THE CHUNKY 9-POINTER with a broken brow tine finally stepped from the tree line shadows. Only minutes of legal shooting remained, and he was still off to my left maybe 40 yards away. I watched him through a side window slit while he paused briefly to eye the does and smaller bucks already feeding belly-deep in the lush food plot in front of my pop-up blind. Seconds later, as the cautious buck moved ahead to join the banquet line of hungry deer, I slowly lifted my bow and waited for him to appear in the blind’s shooting window.
“C’mon,” I whispered. “Join the crowd.”
And when he did, I was ready. My arrow zipped through the mesh and lasered through the broadside buck’s lungs. White flags scattered in three directions. I quickly lost sight of the hard-hit buck after he whirled and hightailed it back toward the trees. But I wasn’t worried. The hit looked perfect.
Turns out it was. Less than a minute later I heard a loud crash and brief thrashing just inside the darkening timber. With no need to wait, I unzipped the blind’s entryway, stepped out, and moved toward the tree line in the fading daylight, scanning the green growth ahead for telltale splotches of red.
ONLY THE GOOD LORD KNOWS how many deer, pronghorn antelope, black bears, and strutting gobblers have walked into one of my arrows released from ground blinds of various shapes, sizes, and fabrics. But I do know that 50-year-plus grand total has been sizable. And that’s why, like many other serious bowhunters, I continue to use ground-level blinds to put meat in the freezer and big game mounts on the wall.
Sure, I do a lots of hunting from elevated stands. And with certain species of game like caribou, elk, javelina, mule deer, blacktail deer, and antelope, I love accepting the challenge of spot-and-stalk or still-hunting techniques. To me, slipping within good arrow range — while remaining undetected by wary noses, eyes, and ears — remains bowhunting’s most daunting undertaking. And the satisfaction garnered from the experience is a bowhunter’s natural high.
But with advancing age comes time-tested wisdom and an appreciation that sometimes the old ways of sit-and-wait are always a viable option. For example, I’ve hunted Western game from rock blinds that native tribesmen constructed and used centuries ago. Ambushing game worked then and works now. If you haven’t ground blinds, you’re missing out on one of the most effective hunting techniques there is.
PROBABLY THE BIGGEST BENEFIT A PORTABLE BLIND OFFERS a hunter – besides mobility and a convenient hiding spot where there’s no handy cover or trees — is getting by with much more movement. That’s especially true when drawing a bow while an animal is standing short yards or mere feet away. Of course, this assumes your clothing and hunting tackle are woolly worm quiet and your movements are not visible because of sunlight peeping through windows or gaps in the blind material. And if you prefer to shoot through a gap in the window, rather than shooting through the mesh, always camouflage your “moving parts.” These include covering the exposed skin of your head, face, and hands with camo paint, masks, and gloves. The darker the inside of any blind, the better.
Quality blinds also offer some scent containment benefits, even with the mesh window panels and some tiny gaps in the fabric. Regardless, I mist scent-killer on my clothing and rubber boots, as usual, but then go a step further by spraying down the inside of the blind, including window mesh. Be sure any blind is both spacious and comfortable enough to spend hours without cramping or other discomfort setting in. A padded swivel stool or chair helps waiting for action, but seats cannot squeak, creak, or groan when you shift your weight to draw an arrow.
Obviously, there must be ample room to extend your bow arm without the broadhead scraping against the fabric or your elbow hitting the blind’s rear wall. I’m 6’ 1” and have a long draw. My preference for a solo hunt blind is 67 inches or more tall and a width and depth of 69 inches. If I’m hunting with a youngster or videographer, I’ll opt for a slightly larger model.
On my own farm and during other private land bowhunts, I’ll set up the hunting blind in advance, whenever possible, allowing time for the deer to grow accustomed to its presence. Regardless, I’ve also erected and shot deer and antelope out of blinds situated the evening before a morning hunt. Unless I’m hunting super-pressured game, I don’t take special pains to “brush in” or otherwise conceal the blind. But if I’m leaving it in place for days or weeks at a time, I do use heavy duty stakes and even tie-down cords to keep autumn storms from blowing it into the treetops or a neighboring county.
A few final cautionary words are in order: Practice shooting while seated because even slight changes in body position can affect accuracy. Also, if you plan to shoot through window mesh, practice before a nice buck is standing broadside 18 yards away. Some broadhead designs can cause problems; make sure your heads aren’t going to cause erratic arrow flight. I do not shoot through mesh with mechanicals (although I know some bowhunters who do), preferring cut-on-contact, multiple blade heads. Use what works best for you and gives you shooting confidence.
Lastly, don’t be blind to the benefit of pop-up portable blinds. They can be deadly effective and conveniently adaptable in putting savvy hunters within good bow range of wary game animals.
*All photos by M. R. James.
If you like to read M.R.’s bowhunting adventures you will love his newest book, Hunting the Dream.
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