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Harvesting a mature buck on public land can be one of the most frustrating but rewarding accomplishments a hunter can make. As a hunter who has hunted whitetails on heavily pressured public ground for several years, I have been able to put together a strategy that has proven successful each season. In this blog post, I will share some of these public land deer hunting tips and strategies in the hopes of helping to make your next season a success.
Top Public Land Deer Hunting Tips: How can I be successful on public land?
To be successful while hunting on public land, I have found over the years that these tips can drastically increase your odds:
Properly scout the area with boots on the ground and with online aerial and topographic maps.
Call wildlife biologists and/or area managers for the public land you are hunting.
Scout for other hunters.
Hunt during the middle of the week.
When scouting a piece of public land for deer hunting, the first thing I do is study satellite and topographic maps of the area. By studying these maps I am able to pinpoint the essential habitat features that deer need in an area. These three habitat features are food, water, and cover.
Once I have an area on the map that has all of these habitat features I can start to narrow the map down into “areas of interest” to scout when arriving at the public land. A couple of the things I look for are transition areas between different types of habitat, possible funnels or pinch points in the topography, and areas that look promising but are difficult to access.
Deer are often considered edge creatures because they will use the transitions between different types of habitat to travel from one location to another. These transition areas can give you a good starting point when it comes to boots on the ground scouting and are often places I find rub and scrape lines.
In my experience, it is much easier to locate funnels and pinch points by using aerial and topographic maps. Once you have these areas marked on your map then you can check them out while you are walking the area. Narrow down this list of spots to only the areas that have adequate deer sign and show promise.
Also check out the hard to reach areas while scouting. The majority of hunters are not going to hunt these areas due to the amount of work it takes to access them. I have had great success over the years using this tactic.
Make Some Phone Calls
Another great way to increase your chances of success on public land is to call land wildlife biologists or managers. These people have a wealth of knowledge about the game that inhabits the land. A few questions you could ask include:
How many hunters typically hunt this area?
What areas of the public land tend to hold the most deer?
Do you have any suggestions for a hunter that is new to hunting this area?
By asking these questions and similar ones you gain insight into the wildlife and the hunters that use the public land. This information really comes in handy while strategizing and planning your hunts and can save you time and energy in scouting unproductive areas.
Scout Other Hunters
This tip may seem unnecessary to some, but it could really make or break your hunting experience on public land. While you are out scouting and even hunting, take note of where other people are parked, where you find boot tracks, etc. This will help you avoid areas with the highest likelihood of bumping into another hunter.
Deer are also doing this to an extent. If a portion of the public ground is crawling with hunters, the deer pick up on this pretty quickly and will relocate to an area with less pressure or that they feel safe in. Hopefully when that big buck decides to relocate you will already be there waiting for him there.
Hunt During Week
If you have vacation days or your schedule allows you to hunt during the middle of the week, this can be a great time to hit the public land. The majority of people are what we call “Weekend Warriors”, meaning they are only hunting on the weekend.
The deer also pick up on these trends. They can tell what days they are receiving the most human pressure and will often adjust their patterns accordingly. Bucks, mature bucks in particular, will often not move as much during daylight hours when they know they are being hunted. But once the pressure subsides after a day or two they are more likely to move during daylight hours.
To take advantage of this, I like to hunt public ground for deer on Wednesday and Thursday. This allows the deer two days to cool off and resume their normal habits that were interrupted by the increased number of hunters during the weekend. This tactic has worked great for me while hunting public ground in Kentucky.
Public Land Deer Hunting Tips for Beginners
If you are a beginner deer hunter on public land or new to deer hunting in general, the number one tip I would give you would be don’t be afraid of failure. Hunting a mature buck in general is tough but while on public land it can seem impossible at times. Everytime you are in the woods, pay attention to the small details during your hunt. Analyze what is working and what isn’t while adapting and developing your own unique hunting style.
Learning and developing your style of hunting is a never ending process. Trust me, the second you think you have everything figured out and don’t have anything else to learn, that mature buck will give you a piece of humble pie.
