Fall always seems to end suddenly for me. Although frosty mornings, rogue snowstorms, and brilliantly colored leaves drifting off of bare branches should provide plenty of hints, I am always shocked when I realize that winter has officially arrived. My despair at the passing of another fall is usually short-lived as I switch gears into winter hunt mode. The strategies, species, and equipment are very different when I transition from chasing elk on foot in September to waiting patiently for a rutting whitetail in November. The waiting game becomes even more agonizing for December and January hunts where you are strictly hunting food sources for bucks recovering from the rut. Although I used to pride myself on shivering my way through hours of sitting in a treestand from November through January, I have completely replaced those creaky, icy stands with the cozy interior of a ground blind whenever the blind is a viable alternative.
Tree stands and ground blinds have many similarities when it comes to strategy. For example, both ground blinds and tree stands are always the least disruptive and therefore the most effective when they are set up as far in advance as possible. Also, site locations in terms of wind direction, food sources, and travel corridors are critical for both styles of hunting. However, when it comes to maintenance and longevity, the two pieces of equipment could not be more different. Tree stands can be left out for months without much reason for concern while hub-style ground blinds require a little more thought in order to maximize the life of the product.
Preparing the Location
Tree stands take a lot of time to hang. Shooting lanes are carefully prepared, limbs are trimmed if necessary, stands are meticulously leveled for comfort, and no detail is left to chance. For some reason, my early years of using a ground blind were quite the opposite. I’d slap the blind into place on a slanted piece of real estate with corners out of whack, drive a few stakes into the ground to secure the wobbly shelter in place and call it good. I’ve since learned that site preparation is critical to ground blind success and to the longevity of the product.
With few exceptions, the ‘footprint’ of a hub-style ground blind is supposed to be square when properly set up. To achieve this, the four corners of your blind should be on a level plane. For those that struggled with geometry like I did, a level plane is not the same as level ground. If you lay a sheet of plywood on the ground you have created a level plane, regardless of the angle that it is laying. If you ensure that the four corners of the blind are on the same plane and that they are at 90 degree angles to each other, your blind will not wobble around when bumped and it will function as designed in terms of the stresses that the fabric, hubs, and rods endure in the field.
The heel of your hunting boot is usually adequate to kick out a square footprint for the blind. However, if you’re going to set up on ground that is too hard for this method, I recommend taking a small pack shovel to establish a proper platform for the blind. A well set up ground blind increases product life, improves the comfort of the sit, and drastically reduces the risk of your blind moving around in high winds. It also allows the ground flaps to accomplish the two critical jobs that they have…to prevent light from entering the blind and to prevent as much human scent as possible from oozing out of your shelter.
Once the corners of your blind are square and on the same plane, proper staking is a must to ensure product longevity and minimal movement in the wind. A blind presents a huge obstacle for wind and if you’ve ever sat inside of one with winds in excess of 40 miles per hour, you’ll never forget it. In windy conditions, blinds are pushed on, lifted, twisted, and abused. In light of that, I never leave a blind set up that doesn’t have at least 8 points staked or tied down. These 8 points include the four bottom corners of the blind and the four hubs of the blind. Ground blinds are very unique in that all of the connected parts respond to every force that is introduced to the device. For example, if you pull down on an upper corner of a blind, the hubs will bulge outward on each side of you and on the roof above you. In light of this, a proper staking sequence is important because every time you manipulate one portion of a blind, other parts of the blind respond.
Since the four hub locations are much higher than the four bottom corners, they provide the most amount of security to keep the blind in place. As a result, they should be your starting point. I prefer to tie my hubs to excellent anchor points like trees, shrubs, fenceposts, etc when possible to mitigate the risk of pulling a stake. However, it is important to avoid the temptation to tie a hub off at an angle to reach a more desirable anchor point. Ideally, your hubs should be tied off in four right angles from each other for best results. Also, avoid the temptation to oversnug the tie-downs as you install them. In the same fashion that you tighten lug nuts onto a wheel, you should snug the tie downs in a crossing pattern, working back and forth across the hubs as you force the blind to “squat” into the tie downs more and more gradually until you feel that the blind is so snug to the ground that high winds won’t be able to lift it enough to get under the ground flaps.
The next step is to stake the four bottom corners down. By now, the corners should be on a level plane and they should be compressed into the ground by the hub tie downs. As previously discussed, if you tug them out of place, the entire blind (including your taut hub tie downs) will respond. In light of that, you goal should be to stretch the stake loop out as tight as you can without pulling the corner out of whack as you stake it down. Also, like the hubs, you should stake the corners down in a crossing pattern to get the blind firmly planted without torqueing the frame out of whack.
A properly tied down blind will prevent movement that will scare off animals and it will greatly increase the life of your blind. The vast majority of ground blind damage is a result of blinds that have not been anchored properly.
Snow and Freezing Conditions
I love to sit in a ground blind after a big snowstorm. Every track is fresh. All previous scent that has been laid down has been suppressed. The body of a deer stands out sharp and crisp against the stark, white background. Everything seems quieter…until you arrive at your ground blind and find it crumpled into a twisted mess after having collapsed under the heavy load of snow that has now betrayed you.
