I think carrying extra gear around the woods is a hassle. And I consider tree stands and blinds “extra gear,” so I don’t use them. I especially dislike the popular pop-up blinds (unless I’m with a cameraman) because even though they allow for more movement and might be a little warmer and/or hide my scent a little better, I always feel like I’m watching TV and not actually hunting. I do love the vantages and advantages tree stands provide; You can see the sunrise better. You can see approaching deer better, and they have a hard time seeing or smelling you way up there. So, why go to the ground? My one-word answer: Challenge.
Anyone who’s hunted deer from the ground with archery gear knows that it can be a game of inches. I’ve realized lately though that’s it’s really a game of angles, which is what this post is about. Ground Blind Theory is not a singular concept but a burgeoning field of study I’ve slapped a name on simply so I can claim all the credit as “Founder,” or even “Forefather,” once the method catches on and everyone starts throwing around the phrase. Don’t worry though, I’m not Trademarking it or anything. I’m not like that . . . Just don’t try using the term “Five-Point Motion Blind,” without my written consent, even if you don’t capitalize each word, like I do. There’s HEAVY penalties for plagiarism, and my lawyers work round-the-clock in some of the tallest buildings in North America.
My first bow kill didn’t happen the way I’d like to do it now; I simply drove up a dirt road behind my house in Durango, CO, spotted a doe and jumped out of the truck. My first shot — about twenty yards — was a clean miss. I walked over, found my destroyed arrow (they call them the Rocky Mountains for a reason) and looked up to see that doe still standing broadside at twenty-five yards. My second shot was right on the money and she died about running only a few dozen yards. That night I shared the spoils of my first archery kill with my house/bandmates. A few weeks later I killed another doe from the ground, in Utah, then completed a trifecta with a Michigan doe shot from a tree stand.
After years of failure, I felt like I had arrived at a place where I could start shooting deer on my terms. What did that mean? It meant I could make hunting a little easier for myself or a little harder depending on my goals. If I needed a doe for the freezer, I had nothing against pulling out my 30-.06 and donning some orange. But my heart’s always been with archery. I’ve shot deer with recurves, compounds and, this year, with a longbow. I’ve shot them from tree stands, pop-up blinds, spot-n-stalk, and natural ground blinds. It seems like there’s no bigger rush than being “eye-to-eye” with a deer on the ground even though — as I’m about to explain — if you actually find yourself eye-to-eye with a deer, you’ve screwed up, bigtime. One goal of this article is to help you avoid locking eyes with a deer, and I’ll even offer up my own long series mistakes so maybe you won’t have to make them, yourselves.
I lived in Utah for seven years. A lot of my friends are very good archers. I know more than three people who’ve killed multiple animals with bow shots in excess of 80 yards. Now I live in Michigan where I grew up and where most hunters with rifles in their hands don’t take shots that far. They also don’t use spotting scopes, and most have never heard of quartering a deer in the woods and hauling it out on a horse or on one’s own back. I prefer to focus on the “hunting” part of bowhunting rather than the “shooting” part. And it’s a good thing I like getting close, because I’ve missed so many big bucks 30-50 yard range that it makes my stomach turn. When you take your shot from ten or fifteen yards there’s no need to screw around with a rangefinder or worry about a blustery canyon wind blowing your arrow off course . . .
Is there really a big difference between tree-stand hunting and ground hunting?
YES. Everything about it is different. You can move around quite a bit in a tree because deer rarely look up. And ironically, the closer a deer gets, the more you can move because you’re completely out of the animal’s periphery. Get that buck munching acorns directly beneath you and you might as well snap a few selfies and post them to Facebook before you take the your shot. Hey, it’s still fun, and it’s still harder than taking a 200-yard shot with a rifle, but it’s not as hard as doing it on the ground. In my opinion, it’s two totally different games. Hunting from the ground without a blind means not only that you might not see the deer till he’s right on top of you (especially if it’s thick, which is often the best ground setup), but that once you do see the deer, there’s no fidgeting around to get into shooting position. You basically have to already be in position to shoot. And by “in position,” I mean that you’re holding your bow in your hand, with your fingers on the string, or your release clipped on the string. And you may stay that way for hours.
In addition to the fact that one’s scent must be controlled better on the ground than in a tree, there’s a long list of things that can go wrong when a deer is inside twenty yards — things you don’t have to even worry about when in a tree. Sure, “camo” is part of the equation, but a lot of hunters don’t really know what that means in every situation. Being covered head-to-toe in the latest pattern, while being “brushed in” behind a stack of pine boughs or logs won’t lead to success if a deer approaches from the wrong angle, or if he locks onto your eyes at close range. The bottom line is that it’s just not always possible to be ready to shoot at every angle all the time. My “motion blind” theory begins by doing the same things you would in most other hunting situations; Trying to determine the two or three most likely shots you’ll have on a deer from a given spot. Then you fine-tune your setup to maximize your chances of making a kill using those particular shooting lanes. But these aren’t just “shooting lanes,” or open spots between the trees, they’re opportunities you can only create by analyzing the angles that exist on the horizontal plane shared by you and the highly perceptive eyeballs of the deer.
Ground Blind Location
Figuring out where deer have been or where they’re going to be is the usually the easiest part of this whole deal. Once you think you’ve found a good spot, you must take the time to imagine the deer approaching from the most likely directions. You must be critical. You must be methodical. You must imagine where the deer’s eyes will be at 20, 15, and 10 yards away, and where your eyes will be, what direction your body, head and bow will be facing. Have a plan for what you’ll do if you’re facing the wrong way when a deer shows up. You must run through each directional scenario — each angle — to determine the true viability of a location. You might be able to modify your surroundings by moving a few branches here, propping up a dead log over there. Every situation is different. But just because it seems like you’ll blend in well to a chosen spot don’t assume you won’t get busted.