More Deer Scouting Tips for Public Land
Digital scouting is a big part of hunting on public lands. Here’s how it can help you:
It lets you find great hunting spots. You can use apps or go online to find the best areas to hunt deer.
It gives you a way to track deer without being there. Digital tools let you watch the movement of deer.
With digital scouting, you will know what the land looks like before you get there. This helps plan your hunt and saves time.
You can use trail cameras as a part of digital scouting. They give photos and videos of deer when you’re not around.
Knowing where deer are going and when, makes your hunt easier. Digital tools show this information.
It makes your choices better and helps your hunt be fun and exciting on public lands.
Analyzing Edge and Transition Lines
Looking for deer is easier when you analyze edge and transition lines. The tips below can help:
Use a mapping app: Find the end of forests or fields with an app. These are good places to look for deer.
Look at terrain transitions: Put your eye on the map where flat land turns into hills.
Search habitat breaks: This means where one type of ground changes to another, like where woods become fields.
Walk the edges: Deer often move along the line between one kind of land and another.
Spot hot sign near edges: “Hot sign” means a place where deer have been recently like trails or rubs on trees.
Play the “draw” odds: The sides of valleys, called “draws,” can be great spots for deer hunting. Hunt at dawn or dusk when deer are most likely to be out eating.
Keep off actual boundaries: Don’t hunt right along fencing or posted signs — stay a bit deeper inside the public property.
Using Trail Cameras to Identify Hot Spots
Trail cameras are a big help in finding hot spots for hunting. Here’s how you can use them:
First, find a map of your hunting ground. Use an app or a physical map to do this.
Once you have your map, look for habitat breaks or terrain transitions. These might be hot spots for deer.
Set up your trail cameras in these areas. Make sure to place them at the right height and angle.
Check the cameras often. Look for any signs of deer like hoof prints or droppings.
If you see a lot of deer activity in one area, it is a hot spot. You should focus your hunting here.
Locating Specific Bedding Areas
I find knowing where deer sleep helps my hunting. Here are tips on how to do this.
Look for spots where several trails meet. Deer beds often lie in these places.
Be mindful of their need for security. Bedding areas usually have thick cover nearby.
Pay attention to food and water sources. Deer love bedding down near them.
Check both low and high points in the land. Deer choose these areas based on wind patterns.
Keep your eyes open for droppings and tracks, signs of a nearby bedding area.
Use digital tools like mapping apps or aerial maps to spot likely bedding sites from afar.
Walk the land after hunting season ends to find fresh signs of deer activity without disturbing them during hunting season.
Notice rubs on trees; bucks use these to mark their territory near bedding spots.
Keep an eye out for areas with small, flattened grass or dead leaves – it may be a deer bed!
Identifying Food and Water Sources
I cannot stress enough the importance of locating food and water sources in public land deer hunting. This step can lead to a successful hunt.
Use a mapping app such as onX Hunt App to spot possible water bodies.
Track signs of animal movement around these areas.
Look for food sources like plants, berries and nuts that deer love to eat.
Keep an eye out for deer tracks leading to and from water and food spots.
Look at aerial images during e – scouting to trace water lines and green areas where food might be available.
Take care not crowd other hunters around popular water or food zones
Always follow the rules set by U.S. Department of the Interior, Federation Wildlife Service or other local agencies managing these lands.
Assessing Hunting Pressure on the Property
I always check the hunting pressure on a piece of land. I do this in different ways.
Look for signs of other hunters, like footprints or gear left behind.
Listen for gunshots or human voices when out in the field.
Watch for cars or trucks parked at trailheads or roads that lead to the area.
Speak with local wildlife experts about how much traffic an area gets.
Use mapping apps to find areas far from roads or trails where fewer people may go.
Hunting deer on public land is a fun and exciting sport. Using these tips can make your trips more successful. Never forget, we all share these lands so use them wisely to protect wildlife.
Now it’s time for you to go out there, try these tactics, and enjoy some great hunting sessions!