September 07, 2023
Bowhunter tears! Whether they come out of your eyes or stay inside and burn holes through your soul, we’ve all felt them. They burst forth as soon as that massive set of antlers bounds away through the brush, never to be seen again.
Bowhunter tears are usually accompanied by a slack jaw, dropped head, closed eyes and a conversation with oneself that begins as follows: (PG version) “I can’t believe I did that. What was I thinking?”
We’ve all been there and done that. Unfortunately, due to my tendency to screw up even the simplest of tasks, I have been there more than most. In fact, I have been there so often I not only have the T-shirt, but the shorts, flip flops and koozie to go with it.
There is one saving grace, and that is: I learn from my mistakes, and I’ve learned a lot over 42 years of bowhunting. The tips I share here have been gathered through the school of hard knocks. Please, for the love of all that is good, learn from my mistakes. You may not harvest the animal of your dreams, but you will gather a plethora of stories to tell about the ones that got away.
Let’s get started.
Ground blinds are a great way to increase your hunting success while boosting your enjoyment. Where else but in a ground blind can you hunt while you eat, drink, stretch, share the experience with children, and stave off the cold. Also, they are safer than treestands. I had a treestand fall out of a tree once with me in it, and it is not very much fun. I recommend the good ol’ ground blind for superior hunting enjoyment.
1. Make sure the blind you choose is deep enough from front to back to accommodate an archer at full draw. There needs to be enough space in front of your hand to keep the tip of the arrow inside the blind and allow for follow-through after the shot. The blind also needs to be tall enough that bow limbs do not hit the ceiling at any time while drawing back or shooting. Traditional archers really need to pay attention to this because their limbs are significantly longer than those of a compound bow. Nothing is more agonizing than not being able to shoot because your bow or elbow is hitting the blind. I learned this the hard way!
2. Set up your ground blind several weeks early. More time is better than less. You’re setting up something new in their home and it will take time for them to get accustomed to it. If someone suddenly put new furniture in your den, you would notice immediately and be suspicious.
3. Pay attention to the position of the sun. Whether you’re hunting in the morning or the evening, set the blind so the sun does not shine straight into the shooting window and light you up.
4. As with all bowhunting, take wind direction into account. In South Texas, where I live, we have two predominant winds — southeast and north. To prevent my scent from blowing toward the expected location of the animals, I set my blind up west of that point. Most of the time, my scent is blowing in an acceptable direction.
5. Do not leave your blind in the field any longer than necessary, as the sun will bleach it and weaken the fabric. Also, raccoons, packrats, and other assorted critters will use the time to remodel the blind and make it nice and comfy to their specifications.
Set Up — Outside
6. My advice is to ditch the skinny pins that come with the blinds and use big tent stakes to anchor the blind. Rebar works well, too, if you bend it into the shape of an “L”. Anchor the blind to the ground in every place the blind allows, usually loops along the bottom edge.
Attach ropes to the center of the exterior walls at the hubs and tie them to trees and brush to prevent the blind from moving. If suitable trees and brush are not available, hammer tent spikes into the ground about six feet from the blind and attach the ropes at a steep downward angle, which helps hold the blind tight to the ground when the wind is trying to lift it.
If it is possible to tie the apex of the roof hub to a tree limb above the blind, do it. When the winds get up to 30 or 40 mph, like they do in South Texas, this will prevent the roof from collapsing. I have had to search large areas of woods to find a blind that did a tumbleweed impression and went on a journey.
7. You can leave a blind out in the open in some cases, especially if it is set well in advance, but if you want a chance at mature animals, you’ll want to brush the blind in the best you can. Branches, limbs, cornstalks, and other material can go a long way toward easing the fears of passing game.
8. DO NOT allow branches, sticks, or young saplings to maintain contact with the blind. Over time, with movement from the wind, they may wear a hole in the material.
Set Up — Inside
9. Clean the ground inside the blind. This is huge! It’s easier if you do most of it before you set the blind in place, but the floor needs to be as clean as possible. Bare dirt is best. Otherwise, you will make a lot of noise with your feet and gear. Ground blinds offer a false sense of security when it comes to noise and scent control. Don’t fall for it!
10. Make sure there is no light leaking into the blind, especially direct sunlight, as it will illuminate you and spook game. Many blind manufacturers use a minimal amount of material when it comes to window covers, so light leaks are common. Seal every light leak you can by adjusting the window coverings. Stubborn windows can be sealed with small binder clips or even large paper clips to hold window flaps in place. Also, make certain you are not backlit by light coming in from behind you or any opening on either side, as animals can easily pick off that movement. The only light coming in should be through your shooting window.
11. Keep all gear and yourself away from the front window. The closer things are to the front window, the easier they are for the animals to see. Many forget that their broadhead is almost poking through the front window and very visible when they are about to draw.
