Trying a new spot this season? Fast-track your way to success by remembering this advice
Public-land hunting isn’t easy. But implementing the right moves and tactics increases the odds. Image by Realtree
Hunting a brand-new piece of public land can be a daunting challenge, but it isn’t impossible. Here are 15 tips you should follow in your quest to tag a buck on public ground you’ve never seen.
1. Call Wildlife Agencies
The wildlife biologists and managers who oversee these lands know the most about the properties, and they’re greatly underutilized resources. Call them and ask questions. They oftentimes provide helpful answers.
2. Discover Public Access Programs
Many states have special public-land access programs, and they aren’t always well known. Some programs give private land owners incentives to provide public hunting access. Others might provide short quota or draw-only hunts on lands that are normally closed. Find the overlooked opportunities.
3. Check for Press
More press means more pressure. Public land tracts that receive a lot of media exposure likely have more hunters. If you can’t find much about a tract online, but can verify it’s public, then it just might be a great spot.
4. Read the Regs
Public properties frequently have their own rules and regulations that differ slightly from statewide regs. Rules like a bowhunting or primitive weapons-only requirement can reduce competition from other hunters.
5. E-Scout Differently
E-scouting isn’t new anymore. Therefore, hunters must continue to be different from other hunters. Find new tools. Implement fresh mentalities. Deploy unique tactics. Scout differently from everyone else. For example, hunters have been taught for years to dive deeper into public lands to escape hunting pressure. Now that a lot of public-land hunters are doing that, it’s leaving some smaller tracts of public, and shallow, close-to-the-road spots on bigger tracts, unpressured. Give those a try.
6. Avoid Obvious Hotspots
Don’t search for the best-looking habitat. Other hunters have probably already found those spots, too. Instead, find areas that are more likely to be avoided by the competition, but still offer the food and cover that deer need.
7. Scour the Place Early
It’s better to scout your hunting spots in winter and spring. Then, leave those areas alone until it’s time to return and hunt. Entering that area multiple times will make it just like everywhere else — pressured.
8. Focus on Transition Habitat
Deer love edge cover. This makes secluded or hard-to-reach pockets of edge habitat perfect for a public-land hunt. Often, these areas provide bedding cover, food, and water.
9. Get Closer to Bedding Cover
Pressured deer tend to cover shorter distances during daylight hours. If hunters hope to intercept them during legal shooting light, getting closer to bedding cover is usually the best bet.
10. Scoot Close to Private Boundaries
Never sit on a property line. Dare not cross one. But hunting closer to a private property line, where the habitat is frequently better managed, can produce improved results on public ground. This is especially true on smaller tracts where deer might bed or feed on the public land, but not both.
11. Find the Escape Routes
Once high-traffic days like the gun season opens, hunters will hit the woods and put deer on the move (including on neighboring private land). Find escape routes that deer use and camp out on them.
12. Use Creative Entry and Exit Strategies
Deer hunters must catch deer off guard. That demands using creative entry and exit routes. Analyze what the terrain gives you and take a route most other hunters aren’t using that also allows you to stay concealed from deer.
13. Learn Situational Tactics
Certain tactics are good for a span of time, such as the early season, pre-rut, rut, or late season. An example is a bed-to-feed pattern from a bedding area on north-facing slope to a green soybean field. That pattern can last weeks, if not months, into the season (opener depending).
Other tactics are good for a micro-pattern, which might last a day or two. For example, consider a rutting buck that pushes an estrus doe into an oddball brush pile or otherwise ignored small woodlot. Bucks do this to get their does away from competing bucks. Therefore, when a hunter predicts this will soon happen, or sees it occur, they can move in and act accordingly. Keep seasonal (mid- to long-term) and situational (short-term) tactics in mind while formulating game plans.
14. Hunt During the Week
Most deer hunters head afield on the weekends. During the week, most of the hunting pressure is in the afternoons, at the end of the work day. If you have a flexible schedule, weekday mornings usually have the least hunting pressure.
15. Keep Hunting. Keep Your Mouth Closed.
Don’t give up. Filling tags takes time, even on private land. Once you find that ideal public tract, keep learning it. Keep deer hunting.
And never reveal your newfound public-land honey hole to other hunters. If you do, it won’t be one for long.
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