Throughout the ‘70s and even the ‘80s people predominantly hunted from the ground. If hunters wanted to position themselves above the ground, they would climb trees with their hands (hopefully with a harness) and unconventionally stand hunt.
Tree stand hunting started gaining popularity in the mid-‘70s with the introduction of the Baker portable tree stand.
Treestand hunting is now by far the most popular method of hunting deer and other big game (and it will likely remain this way).
Although hunting from the ground is no longer the standard style of hunting, hunters can still have plenty of success with it and the successful hunts are arguably much more satisfying due to the difficulty of hunting on the ground.
The section above has alluded to two approaches of hunting big game: stand (stationary) hunting and still (mobile) hunting. These are the primary methods of hunting deer and other big game.
Stand hunting is a stationary form of hunting which involves hunters waiting for deer to move towards them, meaning the hunters do not move towards the deer.
Hunters will often position themselves near food sources, trails, or close to water sources (in drier climates).
For comfort and concealment, hunters often use tree-stands, ground blinds, or tripod stands. Tree stands are the most common, but ground blinds are growing in popularity.
If stand hunting can be simplified to waiting for deer to come towards a hunter’s stationary position, then mobile hunting is essentially moving into a deer’s habitat and trying to find and follow/stalk them.
This is why it is commonly referred to as spot ‘n’ stalk hunting.
This article focuses on the ways in which you can hunt on the ground, the equipment required, and the benefits and challenges of this hunting technique.
Hunting on the Ground
Hunting on the ground requires patience, incredible concentration, and good positioning (usually downwind side).
All your movements should be slow and deliberate, no matter the terrain (woods, grasslands, hills, mountains, or along tracks and trails). Your focus should be on ensuring that the game remains on low alert and is completely unaware of your presence.
Mobile hunting can be divided into two systems:
Your initial concern is to locate and spot a deer (or other game) without revealing your presence. The two main methods of spotting a deer are still-hunting and glassing. Once you have spotted a deer, your focus changes to stalk the game. Stalking can also be used to spot deer via tracking/following signs leading to a group of animals/game.
This technique of spotting game requires hunters to take a couple of slow, deliberate steps and then remain motionless for several minutes. During this time hunters scan the entire surrounding area for game.
There is no single tangible object to concentrate on, it is simply a fully focused scan of the environment.
For maximum effectiveness, hunters must remain completely mindful of sunlight, wind, and weather conditions while still-hunting. Maintaining focus on “nothing” is the hardest aspect of still-hunting.
Glassing requires spotting game from a considerable distance with binoculars or spotting scopes (the name comes from the constant use of these instruments).
Hunters expect to be sitting in a position for extended periods of time, examining the surrounding landscape before finding a new location to examine the environment. After spotting game, your stalking of the game begins.
The ability to select a good location to do your glassing from is integral to hunting with this method successfully. Good positions are typically locations which offer:
Unhindered views of the surrounding landscape (elevated terrain is typically good)
Sufficient sitting comfort
Downwind position for you
Background which breaks/conceals your outline (rock, brush, trees, etc.)
Shade (unless you need to stay warm in the sun)
You will also want to avoid choosing a location which looks directly into the sun.
Evidently, wind, sunlight, and weather conditions (like still-hunting) are vital to successfully spotting game.
The pursuit of game typically begins when you spot game, however stalking may begin with you following tracks, sounds, or even scents.
As with still-hunting, stalking requires hunters to maneuver through terrain with slow and deliberate steps, but the purpose of stalking is to close the space between you and the game while also sneaking into a position within firing range for an effective shot at the game.
Stalking requires an equivalent level of focus as spotting; however, your attention remains directly on a physical entity.
A successful stalk demands hunters to remain alert, quiet, and downwind as well as conscious of wind patterns and weather conditions.
A reasonably common way to conduct your ground hunting may be to use a tree seat to be comfortable during what might become a long wait.
Tree seats are lightweight, compact seats that attach to tree trunks, usually by a ratchet strap.
They are useful because you can choose whatever tree looks convenient and quickly strap it on and you've got yourself a place to sit.
You can then blend in with your surroundings or even hide behind a pop-up blind while waiting for your prey to wander by.
Equipment for Mobile Hunters
When stalking game, the most important characteristic of your clothing should be the weight.
Lightweight clothing is essential for mobile hunters for various reasons, intuitively lighter clothing is less exhausting to walk in, but critically, it reduces your likelihood of alerting game of your presence.
Lighter clothing allows hunters to be fluid and precise in their movements which is ideal for remaining unseen and noise control.
