Crossbow Hunters: Why Ground Ambushes Are So Deadly

If you primarily hunt whitetails from a treestand with a crossbow, then you should consider adding ground ambushes to your game plan.

Crossbow Hunters: Why Ground Ambushes Are So Deadly

I love bowhunting whitetails with my recurve, compound and crossbow. Each hunting tool has its unique challenges, with the traditional bow requiring the most practice and skill to tag a whitetail (in my opinion).

A compound is an excellent choice for a treestand because it’s held vertically during the draw, aim and release process. (I don’t hold my recurve vertically while drawing and shooting; it’s canted slightly to the side.) Whenever possible, I place portable treestands in groups of large trees for maximum cover, and with a compound I can shoot without any trouble. The same isn’t true with a crossbow because its limbs collide with the tree trunks surrounding my treestand. 

Using a crossbow rest in a portable treestand is also difficult, and sometimes nearly impossible. I shoot a crossbow with a rest 99% of the time; the only instance I’ll freehand a crossbow is when a deer arrives from an unplanned direction and the shot is close — 15 yards or less. I think the trigger pull on a crossbow is too heavy to shoot accurately without a rest at ranges beyond 15 yards. 

A crossbow is my hunting tool of choice on the ground, and my preferred shooting rest is a tripod with adjustable legs. After the tripod is set for height and stable, it allows me to shoot a crossbow with incredible accuracy, and virtually no movement. Several companies make top-notch tripods; I’ve had good luck with the BOG Havoc, Primos Trigger Stick and Vanguard Quest T62U.

Early season is prime time for ground ambushes with a crossbow because instead of having to use a pop-up blind, which whitetails will notice when it suddenly appears in their backyard, you can simply carve out a hole in the brush/weeds and begin hunting. By “carve out” I mean using a hedge trimmer and/or hand pruner to clear cover beneath your hunting chair and in your shooting lane.

I bend or cut weeds and brush in my shooting lane a couple inches below the flight of my crossbow arrow. On a recent crossbow hunt in Wisconsin, I built (carved) an ambush location 6 feet from the edge of a clover field in chest-high goldenrod. When sitting on my packable chair, the untouched goldenrod was much higher than my head, giving me total concealment from feeding whitetails. I bent and cut goldenrod between my bow and the field edge, leaving weeds as high as possible without interfering with arrow flight (see top photo).

The author tagged this Wisconsin doe on Sept. 19, 2020, from the ambush seen in the top photo. His dad and nephew checked the deer’s field-dressed weight —  108 pounds.
The author tagged this Wisconsin doe on Sept. 19, 2020, from the ambush seen in the top photo. His dad and nephew checked the deer’s field-dressed weight — 108 pounds.

Later in the fall when leaves have fallen from trees, and weeds are flattened by snow, I’ll have to work a bit harder building natural ground blinds with branches. Or I’ll sit in box blinds or pop-up ground blinds that have been in the field for weeks so whitetails are used to seeing them.

Ladder stands featuring strong and stable shooting rails (crossbows are heavy!) can be okay for crossbow hunting, but the height of the rail must match up to the primary deer trail, food plot, etc. Even then, I feel more stable shooting a crossbow from the ground with aid of a tripod rest.

One final tip: When bowhunting from the ground, be sure to cover your face. You don’t want your skin to shine like a beacon in the sun, but even in low light your uncovered face will stand out to a wary whitetail.

The author (left) and his 82-year-old father during a recent on-the-ground crossbow hunt in Wisconsin. To help avoid the keen eyes of whitetails, the pair wore face coverings.
The author (left) and his 82-year-old father during a recent on-the-ground crossbow hunt in Wisconsin. To help avoid the keen eyes of whitetails, the pair wore face coverings.
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