior. By this time of year, the patterns of early season are long gone and love is the only thing on a bucks mind. Hunting at eye level on the ground allows you to quickly adjust to a buck chasing a doe, or to make a move when the cards are in your favor.
Tip: Mix things up with a decoy and/or calling sequence during this time period. Move slowly but don’t be afraid to get aggressive when the conditions are right.
Take Risks and Have Fun
Hunting from the ground is not an end-all-be-all to your hunting strategy, but it should be part of it, especially when the scenarios above present themselves. Just because you have always hunted from a tree doesn't mean that you have to be confined to a 2x3-foot platform for the entire season. If anything at all, hunting from the ground is pure freedom from all of the baggage that treestand hunting requires, such as extra gear, noise, effort, and time. I encourage you to mix things up and get creative with your approach. Hunting from the ground may prove to be an effective tactic on a mature buck later this fall.
-Adam Parr is an outdoor writer/blogger who enjoys and supports all aspects of ethical hunting and conservation. To find more of Adam’s articles and content related to whitetails and western big game hunting, visit TransitionWild.com.