As you move deeper into deer season and the weather becomes cooler, heavier clothing with plenty of insulation will be desirable for when you remain idle and motionless.
However too much insulation will be uncomfortable and may be too loud while stalking. Finding a balance is key.
Wearing appropriate hunting clothes may be vital for breaking your outline while on the ground. You should try wearing camo which resembles the surrounding environment of your hunting location.
Avoid materials such as denim, nylon, and canvas as they are too loud to wear.
As mentioned with the clothing, in winter you will want boots which are heavy (well insulated) enough to keep your feet warm, but also can allow for fluid and precise movement.
On rough terrain, you will want a boot with aggressive soles for good grip and traction, but also stiff midsoles for ankle support.
On wet days and dewy mornings, the ground can be quite moist, therefore you may be inclined to wear waterproof boots for comfort and noise control.
Additionally, insulated boots are also critical for comfort. Click here to determine how much insulation is suitable. Bear in mind, spotting and stalking requires some walking, therefore cool weather won’t affect you as much as tree sitting.
Naturally, scent control is another important factor to consider when stalking game. Some materials offer better scent control than others.
Rubber and leather boots are commonly worn hunting boots. Rubber boots are great for scent control and wet conditions. Leather boots offer incredible ankle support, grip, and breathability
Binoculars and Spotting Scope
Obviously, for spotting game you will need binoculars or a spotting scope. You should primarily perform your glassing with binoculars (with a tripod attachment).
A spotting scope can be uncomfortable for your eyes, they are a specialty tool which should mainly be used to investigate shapes and objects which resemble game, and to determine their size.
For stalking, binoculars that are not too heavy and large are best for carrying around. Good binoculars can absorb light, improving your vision as it gets darker.
- Hand warmers in pockets on cold days
- Hats for warmth and keeping sun out of eyes
- Lightweight backpacks (should be secure and light to avoid detection)
- Chemical heating pads (for freezing cold days)
- Water bottle (in your bag)
- Quivers for bowhunters
- Gloves (cold days)
Advantages of Hunting on the Ground
- Mobility. The most beneficial aspect of hunting on the ground is arguably the mobility it offers hunters. There are no concerns relating to finding a quality tree or altering your tree stand position due to changes in wind direction. Essentially, hunters have freedom to move anywhere, provided that there are trees, grass, or brush to conceal your outline. If wind direction is a problem, hunters can find another spot nearby where the wind direction is correct.
- Satisfaction. Successful hunts from the ground are more satisfying due to the difficulty of this method of hunting.
- Comfort. With the right set up, hunting on the ground can be more comfortable than sitting in a tree.
- Effectiveness. With adequate knowledge and ability, hunting from the ground can be more effective than stand-hunting because the likelihood of finding deer increases and it enables hunters to target inactive animals.
- Warmth. Cooler weather is more bearable when hunting on the ground because you are almost always moving and unexposed to the weather at a lower elevation.
- Serenity and Tranquility. On the ground, hunters can have a greater appreciation of the peacefulness of the surrounding environment.
- Obstacles are Abundant. Variety of natural obstacles nearby to conceal your outline
- Tracking. Tracking game is easier on the move, especially in snowy and muddy terrain.
Disadvantages of Hunting on the Ground
- Visibility and Concealment. Tree stands provide hunters with greater visibility and depending on your positioning in a tree, concealment.
- Difficulty. Inexperienced hunters will discover that hunting on the ground is incredibly difficult. This style is better suited for hunters with experience. It takes a fair amount of skill and time to become successful.
- Concentration. Maintaining focus when there is nothing specific to concentrate on is the hardest aspect of still-hunting.
- Windy Weather. Hunting on the ground is quite difficult on windy days.
- Patience. Hunting on the ground requires plenty of patience. Successful bow hunters will often spend more of their time spotting than stalking. This may be too boring and exhausting for some hunters.
- Shooting Position. It is best for hunters to be in shooting position before the game is within range. Remaining in a position to shoot can be uncomfortable and thus difficult.
- Glassing Discomfort. Too much glassing can be uncomfortable for your eyes. They will require breaks whenever you feel discomfort.
- Noise in Winter. During winter when your clothing is heavier and has more insulation, the noise that you and the clothing produces may be too loud to stalk.
- Shiny Objects. Must ensure that shiny objects like watches and tripod legs (of binoculars) do not flash in the eyes of game when they catch the sun’s reflection.
Hunting on the ground without a blind can be incredibly effective and exhilarating, when compared with stand-hunting.
The true essence of hunting is spotting game (via still-hunting or glassing) and then stalking it.
It may be harder than standing, but there is simply nothing more satisfying than a successful hunt on the ground.
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