Hunting on public land can be challenging because you’re not the only one looking to bag a big buck. Yet you’re also somewhat equal to the other hunters because you’re all choosing from the same area, so you don’t need to feel more disadvantaged.
Public hunting also presents a fun level of mystery as you search for a sweet spot where you’re sure to find the deer you want.
If you take the time to follow some simple steps, you’ll be able to find great spots to hunt this fall. Here are some things to try.
1. Survey the Land Features
If you’re looking for big deer, you need to find places that have hiding spots. Big bucks don’t get big unless they’ve had years to mature, so the best place to find them is where the hiding spots are plentiful. For flatlands, this means thick underbrush, and often marshy wetlands because hunters don’t like to go there.
For hilly land, look for public land that isn’t easy to get to, because fewer hunters will make the trek. While it may not be swampy, it will still be off the beaten path and more likely to be home to the buck you seek.
This means spending time looking at the land during the offseason. Drive by the land and figure out where the farmers are spending a lot of time with their tractors and combines. The deer may come there at night to feed, but they won’t try during the day, so don’t waste your efforts hunting there.
Where do the deer bed down? Those are the sweet spots you need to find. By eliminating the dry parts of the public land, you can spend your time driving to the wetter areas and not waste time.
You can also get started at home, before even driving out to the patch of public land. Use tools like the National Wetlands Mapper from the U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service to figure out which dry patches not to bother with.
Use your binoculars to look at the land from afar. If it looks like there might be plenty of brush and places for deer to bed down, then you can spend further time walking the land and scouting it out. The last step is to try hunting the spot, only after you’ve put in the extra investment of evaluating the land.
2. Let History Repeat Itself
Keep track of where you went last year. If you did well, try hunting the same area again. If you didn’t, then look for a different spot with more secluded hiding spots that your buck might lurk.
Rather than keeping track on pieces of paper or trying to figure out a map, try going digital. You might lose your papers, but this tool for hunters can keep track of it all for you and bring up your history at the push of a button. It can also help you figure out where the public land boundaries are so you don’t accidentally trespass.
You never know. That spot may turn out to be lucky for you year after year.
3. Ask the Experts
Every area has a deer biologist. Check out this listing of each state’s game agency, and give your state’s office a call. The deer biologists know where new properties are opening up, and they also know where the oldest deer in the area live. Use their expertise to help you find out where to start looking.
Each state’s Department of Natural Resources should also publish a survey of the deer harvest from the year before. You can see the breakdown of the locations, as well as hunters’ demographics. These surveys can help you find out where the most deer get bagged every year.
4. Public Hunting: Practice Patience
Sitting or standing outside in the cold means a lot of opportunities for feeling discouraged and becoming uncomfortable. Plan ahead for this eventuality, and stay mentally strong.
The longer you stay in your ground blind or tree stand, the more likely a deer will come meandering by. You also have a better chance of seeing something if you put up your stand at least several weeks before hunting season, so the deer can get used to it. The more you leave to go get more supplies or take a bathroom break, the more you’ll disturb the deer’s patterns of movement.
Dress warmly and bring the right gear, from comfortable, portable stools or chairs to some type of blanket. There are even jackets with electric heaters in them if hand warmers are too low tech for you.
The wrong gear or the need to leave for supplies negates any prep work you’ve done on your sweet spot. It could have been perfect until you went and ruined it by trekking in and out too much. Save yourself the heartache and stay put.
5. Follow Up After Hunting
Spending time after hunting season walking the land can also help you gain some insight about the deer in the area. From their movement patterns to food sources and areas where they bed down, you don’t even need to be cautious about spooking deer while you stomp around. They’ll have the rest of the year to forget about you, rather than their potential terror if you spook them during pre-season scouting.
You can spend some time clearing a shooting lane for yourself during these walks, as well as finding good spots to post trail cameras next season. Then when you come back in early fall, you won’t have to make as much noise or disturb the deer to clear back the overgrowth since springtime.
Finding the Best Buck
While access to private land is a luxury we’d all like to have, public hunting can still afford you great game and excellent hunting spots.
It might take a little more work on your part, from scouting the map and walking the woods to caring for the area even after the season is over. Yet you’ll be much happier knowing that you’ve done all you can to curate the best spot possible.
For more helpful tips and tools to use while exploring rough terrain, check out the rest of our website.