The Case for Bowhunting on the Ground

Andrew Spellman looks through binoculars during a whitetail deer hunt in 2020.

Through an experience with COVID-19, a new enjoyable form of hunting was discovered

I remember standing on the edge of a marsh at Blackwater National Wildlife Refuge in Cambridge, Md., walking around a set of trees. I imagined myself being 30 feet in the air, looking over the phragmites and calling in a sika deer – a small ungulate with a call that resembles an elk. 

As I stood there, little did I know a few weeks later I’d be sick on my couch after returning from Delaware. Initially, I thought it was the travel bug, something I always face after driving multiple hours with little stops in between my destinations. That wasn’t the case, though – I had COVID-19. 

It couldn’t have come at a worse time, either. In my second week of quarantining, I began to see my social media feeds explode with grip-and-grins that my friends had posted. A nice 8-point here, an Ohio brute there. It was infuriating that I couldn’t be out there chasing my target bucks. 

Following my quarantine, I traveled to Maryland for my first stop – a small chunk of private land butting up against hundreds of acres of the City of Hagerstown’s watershed. I had been scouting this land for about two months and saw a pretty decent buck and plenty of does. As I strapped on the climbing stand and began to work my way up the tree, something felt wrong in my chest. I continued to move up, but before I could even get 10 feet into the air, I decided to stop. I was way too winded for such little work. 

My lingering symptoms presented me with this same problem a week later on public land in Monongalia County. Despite my love for sitting in a tree stand, it wasn’t a hard decision for me to call off the climber. This season I’d be on the ground and mobile. 

It was as if a whole new world opened up for me. 

Granted, I run and gun turkey, squirrel, upland birds, and, sometimes, attempt to jump shoot ducks, so I was familiar with this method of hunting. It didn’t take long for me to find one of my target bucks with this method, moving down a logging road that wouldn’t have even crossed my stand that day. As he moved off the road down onto a bench, I slowly moved forward. My heart was pounding, but this time it wasn’t from exhaustion. 

I was about 100 yards off from the deer when I started the stalk. About halfway through, I saw him through from young vertical cover – he was working his way towards me, but downhill. You can’t write it any better. I knew where he was going; on this private tract of land, there’s a bedding area about 20 yards inside the timber that rises over a grassy field. I began to backtrack so I could position myself behind a large black oak tree. When I got there, still tracking the buck’s movement – who I refer to as the “Wide 9” – a doe caught my eye. Although I was going slow, I’m guessing I caught her eye because she started snorting.

My eyes shifted to the buck. He looked at her, then towards me. I tried to say, “Please, no don’t turn and run,’ but before “no” left my mouth both busted out of that area. 

Disappointed I lost a wonderful opportunity to punch my first tag of the season, I sat there for a while hoping one or both of them would come back. It wasn’t in the cards, though. I never saw that buck again that year except on a postseason trail camera photo. 

While upset with the outcome of that day, I fell in love with hunting deer on the ground. I may one day climb my way up and use a saddle – I’ve already come to the conclusion I’m never lugging around a climber again – but for now, I’m perfectly content saving some cash and putting miles on my boots. There was nothing more exciting than that moment. 

Except shooting a buck in Pennsboro two months later. 

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