Hunting public land for whitetails is often as challenging as trying to get the best sales on Black Friday, the day after Thanksgiving. Crowded parking lots, people rushing in droves and limited quantities define both public hunting areas and crowded shopping centers. Here’s how to find success on public land.
1. HAVE AN INVENTORY (SCOUT)
Research your options. Know what public land is in your backyard and scout each parcel. Look for city, county, state and federal tracts open to hunting. Rate each site based on how many hunters you believe it will attract and how many deer the property will hold. After rating each site, prioritize each and focus on the best.
2. LOOK FOR PARALLELING PRIVATE
While scouting public land in your neighborhood, be cognitive of the private land bordering each parcel. Privately managed property that has an emphasis on big deer may be a boon to your hunting success on public ground.
Unless a property is high fenced, it’s almost impossible to keep deer from straying onto adjoining properties. Look for food, water and refuge on public ground that may lure private-land bucks your direction.
3. BIG IS GOOD
When scouting for public land remember that big is good. Large tracts of public land, 1,000 acres or more, allow whitetails ample opportunity to dodge public hunting pressure and retire to remote, inaccessible areas. Larger tracts of public land also limit most hunters to the areas with the easiest access since more than half of Americans are out of shape and unwilling to hike far for a buck.
4. LITTLE IS ALSO GOOD
Despite what I just wrote about large tracts, don’t ignore small parcels either. Sometimes small parcels are overlooked because hunters believe they have been pressured too much or are too small to hold any deer. Even though a parcel may be small, it still can be a great location to ambush a buck along a travel corridor leading between private properties. Plus, a small tract may just have the right ingredient to lure in a buck such as an acorn tree, a secluded water hole or an impenetrable thicket.
5. TAKE THE BACKDOOR
During your scouting forays look for the parking lot most hunters use to access a public tract. Once you found this spot, look for a backdoor. If legal, park along a road right of way or ask permission from an adjoining landowner to park on their property for backdoor access. Since the majority of the public will come in from a parking area, they’ll naturally push deer to the far end of the property where you’ll be waiting in ambush.
6. HUNT THE WEEKDAYS
The majority of us have to work during the week, but if you can get some time off in the middle of the week, plan a public-land hunt. Midweek hunts mean fewer hunters on a property and allows you to have your choice of the best hunting sites. Deer pattern hunters as well and you’ll discover that midweek whitetails move around more freely when the woods aren’t crowded with other hunters.
7. GET UP EARLY
If you can’t find a backdoor entrance get up an hour earlier. By beating the crowds to the parking lot you’ll also beat them to the best hunting locations. This works in your favor just like finding a backdoor. If you slip in quietly, even circling wide to avoid bumping deer, you can move to a backdoor location to wait for deer. When the other hunters arrive, their movements will automatically bump deer in your direction and hopefully into your sights.
8. HUNT NASTY POCKETS
Rugged country and thick tangles scare the average hunter away. Any terrain that requires you to go the extra mile to access it is worth it. Look for rough topography a mile or more from any trailhead and you’re bound to find whitetails. Deer seldom abandon their home territory, but they will look for pockets of refuge where they can avoid humans and rest without being disturbed. Use topographical maps and aerial photography to pinpoint these out-of-the-way pockets.
9. HUNT MIDDAY
Midday is a great time to take a break and grab some grub. Don’t do it. Stay put. Many hunters leave their morning stand and take a break by leaving the woods. Their movement will again create a mini flurry of deer action as they bump deer. Plus, deer take a midday stretch and stroll, particularly during the rut. By staying put you’ll be in place to take advantage of any whitetails sneaking around at midday.
10. HUNT LATE SEASON
Finally, don’t overlook late-season opportunities found on public lands. Many game and fish departments manage their properties for maximum habitat and food. This means they plant cover and food to aid wildlife throughout the seasons. When winter takes hold whitetails seek these areas out because they know they’ll find the best food and shelter within the borders of public properties.
Public land can have a negative connotation, but hunt with these tips in mind and you’ll discover a best buy for sure.
Bureau of Land Management
National Forest Service
State Public Land Information