The forces that hold hub style roofs in the ‘up’ position can be overcome fairly easily with snow load. Depending on the particular design, even an inch of wet snow can cause the roof to collapse. If the damage stopped there, that would be acceptable. However, what was once a roof turns into a funnel that captures each new flake that falls, adding stress to every component of your ground blind. I’ve arrived at my ground blind to find torn fabric, broken rods, and even broken hubs in relatively mild snowstorms. These experiences were a major factor in selecting the components we use for our blinds. The photos of the snow-crushed, yet completely undamaged XENEK blinds demonstrate that our solid fiberglass rods, steel hub components, and 600 Denier polyester fabric shell are built to take this abuse. However, a couple of preventive measures can ensure that your roof will not collapse under reasonable snow loads. Furthermore, most blinds will not survive an event like those shown in the photos.
Installing a vertical support between the roof hub and the ground is the most effective method to prevent roof collapse in your absence. We are currently working on a XENEK support pole for this purpose that will thread right into our proprietary hub design. Until that device is in production, a quick Google search for “Ground Blind Roof Support Pole” will turn up several options starting as low as $30. If you’re like me, you might forget this tool even if you have it. In that case, you can use a stick to accomplish the same goal. For best results, you’ll want the stick (or the pole) to create a slight bulge in the roof once it is installed so that it is pressing upward on the hub. This will keep your support in place and ensure that the roof will shed as much snow and ice as possible during storms. If you choose the stick option, be sure to put something on the upper end of it that will prevent it from piercing the fabric under heavy snow loads. A heavy glove, a beanie, or something similar works well to protect the fabric from the pointy end of your support stick.
On XENEK blinds, and some others, there is an external loop on the roof hub. If you are set up under overhanging branches, you can tie this loop up to one of the branches. Although this is not as desirable as a mid-support pole, it is much better than no roof support at all. Additionally, suspending the roof externally allows you to hunt with the support system in place, whereas, the mid-support pole usually needs to be removed while you are actually hunting. Whether you are tying the roof hub up externally or propping it up from the inside, a very small amount of support for the roof will make a huge difference on how much snow load the roof will accept without collapsing.
UV Exposure and Fading
All fabric fades with prolonged exposure to sunlight. The type of fabric and the quality of the dyes that are used for the camouflage pattern are the two primary factors that determine how quickly your ground blind will fade. XENEK’s fabrics are tested using the AATCC 16 standard which rates light resistance (or fading) on a scale of 1 to 5. A grade 5 represents “no fading”, so it is basically a unicorn. Grade 4 indicates “slight fading” while a grade 1 shows a “high degree of fading.” We require a 4+ grade before our fabric goes into production. This, coupled with the use of 600 Denier Polyester fabric puts our blinds at the top of the pile when it comes to UV resistance.
Having said that, even our blinds will fade under harsh conditions. Additionally, the fabric will degrade with prolonged exposure. Adding brush or grass to the brush loops on the roof of your blind can drastically reduce fading. In addition to helping disguise your blind, every piece of camouflage you add to the roof creates shade for the fabric. If you intend to leave your blind out for an extended period of time in harsh sunlight, I highly recommend taking the time to add a significant amount of cover to the roof. Every bit of shade helps prolong the life of your ground blind and I’ve never been sorry that I added camouflage to break up the outline when a sharp-eyed whitetail approaches my hide-out.
Unless you’re lucky enough to have hunting property in Texas, all hunting seasons eventually come to a close and the time comes to pull stands, ground blinds, trail cams, and prepare the gear for the long months until the next season. The rule is simple but firm for storing your ground blinds. Don’t put them away wet! Most blinds are made from Polyester threads which are very hydrophobic, which means they naturally repel water. As such, it doesn’t take long for them to dry out if you’ll set them up in a controlled environment like your garage.
It is commonly known that mold “eats” away at the host it is living on, but you may not know that mold needs two things to grow – moisture and food. Mold isn’t picky when it comes to what it considers food. All forms of dirt and debris are “food” for mold. Most ground blinds come in from the field with plenty of this “food” on them, and since most of us will not take the time to painstakingly clean our blinds, it is imperative to store your blind completely dry so that mold cannot get started. Properly drying your blinds before storage will increase the life of a quality ground blind by years.
We can’t talk about ground blind dry storage without mentioning rodents. For some reason, rodents have a love affair with destroying ground blinds. Although it seems like a no-brainer to keep your blind stored in a location that is rodent proof, I’ve seen too many people forget that detail in January, only to pull out a chewed up blind in March when they are prepping for turkey season. This problem is fairly easy to avoid with a little forethought.
A quality ground blind is a great piece of equipment for hunting throughout the season, but they truly outshine other options during late season hunts. They are warmer and quieter than a treestand and they allow you to bring more layers for longer sits because there is so much room. Taking a few minutes to prepare your site, properly stake the blind down, and counter the snow load that your roof may be exposed to will pay dividends in product longevity and in your hunt success as well.