If I say that deer hunting is challenging, I will likely get a resounding duh as a response! And rightfully so! As you may know, deer hunting on public land is even more challenging! But with these tips for deer hunting public land, you can get out in the woods and bag your buck easier than you might think!
It just takes a little tweaking to your plans !
Let’s go over the tips I have used and built over 30 years and see if we can’t get your tag filled !
All hunting is not the same!
Deer hunting is deer hunting in many respects. But there are some different methods and know how that goes into bagging a nice buck on public land !
Wildlife management areas are places for our enjoyment via recreation, and hunting. But they are also worth learning more about concerning the protection and management of wildlife species across the country!
Much of what I have used for years when it comes to matching wits with a wary old whitetail buck was passed down to me from the time I started hunting on public land over 30 years ago. And I have added some specialized tactics that I have used and tested over the years as well ! Why?
Hunting on public land is a completely different game than hunting on a lease or the family farm!
The challenges to being successful on public land can be wide-ranging! From multiple boots on the ground throughout the early fall through the dead of winter, to various ATV trails, horse trails and other recreational activities that take place on public hunting lands.
One of the biggest challenges is what I also consider to be the most important! That challenge is safety!
Where to scout and hunt?
Many states have different laws and seasons prescribed when it comes to deer hunting on public land ! When you couple that with some aforementioned challenges there are certain things to look for when finding the best spots to hunt on public land.
Small tract gold mines!
My favorite tactic starts with acquiring wildlife management maps of the public hunting lands in the state that I plan to hunt. Most states Departments of natural resources offer free or low cost maps to hunters. And still even more offer PDF maps online that you can download, print or use in your favorite ways.
Most recently I have become a huge fan of the OnX hunting app that shows wildlife management property lines, private property tracts, and even some contact info in case you want to try to acquire permission to hunt on that private property from the land owner. The various hunting apps are a real game changer and I plan on getting even more involved with them as I move forward!
Hunt Stand is another app that I use for marking stand sites, monitoring wind direction and choosing my daily hunting tactics.
While I use a couple of various apps, my favorite method is still the good old-fashioned maps !
I love the maps because they allow me to carry them with me and I have hands on means of determining terrain and property lines with or without a cell phone signal.
But the focus of my maps is always based on searching for the smallest tracts of public hunting land !
I have had the best results by finding the small pockets of public hunting land, and it’s not even close when compared to all other tactics!
Smaller hunting tracts of public land tend to draw less attention that the sprawling end expansive tracts of hunting land ! In fact the best run of success I’ve ever had came from a 28 acre tract that I never saw anyone else use, or any of the tell-tale signs of other hunters or recreational use!
When getting started, find 3 – 5 small tracts of public land and mark potential stand locations on a map or app so that you can tract wind directions and mark the locations of sign, water sources and food sources .
Leave the others behind!
After years of hunting private and public lands I would estimate that approximately 75% of public land hunters seldom venture more than 100 yards from their vehicle !
Many of these hunters that I have talked to seem to do this for fear of other people being around their car or truck and fear theft of their vehicle or other belongings as well as someone vandalizing their automobile.
I personally have never had that issue when hunting public lands. But if these folks want to stay vigilant over their property it is a good thing for those of us who are on a mission to get as far from everyone else as possible!
I try to make sure that I focus on finding deer sign and food sources first, then turn my attention to bedding areas. That is the most important aspect of scouting and hunting, even if the sign and food source is within sight of the road and your vehicle!
That is usually not the case though! The vast majority of the time, the best deer sign , feeding grounds and bedding is a pretty good distance from roads and automobiles!
Get away from the crowd and you will have much better chances of filling your tag!
Don’t tip off your location!
There is a certain amount of cat and mouse that comes into play when successfully hunting on public land !
One really big mistake that many public land hunters make is parking their vehicle at pull offs and barricaded entrances to public land access! Doing this will tip off your location to other hunters and you will run the risk of another vehicle sitting there the next time you go hunting.
I knew a guy named Barret who used this as his primary hunting strategy!
Barret would drive around on a Saturday morning in areas where there was a good amount of public land. While he drove around he would mark the GPS way points on his Garmin so that he could visit these places on Sunday when there was no hunting allowed and look for the areas that these other hunters were hunting.
To me this is very much unethical, but this guy did this for quite a while and was pretty successful with deer harvests doing it!
Park where you aren’t hunting!
