Bowhunting Tips For Killing Whitetails From the Ground

There are times during the archery deer season when it makes sense to abandon treestands and take a more aggressive approach to pursuing whitetails.

Bowhunting Tips For Killing Whitetails From the Ground

This mature public land buck is just one of many that Jared Scheffler of Whitetail Adrenaline has taken with his trad bow from the ground.

I’d venture to say 90 percent of bowhunters think of treestands when whitetails become the topic of discussion. Why? Most whitetail hunters use them. Treestands don’t make whitetail hunting easy, but they do give us definitive advantages over a whitetail’s keen senses. Plus, they typically offer more commanding views of our hunting locations. For those reasons, treestands constitute a comfort zone for whitetail hunters of all levels.

Of course, whether it’s leaving a steady-paying job to chase your dream career or something similar, leaving a comfort zone involves the fear of the unknown. And I believe that’s why so few folks bowhunt deer at eye level — it increases the odds of being seen, heard or smelled. So how in the world could bowhunting on the ground be productive? Because being married to a treestand means surrendering to the mercy of what deer do or don’t do.

Hear me out, I’m not saying that hunting deer on the ground is in some way the solve-all solution to fruitless, frustrating treestand hunts. It isn’t — there are many challenges and a steep learning curve. But, if you do it enough and be attentive to details, you can encounter more mature deer in less time. My buddy Jared Scheffler of Whitetail Adrenaline is a perfect example. In other words, you can go find the action rather than wait for it to find you.

When the Situation Calls for It

If you have access to a managed private property, a mobile ground approach probably isn’t the best idea. You could easily bust your target buck out of the area, and if that is the only property you have to hunt, you’ve likely just ruined your season.

On the contrary, public land is available in large supply. If an aggressive ground-hunting strategy causes you to bust out a public land buck, then it’ll hurt for a few minutes, but since you have no emotional attachment to that particular deer, you can easily move on and work to find another buck. Public land, in many ways, is a more forgiving avenue than private land for hunting on the ground.

Scouting Optional

Because many uncontrollable factors govern the U.S.A.’s public lands — small-game hunters, other deer hunters and non-hunting recreationists — Scheffler, who bowhunts exclusively with his traditional bow from the ground on public land, no longer scouts.

“No matter how well you think you have a buck pegged, uncontrollable factors can change things instantly,” he said. “Then, scouting and patterning becomes wasted time. Plus, if all mature bucks were truly patternable, everyone would have a lot more of them on our walls. For those reasons and my aggressive ground-hunting approach, I no longer scout before hunting, nor do I use trail cameras. I simply can’t hold out for a specific buck. I’m hunting on land open to anyone, so I must be flexible.”

Mobility Makes a Difference

Since Scheffler doesn’t scout, he hunts most properties with fast feet so as to avoid wasting time in unproductive places, slowing down only once he finds hot sign or spots a deer. Of course, binoculars are a must-carry item for this hunting strategy.

“My cameraman and I move along at a pretty good clip to determine if a property is worth our time,” Scheffler said. “If things are cold in one spot, we continue moving until we find reasons to slow down. We’re not confined to a 40-acre parcel. We’ve got thousands of public land acres at our disposal, and staying mobile helps us get into good situations. Further, spots can be hot one day and cold the next. We call it ‘looking for today’s hotspot.’

“During the rut, treestand bowhunters often wait for those few magical days when bucks are running around everywhere,” Scheffler continued. “With a mobile ground approach, we’re not waiting so long for that. We don’t wait for rutting action to transpire in select locations. We go to it. We make things happen.”

Be Decisive

Mobile ground hunters face far more decisions than treestand hunters. Should I stay put for a few minutes or keep moving? Should I call to that buck or circle wide and head him off farther down the drainage? Should I risk sneaking into that bedding area or play it safe and stay out of there? These and thousands more complex questions will arise when you hunt on the ground.

Thus, Scheffler believes decisiveness is one of a ground hunter’s most valuable attributes.

“People always want a step-by-step list of what I do, but each scenario is different.” Scheffler said. “It’s impossible to draft a one-size-fits-all plan. Only a small portion of this hunting style can actually be taught. The rest must be learned through trial and error.

“With experience, I’ve developed a gut feeling for how to best handle each situation,” Scheffler added. “I don’t always make the right choices, but I also don’t sit there and overanalyze situations. I used to do that, and it almost always cost me when I didn’t just go with my initial gut feeling. The only way to obtain this skill is to get out there and learn. Then, be decisive.”

Send a Challenge

One of Scheffler’s back-pocket ploys is using a decoy to approach bucks locked down on the wide-open prairies. While hunting in Kansas for the first few times, Scheffler saw numerous great bucks that seemed unapproachable. Eventually, he had an idea. Scheffler crafted a decoy that he and his buddies have since used to draw in numerous bucks that were otherwise unapproachable.

“We’ve found the decoy to be very effective in situations where a buck is locked down with a doe,” Scheffler said. “We crawl within his comfort zone before showing the decoy, otherwise the doe usually flees with the buck in tow.

“I used the decoy to take a nice Kansas buck with my longbow back in 2013. He was with a doe in some fairly tall grass, so I inched forward with the decoy to about 50 yards when he spotted it. He came to challenge the decoy. He was 7 yards away and still coming when I shot him. I’m sure he would have mauled me if I hadn’t shot.”

During the rut, even open-country whitetail bucks become susceptible to the ground hunter. A lightweight, portable decoy such as this one from Montana Decoy can be a useful tool for approaching a buck in wide-open terrain.
During the rut, even open-country whitetail bucks become susceptible to the ground hunter. A lightweight, portable decoy such as this one from Montana Decoy can be a useful tool for approaching a buck in wide-open terrain.

Despite a decoy’s effectiveness, Scheffler shared that there are dangers to using one.

“We don’t use decoys during open firearm seasons, and only use them in open areas once we’ve evaluated our surroundings,” he said. “We don’t take risks over a deer. We use it only when we know it’s safe. It’s also somewhat dangerous when a mature buck is coming to beat up the decoy your hiding behind, but it’s a rush just like rock climbing or other inherently dangerous yet thrilling undertakings.”

Last Notes

Don’t become discouraged if you try and fail. Always be willing to learn each time you attempt it. Scheffler believes ground stalking is a continual learning process. “I try to learn something each time I’m in the woods,” he said. “I still make mistakes, but I get lots of encounters, and I usually get multiple shot opportunities each year.”

Ground stalking whitetails isn’t easy but, if you do it often, it has the potential to produce more encounters with big bucks than treestand hunting.

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