No matter what others are telling you, there are absolutely unbelievable hunting opportunities on public land. Year after year I kill great deer in Florida’s Osceola Wildlife management Area. I think there are a lot of misconceptions about the best way to hunt public land. Below are some things I’ve learned since I began hunting public land.
Find the Best Area To Hunt
Find Public Hunting Land within driving distance from your home
- Look for land that is at least an hours drive from any big city. More people equals more hunters. Depending on your state you will most likely have multiple options for hunting. Hunting land that is at least that far from any mid sized city is even better. Finding one that only has a small gas station and a diner in a rural area will be your best option.
Narrow your options
- Start your process of elimination based on size, habitat, access and online stats.
- Size- More land area means more oportunity to scout for good hunting. It is easier to find a spot away from other bowhunters on 10,000 acres than it is on 400. If your state does not have these types of oportunities don’t worry, you can still be successful.
- Access- Getting away from the competition is easy if there is Public land with tough access. If your 10,000 acre tract is littered with walking trails it may be better to bowhunt the smaller area. If you are willing to say, climb a riverside bluff, or hike in from a dirt road, you are less likely to hunt a highly pressured area. Remember most weekend hunters are lazy. They will take the easy way in and out of any public land.
- Habitat- Food sources are the number one scouting tool. Favor areas that have agriculture nearby or full of acorn producing Oak trees. Finding public access land that borders a agricultural area is usually a gold mine of Whitetail deer.
- Stats- A quick online search will show you how many deer were killed in previous years, deer population estimates and how many hunters use the area. Spending an evening researching online is critical to narrowing down your options to one plot of public land.
Find the Water
Once you have narrowed your choices down pull up the areas on Google earth. Look for water. The last 5 deer I have arrowed have died within sight of a pond or stream. Whitetail naturally gravitate to water sources. Finding moving water on public land will usually provide a good amount of cover also. Water provides a great starting point for scouting and hunting. If I have any trouble picking an area to hunt I ALWAYS go with the one with good water.
Figure Out Your Peak Times
Hunting public lands on the weekends will always be more crowded. Find time to hunt during the week. Taking a 3 day mid week vacation is plenty of time to bring home a big public land buck. If like me you are lucky enough to have weekdays off, use that time to hunt.
Visit Before Hunting Season
Take an afternoon to lace up your boots and walk your intended hunting area. Satellite imagery can only take you so far. Some public land areas have almost zero game if there is no food, inadequate cover, no water or they are over-pressured. Sometimes a preseason hike isn’t possible. If that’s the case, spend more time dissecting the property online. If you see deer tracks or even deer feeding you can buy your license with confidence.
Scouting Public Land for bow hunting
This is where most hunters fail. Give yourself at least a full day to scout and hang stands. If you find an area that just looks good, keep walking. Your goal is to find a magical killing tree. Start at the water and work as much ground as you can. Areas where cattle trail like paths lead to pond-side rub lines. Find places where multiple deer trails lead to stream crossings stampeded with deer tracks. Those stands will provide you with the most opportunity for a shot on a trophy whitetail.
Finding lots of tracks is a great thing. Understanding why there are tracks concentrated in an area is key. What is bringing the deer to this area? Where are they actually going? Ditch or creek crossings, fence crossings, dominant water sources and ditch heads are all great places to find great hunting oportunities.
Find predictable features-
Rubs and scrapes will change throughout the years. A ditch will be a ditch in March and in December. Find features that are more likely to remain constant on your scouting trip so that you don’t show up to a game desert when season rolls around. An old fence line where a tree limb has created an easier path for deer to follow is a great example of a feature that will be there for a few seasons.
Don’t bank on rubs or scrapes
Finding rubs and scrape lines are enjoyable. But they should not always dictate where you hunt next season. If they’re located on or near a concentration of deer traffic associated with a constant terrain feature it’s something to get excited about. That tells you not only do you have deer moving through the area but some of them are bucks. It can also be counted on to be there when season rolls around.
Finding Shed Antlers
Shed hunting can be rewarding and fun. It tells you a buck was in the area and that he survived hunting season. This should mean next season he will be a year older and bigger. However, that’s about as far as it goes. During the end of rifle season the deer are displaced from their habitats. hunting pressure and food sources cause them to move out of areas in to better environments. Why does this matter? Hunting pressures deer to move, but after hunting season is over food dictates where the deer STAY. They must survive hunting season, and then winter in order to shed. Those two factors almost guarantee he will not be in the same area come early bow season.
