by Scott Bestul

Tree stands are invaluable hunting tools from opening day through the rut. But come late season, an elevated perch has two major drawbacks:
(1) Hanging one near a major food source can bump winter bucks because they tend to bed so close to their grub; and (2) You’re literally hanging in the wind, with the hard chill of winter going straight to your bones.

The solution is to hit the ground. Here are proven setups from a pair of hunters who come down from the trees to bag bucks as the season winds down.

Exposed Hide
Ray Howell, a Minnesota archer known for his success on trophy bucks, has taken some of his best post-rut whitetails by simply sitting on the ground. “For me, nothing beats the adrenaline rush of beating a buck at eye level,” Howell says. “But it’s not just the excitement of a close encounter. This approach is much quieter than trying to hang a stand. As long as there’s snow on the ground, it can be very effective.

“First, I spend as much time as possible observing deer as they head toward feed,” Howell continues. “When they pass within bow range of even the slightest piece of cover, I take note of it. Then, if I can get the wind right, I’ll wear snow camo and sit right on the ground in that cover.”

Howell admits that his strategy presents some challenges. “Usually a buck is traveling with several does, so there are lots of eyes and ears to fool before you get a shot. Your clothing and bow must be completely silent, and you need a consistent wind. The buck almost always brings up the rear. All those deer have to walk past before you can even think about drawing the bow. But once that buck gets past you, it’s like taking candy from a baby.”

Enclosed Blind
For deer hunters who want shelter from the winter elements and the freedom to fidget, there’s another excellent option. Outdoor writer and whitetail nut Colin Williams uses Lucky’s portable Little Texas Snow Blind ($230) to get the drop on winter deer. “Bucks will walk within feet of that blind and barely glance at it,” he says.

Williams believes that deer have trouble seeing the outline of his snow-camo blind, so he’s less concerned about cover. “Most pop-up models need to be concealed with brush and left awhile. But I’ve been able to set mine up in a grassy swale, a ditch, and sometimes right along a field edge. I’ve shot several does that were standing within 10 yards of the blind this way. And last year, I had five bucks within bow range on a single night, including a mature trophy that had shed one antler. This coming season, I won’t even consider hunting the late season without that blind.”