© By Othmar Vohringer
“There are no bucks on public land worth hunting.” This is an expression that I hear many times when the talk is about hunting on public land. Others have said: “You can’t have a quality hunt on public land, there are to many hunters.”
Yes, hunting on public land can be tough, frustrating or downright humiliating. You also have to share the woods with other hunters and at times it seems that there are more hunters in the woods than deer especially on opening day. But make no mistake about it, there are bucks on public land, even big bucks. Compared to public land hunting deer on your own private honey hole is like shooting fish in a barrel.
All hope is not lost. With a little thinking and a change of hunting strategy you too can drag out a good buck to your truck from public land. To become successful we have to forget every advice on hunting strategies we have read in magazines or seen on TV because public land deer are a very different breed from the deer on private land- as in ‘smarter’. These critters have seen it all, especially the mature bucks that survived two or three years of intense hunting pressure.
The key to success is scouting. Scouting on public land is also different from scouting on private land. When I scout on public land I don’t worry about finding deer sign such as rubs and scrapes. I am scouting for hunter activity. I want to know what the other hunters did and where they went. The best and most productive time to scout is right after the hunting season closes. You may ask “why scout after the hunting season and what good will that do me for the fall/winter season next year?” Well, the post-season scouting has four advantages over any other times.
1.) In the winter you can see the structure of the land very clearly before you. Where you couldn’t see 20 yards in the fall now you can see for a long way. It is easy to distinguish the different terrain structures, edges and travel routes of the deer from the landscape.
2.) Right after the hunting season you still can see the sign other hunters left behind, such as tree stands, trails and the red flagging tape with which they marked the way from the truck to the stand sites.
3.) The deer still will have the movement patterns they had during the hunting season. It takes deer about two to four weeks before they go back to normal (un-pressured) behavior.
4.) At this time of year you do not have to worry about spooking deer as you walk the trails to map out deer travel patterns and find the woodland food sources. The deer will not remember your intrusion come next hunting season.
What the scouting will reveal is that even on relatively small public land places there are what I call islands. These are places that hunters don’t go too. The reason for this is that either such islands are places where it is difficult to get too, (such as a steep ravine, flooded timber, dense undergrowth and so on) or it is simply to far away from the truck. Studies have shown that the average hunter never ventures much further than a quarter to a half a mile away from the vehicle. There is something else the average hunter avoids like the plague and this is the proximity of houses, streets and open areas. For some strange reason many hunters think that deer live in the timber or they set up along agricultural crop fields that border onto timer.
Deer know about the habits of hunters and react to it by going to places that hunters overlook or find uncomfortable. Would you sit in a wide-open field behind a lonely apple tree watching a patch of tall grass not larger than a pick-up-truck? Or how about crawling on your hands and knees through a thorn-spiked thicket right next to the parking lot? One of these, the thicket, is where I shot my first public land deer, a big 8-point buck. Sitting behind the apple tree in the open field overlooking a tall grass patch I have seen a true monster buck that surely would have made the book but he never presented me with a perfect shot opportunity and so I had to let him walk.
Ever since then I am an advocate for public land hunting. I like the special challenge in outwitting other hunters and pursuing ‘hunter smart’ deer. But just as important, if not more so, is the fact that public land is easily accessible and affordable for all income brackets. The most important factor is that the upkeep and managing of public land is mainly financed by hunter’s dollars. Once this money dries up the government would have to sell off most of the land to developers. Loosing these lands would not only be a great loss for hunters but for everybody else too.
To that end I leave you with a video from Jadon Duncan, a young hunter who hunts and videotapes mainly on public land. It is worth a visit to his website where you will see many more videos of big bucks that he hunted and filmed on public land.
Pay particular attention to one segment in the video where it gets very noisy in the background. As the camera swings over to the direction where the sound is coming from Jadon explains that he is right next to an auction lot. This proximity to human activity does not seem to bother the huge buck he shoots a few minutes later but it sure would bother the average hunter to set up at a place like that. The more videos I watched of Jadon Duncan the more I felt proud of him and his achievements on public land. He is a smart guy and that is not only because he uses a TreeLounge climbing stand, the safest tree stand in the world. He is one heck of a young hunter too.
Marc from the Nybowhunter.com is another smart public land bowhunter that regularly scores on nice bucks. In a recent article Scouting Public Land he explains how he found a deer sanctuary: here is a quote from the article that explains perfectly what I have been talking about regarding the hunter-free islands on public land:
“…I found a few deer trails and one that led into a swamp. However, for me, these were spots that although they could hold deer, I'm sure everyone would hunt. The saddle was up a steep mountain and was covered in huckleberry and mountain laurel. It was a lot thicker than I imagined a saddle to be, but nonetheless there were more deer trails and a few more buck rubs.
Another promising aspect of the area was the abundance of acorns, giving the deer yet another reason to travel through this area.”
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Here is a Smart Hunting Strategies tip that will work every time on public land and puts you well ahead of every other hunter. Find the agricultural fields or other main food sources. From there find the trails (escape routes) that the deer use to evade the hunters that will lead to the sanctuary. Once you figured that out all you have to do is set up a stand in a location that gives the best opportunity to get a good shot at the deer and stay undetected. It is not wise to set up right in the sanctuary as this could cause the deer to vacate to another place and you would have to scout from scratch. Once the already paranoid deer are aware of your invasion into their sanctuary it could be next to impossible to find the deer again.
So there you have it. Public land is not as bad as the reputation it has. Next time you go out to your favorite public land spot look for these hunter unfriendly places and check there for deer sign and I bet you will be pleasantly surprised. The name of the game on public land is to outsmart the other hunters. Do that and you too will shoot a buck that nobody knew even existed in that place. It can be done!
Tags: Deer Hunting Tactics, Scouting on Public Land, buck+hunting, Hunting Video, Deer Hunting on Public Land