I guess the really tough news, here, is that even if your setup is perfect, even if you’ve analyzed all your angles and adjusted your visual “screens,” you’ve still only covered half the bases. The other half has to do with your behavior in the blind and of course, the moment of truth, drawing your bow and shooting it. I could probably write an entire book about all the crazy things that can and do happen between the moment one chooses to pull the string back and the moment the arrow makes impact. There’s not many things as intense yet remain so unpredictable in the wake of such well-laid plans.
Fine-Tuning Your Ground Blind Setup
Once you’ve found multiple active deer runs that either converge or parallel one another you’ll need to assess your concealment options. Rather than building an actual ground blind, you’ll be looking for a big area — it could be half-an-acre — that’s thick enough to break up your outline anywhere you stand. At least one of your deer runs should skirt or, ideally, bisect this area. If all that sounds too specific to be realistic, don’t worry about it. By the time you’ve read all this, seen my diagram, watched my video, listened to my 700-page audio book and paid your bi-annual dues to my (non-profit) Motion Blind Killer’s Klub, you’ll figure out a place to make this system work or at least give it a shot. And I really can’t ask for anything more than your very best effort . . .
OK, you’ve zeroed in on what looks like perfect spot to stand within the promising location you found in your awesome hunting area. Your instinct may be to get “brushed-in” the best you can, and soon you may find yourself in a tight cocoon of pine boughs, logs, branches . . . Which may be fine if you have a gun in your hands, but drawing a bow requires more space. If you have a longbow, you might even need TWICE the vertical space you do with a modern compound. And if you cant your longbow a lot or shoot from a kneeling position you’d better double your horizontal space as well.
What do I mean by “space?” I mean not a single twig or blade of grass must come in contact with your bow. A blade of long grass might not make any noise, but the single, crispy oak leaf resting against it will sound like a firecracker going off as you draw back on a deer. So how the heck are you supposed to stay hidden now that your cozy ambush nest has expanded to size of a one-room apartment? This is where my theory of angles kicks in.
You’re now in a spot where you can turn 360, unimpeded by branches, maybe five feet in diameter. Make your area even bigger. You want a rectangle about eight feet long and five feet wide. Now you have four positions you can occupy plus the center; a five-point motion blind. Make sure all leaves and ground debris must are cleared out of the way so you’re standing on dirt. Sometimes I bring a piece of thin carpeting to roll out, but in cold conditions boot soles can freeze to the carpet and create unwanted noise.
Sit, Stand, or Kneel?
You should practice and be proficient at shooting from all three positions, and your decision should be determined by the situation and setup. If you’re using the five-point motion method in, say, a stand of oaks or aspens with very little ground cover, you’ll want to blend in with the vertical lines of those trees, so you should remain standing the entire time. If you need to crouch or sit for any reason, don’t forget to do a slow 360 first to make sure nothing has snuck up on you. It usually doesn’t make sense sit or kneel anyway because even cover that seems very thick at eye-level can have gaping holes at waist level. Sure, you can see approaching deer better, but they can see you, too. Remember, it’s eye contact we’re trying to avoid. If you must sit or kneel just make sure to hang wide-leaved branches or pine boughs at your exact eye level. Doesn’t take much to hide your eyes (you’d better be wearing a camo mask, too) and don’t worry if it seems too thick to spot a deer; You’re not trying to field-score the thing you’re just trying to pick up any movement. If you’re one of these guys who counts tines through the spotting scope for an hour before deciding which buck to shoot, this method ain’t for you. You might have a minute to make a decision, but you also might have less than five seconds between seeing the deer and pulling the string back.
Rehearse for Success
Once you’ve gotten settled in your spot and made sure your bow and body have clearance for every potential shot scenario, you should rehearse your single-step movements around your five-point rectangle. Keep in mind, you don’t actually need five positions to make this concept work, in fact many times it might only make sense to make a triangle with three positions. And the reason I’m using five points instead of six or seven, is because five is all you need to actually see AROUND the natural cover you’re being concealed by. Pay close attention to the way your vantage changes at each position. It might seem like a single step wouldn’t make much of a difference, but consider some basic geometry. . . If there’s a tree trunk five feet in from of you, there’s a certain amount of space behind it that’s obscured. However if you move one foot to the left — not even a full step — what’s revealed to you is much more than just another foot of real estate. (See diagram) This is why the motion-blind principle works. So, if your rectangle is the right size and located the proper distance from the deer trail, what you’re essentially doing is creating triangles of perception, each triangle surprisingly different as you move among the five points. And maybe that’s an accidental twist on William Blake’s “Doors of perception” (which also inspired the name of a band you may remember), but don’t think I’m too modest to trademark THAT phrase, either.
Please understand, I’m not “overthinking” this whole thing. There’s a huge difference between the scenario I’ve described, and sitting in the very same location on a bucket. My diagram proves it. So, if you plan on doing just that, you might as well give you’re spot a little more thought and scrape away a little more space to move. You’ll increase your odds. And what’s the worst that can happen? When that deer walks up you’ll either kill him or totally screw everything up and get busted. And if you’ve been hunting on the ground a few years like me you already know how to deal with failure. I think I left out a lot of important points, but this post is getting way too long, so watch the video. And good luck!