The blazing Texas sun was finally dipping in the west, creating a kaleidoscope of orange and red and yellow as it neared the horizon. Another day was slowly coming to a close, and unfortunately my hunt with it, as this was the last day of a week of chasing hogs on the Martin Family Ranch near Mason. The trip had been a good one, with great camaraderie, awesome scenery, and lots of close encounters, but I had yet to ease my longbow to full draw on one of the ranch’s many wild pigs.
I was sitting on a folding stool in the middle of a hollowed-out clump of Texas brush, a task that I performed very carefully earlier in the week since seemingly everything in this state is intent on poking, cutting, stabbing, or biting a careless bowhunter! As is my preference for ground setups, I had nearly impenetrable natural cover behind me, with sparser vegetation in front, along with a couple trimmed shooting lanes. My ambush was a good one, but now I needed the bowhunting gods to cooperate and send some last-minute hogs my way.
Suddenly, looking north across the grassy meadow in front of me, I was greeted by the charge of the “light brigade!” For some reason known only to the animals themselves, no less than 20 wild hogs were rocketing toward me at warp speed, gobbling up ground in their short, stiff-legged strides reserved for an urgent need to get from Point A to Point B. I scarcely had time to ease my 51-pound longbow into position before the entire sounder was spread out in the lush meadow grass in front of me, greedily feeding and rooting in a raucous frenzy that only another hog could appreciate. Seldom standing still, the targets were difficult to pick out and judge, and with so many eyes and ears at pointblank range, I was afraid I’d get busted — even though the wind was in my favor. However, with the perfect mix of cover and the setting sun behind me, I was invisible to my quarry.
A big, black sow was the largest animal in the group, but I really didn’t plan to be picky — I wanted some pork chops! The sow did enter a shooting lane and turned broadside, but just as I started to raise my longbow, she scooted forward and was replaced by a medium-sized boar. Never one to look a gift pig in the mouth, I had just started drawing on the white-and-black boar when he swapped ends and charged one of his mates. Maddening! Just then, the big sow stepped into the last shooting lane to my left, and I wasted no time responding in deadly fashion…
I’ve always loved hunting from the ground. Early on in a bowhunting career that has now spanned five decades, I rationalized that it was for the challenge; that tagging game from a treestand was somehow easier, and that ground hunting was more “traditional.” What I’ve come to realize, however, is that setting up with a bow to take game on their level is more than just challenging and exciting…in many instances it is the best, most successful method of hunting available. Sure, the adrenaline rush of being within spitting distance of a wary game animal while sharing the same piece of terra firma is exciting, especially if we’re talking about larger game like a screaming bull elk or a posturing bull moose, or potentially dangerous game like bears or hogs. And there’s also no argument that a bowhunter has to pay attention to every tiny detail in order to fool an animal at eye level, so the challenge can’t be overlooked either. However, if you’re up to the task, a ground game may very well be your best bet for putting a trophy on the wall and meat in the freezer this season.
Generally speaking, there are four options when it comes to bowhunting ambushes at ground level: natural blinds, portable blinds, pop-up blinds, and permanent blinds. All can work, and all have their place in your arsenal.
Natural Blinds. These hides are just as the name implies: Using whatever natural cover is available to melt into and hide your form. It might be a fallen tree or a dense clump of cedars, both of which are a couple of my favorites. As are multi-trunked trees that have bases growing close enough together to set up a small stool inside.
Just a couple miles from the small Minnesota town where I live is a public-hunting spot that has a multi-trunked basswood in a perfect location, and I’ve taken two whitetails from this ambush despite no real cover close by. The first was a big doe that I arrowed as she walked past at about 10 yards, and the second was another doe that I shot from five feet after she was spooked by another hunter arriving too late to the party: The mature doe had worked her way past me without offering a shot earlier, but a hunter pulling into the parking area spooked her right back to me…I’m pretty deadly at five feet!
Point is, use whatever Mother Nature provides to blend in and break up your outline as a predator. The beauty of natural blinds is simplicity and adaptability. All that’s pretty much needed to get set up is a small folding saw and a ratchet pruner, and it’s a simple matter to change locations quickly and quietly should the wind switch or game activity dictates a move.
Portable Blinds. For this option, I’m considering ultralight and simple structures. I’ve used camo netting or camo burlap for years in a variety of situations to hide my ambush from prying eyes, and in recent years a number of manufacturers have come out with products developed specifically for hunting from the ground. Products like the Ghost Blind — a folding, reflective blind that acts like a mirror and reflects your natural surroundings — and the Primos Double Bull SurroundView Stake Out Blind — a two-sided see-through mesh blind — are just a couple of options available. The beauty in these portable blinds is that they can be set up in seconds and require a minimum of surrounding cover to help hide a waiting hunter.
