I drew back on my first buck ever while sitting in a ground blind made from tattered camo fabric stapled to ski poles jammed in the ground.
It was pure luck that he didn’t wind me or see me as he approached. That luck vanished when I knocked my arrow against a ski pole and it clattered off the rest. I didn’t kill that buck.
About 20 years later, I had a chance at my largest buck ever while hunting from a ground blind again—but this one was tucked into thick grass, built to mimic a bale of hay, and positioned so that my scent blew straight down a creek bed away from approaching deer. I did kill that buck.
The lessons I learned in the two decades in between changed my view of ground blinds and how to use them. The biggest difference has been a focus on setting them in such a way that they don’t spook deer.
The single greatest knock against ground blinds is that they’re at a deer’s eye level. A tree stand, if hung high enough, can be thrown up today and will never be noticed by passing deer. That’s simply not possible with ground blinds.
The simplest and easiest way to negate this issue is by putting a blind in place so far ahead of hunting season that deer get used to its presence. Assuming you can get your blinds in place by summer, any local deer will have seen and smelled it so many times come October or November that they’ll no longer pay it any mind.
In a perfect world you’d always get your blinds out early, but that’s not always possible. This is why there’s more to ground blind hunting than just timing.
The next factor to consider is where to place the blind itself. The trick is to be within range of whatever trail or food source you’re hunting, while staying as far out of a deer’s field of view as possible. If you know where deer are most likely to approach from, try to place your blind off to the side of that area rather than directly in front of it. Rather than placing a blind right on the edge of an opening, tuck it back 5 to 10 yards into adjacent cover.
You also need to consider wind direction, as your scent stream at ground level is more likely to get you in trouble than if you’re 20 feet up a tree. To account for this, Ben Rising, host of Whitetail Edge, recommends placing ground blinds in locations that have built-in obstacles that prevent deer from winding you.
“Try setting ground blinds in areas where you can get at least one wind that the deer cannot get downwind of you easily,” Rising said. “This could be a field edge close to a steep drop, a really thick area, or a body of water.”
A final consideration when placing your blind is to ensure that the ground beneath it is properly cleared and prepared. Noise is a bigger deal at ground level, so make sure you’ve removed any dead leaves, vines, or branches that might spook a deer in the moment of truth.
The final step to keeping your ground blind from spooking deer is to properly blend it into the surroundings.
There are a variety of ground blind styles to choose from, each requiring a different degree of camouflaging to make them unobtrusive to deer. Natural ground blinds made from nearby sticks, brush, and grass are a great option for last-second set ups and are about as stealthy as they come. But if you’re looking for something that will provide more protection from the elements, a manufactured blind is the better choice.
For those hunting around agriculture, the best manufactured blinds I’ve seen are hay bale blinds. These blinds break many of the aforementioned rules—hunters regularly set them in the middle of fields in the middle of the season and deer still ignore them. But this is the exception, not the rule.
The most popular blind option for in-season placement are pop-up, hub-style blinds. Unlike a hay bale blind, deer absolutely do notice them. In addition to tucking these blinds into the cover, it’s important to add additional natural camouflage around them.
“Make sure you’re using the natural surroundings to help camouflage the blinds of your choice,” Rising said. “You wouldn’t use tree limbs in a CRP field or tall grass in the woods because it will just stand out.”
Rising also recommends that if you’re using tree limbs to brush in your blind, choose those that hold their foliage longer. Such varieties include white and scarlet oak, as well as any evergreen.
Finally, it’s important to prevent your silhouette from standing out. This is exactly what will happen if you’re sitting in a blind with the windows open and a field or skyline behind you. To prevent this, keep as many windows in your blind closed as possible, especially those in the back. This will prevent silhouetting and keep your movements hidden in the shadows. If hunting a natural blind without windows, just make sure you’re tucked against a thick backdrop.
Above all of these tips and tactics, it’s important to remember that ground blinds are a useful tool to have in your box of tricks, but they can also be a big liability. Be smart about the timing, placement, and camouflaging of your ground blinds. Hopefully that’ll ensure that it doesn’t take you 20 years to go from spooking deer to tagging them.
Feature image via Captured Creative.