12. Minimize the size of the front window if possible. Some blinds have gigantic front windows that extend from one side of the blind to the other. That’s way too much light. Use clips and dark or camouflage material to cover excess window openings, leaving just enough to shoot through.
13. If you must peek out the sides or back, designate a tiny spot on each window where you can pull the flap silently aside a quarter of an inch to see. Small peep holes offer great vision if you have your eye close enough to the hole.
14. Use a comfortable, quiet chair. The more comfortable you are, the more likely you are to hold still. Arm rests are nice but make certain they don’t interfere with your bowstring at full draw. I like the one-piece, stackable plastic chairs.
15. Do not position your chair in the middle of the blind. Instead, place it near one of the back corners. This gives you more room for your feet and gear and takes you out of direct line of sight through the front window. Be careful not to place it so far back that your elbow hits the back wall when at full draw.
16. This is gross but a major necessity. You will need a pee bottle. One of the advantages of a ground blind is that you can have drinks and snacks. Well, if you are drinking, you are going to need to relieve yourself. Hunting is supposed to be fun, but being miserable for hours because you have to pee saps the fun right out of the experience. Bring an empty sports drink bottle with you. They do not make the crackling noise of water bottles and they have a strong screw-on cap that you can twist on tightly, so the scent does not escape.
17. Use some type of a bow stand so you can stand your bow up within easy reach. This keeps your bow out of the way and prevents unwanted noises created when you try to lean it up against the wall or your pack. Hanging it from the roof of a hub blind seldom works because the weight of the bow may collapse the hub and any type of hook could be in your way when you come to full draw.
18. Distances can be quite deceiving when viewed through a blind window so make sure you have your trusty rangefinder handy.
19. If you choose to bring food or drinks into the blind, do everything you can to limit the noise and scent. As for drinks, crack the lids as soon as you get in the blind. If you bring a Thermos of coffee, loosen the lid slightly so escaping pressure does not cause it to squeak when you open it. Any food you bring should be taken out of packaging that will make noise. Wrap it in paper towels, shove it into your pockets or use lightweight resealable bags. Do whatever it takes, just get rid of the crinkly wrappers.
20. If you are a seasoned hunter and have learned from the school of hard knocks, you will have a backpack with all your essential gear. Open all the zippers upon entering the blind. Zippers are crazy loud when an animal is ten yards away.
21. Wear black or very dark clothes that are extremely quiet. This is not just good advice; it is a must! Since your bow hand will be close to the window, be sure to wear a dark glove, at least on that hand. Wear a dark facemask or headnet, too.
22. Place your gear around the inside edges of the blind so your feet have as much room as possible. Put the things you need, like binoculars or grunt calls, close to your chair and place other gear in front of light leaks between the ground and bottom edge of the blind. If it’s windy and your blind is moving, tie your pack to a hub so the weight helps keep the blind stable.
23. Be quiet and scent-free. Ground blinds will not conceal a noisy, smelly hunter.
24. Do not let the animals see you enter or exit the blind, if possible. If they get the idea that people may be in the blind, they may avoid your hunting area altogether.
25. Check the inside of the blind for undesirable critters before you climb in. You don’t want to set up and get comfy only to find a snake or nasty spider in there with you.
26. Once you are set up, draw your bow, and make sure there are no points of contact top, bottom, front and on all sides. And most of all, remember that your arrow’s line of flight is three or four inches below your line of sight. Assure the bottom of the blind window is well below your arrow when preparing for the shot.
27. Avoid using a cell phone when it is dark or close to dark outside. They will light you up like a streetlight. Turn the screen brightness way down and turn off all sounds and vibrations.
28. Most hunters lower or remove the screen covers of the windows because they do not like the idea of shooting through them. Removing the screen, however, makes it easier for animals to see inside. Through sheer frustration, I have come up with a solution by creating a moveable screen that is dead silent. All you need is mosquito netting or camouflage burlap, monofilament fishing line and binder clips. Tie the monofilament to the upper frame of your blind near the front window. Drape the screen material over the fishing line and secure in place with the binder clips. The binder clips should not pinch the monofilament. When completed, it will roughly resemble the setup of a shower curtain hanging from a rod. You should be able to slide it sideways without making any noise. While hunting, have the screen closed so it keeps you from being seen through the front widow of the blind. When you are ready to draw, use the arrow tip to slowly slide the screen to one side then draw and shoot.
Part of the fun of bowhunting is learning what works and what doesn’t. Hopefully, these tips will help you shorten that learning curve and you’ll discover the effectiveness and enjoyment of hunting from a ground blind.
The author lives in Corpus Christi, Texas, and has 40 years of South Texas bowhunting experience.