Many modern portable blinds come with a stake system to anchor them securely to Mother Earth, but when I use camo netting or burlap, I like to attach lengths of green fly-fishing line at regular intervals to tie the material off tightly to any surrounding trees or brush. Blind material flapping in the wind is the last thing a bowhunter wants, as it will draw attention to your hideout.
Pop-Up Blinds. Also known as hub blinds, pop-ups stormed onto the scene several decades ago and have revolutionized the ground game, especially for turkeys! There’s no doubt that bowhunting success rates on turkeys have jumped dramatically since the advent of the pop-up blind, and a multitude of companies like Primos, OPA, Ameristep, Muddy, and others now offer quality hunting structures that are quick and quiet, completely conceal a hunter or hunters, and even protect a person from the elements while also helping to contain human scent.
I’ve personally used pop-up blinds while bowhunting deer, bears, elk, turkeys, hogs, javelinas, and a variety of exotics, and have had my share of success while hiding inside these structures. On a recent trip to South Texas, I was surrounded by whitetails on the last evening of my hunt…so many, in fact, that it was nearly impossible to get a shot at the nice 4×4 buck in front of me. Eventually, the wide eight-pointer ran off an interloper, and on his way back in front of the blind, I was able to get an arrow through his ribcage at a distance of less than 10 feet!
Pop-up blinds are definitely a boon to ground-game lovers, but they are large and a bit obtrusive. Turkeys don’t pay any attention to the blind’s outline. But for larger game, it’s best to either brush the blind in with natural vegetation or set the blind up well in advance of the season, so game animals have time to get used to its presence.
Permanent Blinds. Since the dawn of man, hunters have built permanent blinds in likely spots to ambush wary game animals. Generally similar in size and shape to pop-up blinds, permanent ambushes can be simple or elaborate, manufactured or homemade, and like pop-up blinds, they also completely conceal a waiting bowhunter and offer protection from inclement weather. Plus, most all of the modern, manufactured blinds by companies like Redneck, Muddy, Stump, and Shadow Hunter provide virtually complete scent protection because they are fully enclosed.
Like pop-up blinds, these fixed ambushes are very comfortable and roomy, offering plenty of hiding space for more than one hunter, or for those who are interested in filming their hunts. They are also the perfect solution for getting youngsters introduced to the hunting way of life, because they provide a sight, sound, and scent barrier to hide newcomers to the sport who likely haven’t learned to sit still or be totally silent.
I arrowed my first and only double from a permanent blind in Texas several years ago — a pair of wild pigs that were greedily devouring corn at pointblank range, while I sat completely hidden in the box blind. The first hog scarcely flinched as the razor-sharp arrow blew through him, and then went back to feeding before dropping only a few feet from impact. The second hog, apparently curious as to why his buddy suddenly decided to take a nap at suppertime, walked over to the downed boar and was rewarded with a second well-placed arrow! The remaining hogs scattered at the second shot, but a permanent blind helped me fill my freezer.
What I will say about going to a ground game for hunting is that it’s not that difficult to get pointblank shot opportunities while eye to eye with even the wariest of game animals; however, getting off an undetected shot can be another matter. Of course, being fully enclosed and therefore hidden in a pop-up or permanent blind is a huge plus, but I always like to divert an animal’s attention away from my ambush, regardless of the type of ground blind I’m using.
Mock scrapes are a great way to attract a deer’s attention and focus it away from my ambush, particularly when I use a length of rope hanging over the scrape. Any breeze will get the rope moving, making it a definite eye-catcher.
But probably the best diversionary tactic I’ve found is the use of decoys. I’ve used decoys successfully on lots of different game, from whitetails to antelope to moose and elk. Of course, decoying turkeys is also a no-brainer. When your quarry is focused on the facsimile in front of it, you will be able to draw and shoot, making it a perfect combination tactic for ground-blind hunting.
…As the arrow hit home, the big sow let out a deep grunt and rocketed off to the west toward the setting sun. The gluttonous group in front of me continued noisily feeding and I likely could have arrowed another animal, but with it being right at sunset and also the last day of my hunt, I figured it would be better to secure the pig at hand.
I followed her retreat with my ears for about 20 yards, but then everything went silent, so I waited a few minutes before easing out of my natural blind and slipping back to my pickup to get reinforcements. But the precaution wasn’t necessary. Returning a half-hour later with my campmates, we found the old girl piled up less than 50 yards away, proving once again that a good ground attack can be the ticket to bowhunting success!
The author is a custom bowyer and a longtime Contributor to this magazine.