Finding a Suitable Tree
Use your time wisely when scouting. As you are walking and you find an area with a decent concentration of suitable deer sign drop a pin on your phones mapping app.
Get Your Mind Right
Bowhunting in general is full of long sits with no deer in sight. Staying positive and eager to hunt is what will turn your season into a triumph. Plan the days you are hunting and commit. If you wake up and it is colder than anticipated, go hunting. Wake up and it’s raining? That’s a perfect time to find yourself above a trophy whitetail. When other hunters are at home in their beds asleep you need to be in the deer woods with your bow and bug spray. If you follow these steps you will be successful, but only if you are in the woods.
Hunt what makes you happy
Today’s culture has everyone wanting what others have. While it may be nice to raise a buck from a fawn to a 6 1/2 year old “shooter” it isn’t reasonable for some folks. Bowhunting is more about the experience than the trophy. For me, seeing a 6 point easing down the trail still gets my heart pumping. A public land buck is a hard animal to hunt. The hours or days put in to scouting and hunting one are something to be proud of. Who’s to say next week a Pope and Young record wont be walking under your stand? What is absolutely for sure, is there are millions of acres we all own in this great nation that will give you the opportunity to arrow a buck or doe that will put a smile on your face.
How to scout Public Land
Post Season Scouting
You’re going to read these words and think it makes perfect sense. Like most hunters though you most likely will never give it a shot. Scouting in the few weeks after season ends is absolutely critical to patterning deer movement. As hunting pressure rises and food sources dwindle deer change location. This pattern is follewed somewhat closely in every area I have scouted.
I have a honey hole bow hunting area that I absolutely love to hunt. The first month of hunting season it’s an absolutely amazing area. I see deer almost every hunt and the only traffic on the roads are logging trucks trying to skip past the weigh stations. This spot has produced multiple bucks every season for the last 4 years.
After that initial dream month however, it’s a barren wasteland. The problem is it borders a dog hunting club. The perfect Oak tree infested, stream harboring, wood duck and otter home, Whitetail heaven is abandoned once those dog hunters hit the area. Find that area in your Public lands, and then find where those deer are migrating to after the pressure is on. That, is the key to a season-long success story.
Go Places You Don’t Belong
The one thing to consider when scouting for your perfect hunting spot is simple. How would a buck move from point A to Point B? Point A being a prime bedding area you have plotted out. Point B being that primary food or water source in the area. If it’s as simple as having a large corn field bordering your hunting property don’t sit ON THE CORNFIELD. Most mature bucks will travel to a feeding area when the sun is going down and feed during the night. The key is to be a few hundred yards off the feed in his path of travel. Finding the heavily beaten deer trails leading to these areas is absolutely key to success. Remember, if it doesn’t look like the most incredible spot you’ve ever found, keep scouting.
Invest in current technology
If you don’t already own a trail camera you’re missing out. You’re missing out on one of the most crucial pieces of scouting equipment available today. I think most serious hunters already have more than one. Using a trail camera to track what deer are in your chosen area 24 hours a day is important. How else will you know if there is an older mature buck making all those rubs? Cameras that are both functional and economic can be found on amazon. Save some time and click HERE to see the options available and prices. This is where you should start if you want to begin scouting seriously.
Use your scouting time wisely
Not everyone has full days off work to go to the woods. If you only have a few hours one afternoon just pull up Google maps. Find areas with water, especially running water deep in the woods. It’s easy to see a line of Oaks running through Pine forests. Anything that stands out as providing better overhead cover or water is the perfect starting point. There is no need to go to the forest blind. Mark the most likely spots on your phone so that you won’t waste your precious time when scouting. In fact, do it now.
More Information on bowhunting
If you’re a beginner, read and research as much as possible online. There are countless articles like this one on very informative websites whose only goal is to help spread the gospel. Do not get caught up in the gear chasing side of bowhunting. Spend more time researching scouting tips, deer feeding patterns, new hunting grounds and getting in the woods. This may not sound like the coolest way to approach bowhunting, but I can guarantee you it will be the most profitable.