When parking my vehicle, I like to park on the opposite side of the road when possible and several hundred yards from where I enter the woods! By doing this, it gives the other hunters the impression that you are hunting on the other side of the road, and further away than where you are actually hunting. It is worth a short walk down the side of the road to throw off the lazy hunters who want to use your scouting as their method of hunting!
Timing is important!
I view all of these tips and tactics as important when hunting public land. But Timing is at the top of the list for two reasons!
There are many viewpoints when it comes to what time to enter the woods and get on stand when deer hunting. For various reasons most of these people make good points. But when hunting on public land, there is one rule that you must follow to be successful!
In early and out late!
When going to your stand area, the earlier you can get there the better! And once you are there, the later you can stay the better off you are !
Getting in the woods early serves two purposes. First you get into a piece of property early and allow the woods to calm down and return to normal before shooting light. On these lands they potentially see more action and traffic than a private deer lease, so the more time you can put between your entrance and daybreak the better off you are! I have even taken my grunt tube or doe bleat call action when I get to where I’m hunting in hopes to cover the noise I may make when walking into my hunting area!
The other reason you want to get into the woods early is simply beating the competition! If you are there early, you have less to worry about concerning competitive hunters .
Come out of the woods as late as you can!
I usually sit on stand much longer when hunting on public lands. I also do this for two reasons!
I like to stay on stand until lunchtime or later when possible! I do this because most other hunters will be leaving the woods between the hours of 10:00 and 11:00 am. And sometimes I will stay on stand all day. But that depends on the day and how I feel.
To stay on stand all day requires some pretty strong will power and a very comfortable tree stand to say the least! The best tree stand I have ever owned is the Summit Goliath SD, because being a big guy makes long sits even more challenging, and total comfort and safety is a must!
When these other hunters head out of the woods and to a fresh cup of coffee, I’m still on stand because I have had many, many occurrences of seeing deer when other hunters are moving through the woods! These restless warriors head to their trucks and move deer more often than not.
I started using this method because years ago when I was one of those guys I would often hear gun shots ramp up between 10:00 and 11:00. I put two and two together and decided that I would try it. Since that time the bulk of my deer sightings are at mid day and thus the bulk of my harvests are also at mid day.
Coming out of the woods late also helps in the covert concept of keeping your hunting area secret as much as possible !
Scent Control override!
Scent control is always a priority, but when hunting public land,scent control absolutely cannot play second fiddle to anything!
Wildlife on public land are usually much easier spooked than deer on managed land. So these deer have a heightened state of alertness over deer on a farm or lease. For this reason attention to scent control cannot be over stated!
When you are on a hunting lease or club, you might have a chance that the big buck you have been after might smell something he doesn’t like, but you might still have a chance. If deer smell you on public land it is usually over!
Many people think that these deer are more used to interacting with people and thus aren’t as easily spooked when they catch your scent. Years of observation say something completely different!
The deer that call public grounds their home are always on alert due to what most people consider helpful. These deer won’t tolerate human scent, and mature bucks often go completely nocturnal early in the season on public lands because of it!
Responsibility and Safety !
Our wild areas are great places to enjoy and pass along to future generations ! Most states have vast stretches and pockets of wildlife management areas that are open to the public.
It is up to each one of us to do our part and leave these lands the way we find them. Litter and disrespect will be detrimental to the future of wildlife management access for everyone, so do your part!
It would be an injustice for me to not include safety into the equation!
Any time you are on public lands you should always wear your appropriate safety orange ! Whenever there is a potential to cross paths with other hunters safety is the best option!
I wear safety orange on private property as well, because you never know who may be trespassing or just simply unknown on the property.
I used to wear orange to my stand and then remove it. Not only is this breaking the rules and against the law, it is dangerous!
I have read reports that say fewer than 75 fatalities happen while hunting every year. But a whopping 44% of those deaths were people who weren’t wearing safety orange! So be safe and follow the rules! They are their for your protection!
I want to thank you for taking the time to read this article !
We have talked about tips for hunting on public land and hopefully you and I have shared some ideas that will help to optimize success!
There are hundreds of thousands of acres that are legal to hunt in North America, and I’m sure you and I can find more than enough opportunities to be successful on those lands !
I would appreciate it if you left a comment, question or suggestion ! Your feedback greatly helps me to provide relevant content for my readers!
In closing I would like to ask what kind of tactics do you use when hunting public lands that aren’t listed here ?
Have an awesome day!