There are no bucks on public land worth hunting.â 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.â
Yes, hunting on public land can be tough, frustrating and 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.
All hope is not lost. With a little thinking and a change of hunting strategy you too can drag a good buck 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. 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 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?â 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 laid out 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 corridors.
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 same 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 parcels 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, steep ravine, flooded timber, dense undergrowth and so on, or it is simply to far away from the truck. 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.
Deer know about the habits of hunters and react to it by going to places that hunters overlook or find uncomfortable. To get to these islands deer use escape routes. Find these escape routes and then be there bright and early. As the other hunters arrive they will push the deer to you. 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 an 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.
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 management 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 be a great loss for hunters and for everybody else too.
Othmar Vohringer is a freelance outdoor writer, seminar speaker and founder of SHS (Smart Hunting Strategies) established in 2001 from British Columbia, Canada. He can be contacted via his blog at the link below