It’s the end of March – almost April. And I’m wearing a layer of Under Armour under a layer of fleece under my heavy Realtree outer layer. I had to scrape snow off my truck as I headed for the chunk of public land in Nebraska where I would open the spring turkey season.
Yeah, not exactly your textbook spring turkey hunt. But, then again, this isn’t so much a turkey hunt as the first outing of the 2011 whitetail season. I’m in Nebraska using turkeys as an excuse to start scouting for next fall’s deer season.
If there is any “secret” that I can share about having success on mature bucks on public land, it’s that you must spend much, much more time scouting than you do hunting. And, like it or not, you simply can’t scout effectively when you have the option of hunting. Think about it – you show up in a new place with a legal tag in your pocket. You rush through the scouting process because you’re anxious to get a stand hung and start hunting. On public land, that just doesn’t work.
In case you didn’t catch the initial post in the Journal of the Antler Geeks, let’s just recap what this is all about. Big bucks, little budget. Pretty simple, eh? Well it’s a simple concept – how can you experience the type of trophy-class pursuits that we love to watch on the big-name TV shows and DVDs while dealing with a real-world, blue-collar budget? Well, like so many things, the devil is in the details.
Last season, I missed a buck that would likely have topped 160 inches in Kansas. The year before that, I had encounters with seven bucks over 150 inches in Iowa. All of those outings took place on public land – and all of those likely would have ended better had I scouted more thoroughly.
You don’t need access to huge pieces of private, managed ground to pursue monster whitetails. But you do need a plan. With each entry in the Antler Geek Journal, we’ll focus on tactics and information that can help you make your big buck dreams a reality and within financial reach.
The key is to hunt areas where big bucks live – and offer reasonable opportunities on public land or “by permission” parcels. But the secret isn’t necessarily in hunting those states that get the most press – in fact, sometimes it’s in hunting those that don’t. In even more instances, it’s not about simply being in states with big bucks, it’s in finding those pieces of ground that are overlooked. That’s where scouting pays off big time.
So how do you determine which state offers the type of bucks you want to hunt and, most importantly, has the type of public land or “by permission” opportunities you’re looking for? Well, it’s not easy. And, to be honest, I’d be lying if I said I’m going to spill the beans on all of the information. That wouldn’t be fair to those who have put in the time and effort to locate their own personal honey holes. And, honestly, I think one of the most rewarding parts about public land hunting is the work that’s involved. But I will give you some pretty good starting points. For big bucks on a budget, you should certainly consider the “big name” states like Iowa, Illinois, Kansas. But you must learn how to find the places others aren’t hunting. We’ll cover that in another entry. For this one, however, we’ll focus on another grea tactic – hunting those big-buck states few people consider. Here’s my choices.
1. Ohio: Ohio is not exactly a secret anymore as more and more whopper whitetails are falling in the Buckeye State. But when it comes to sheer public land opportunity, Ohio is very hard to beat. The southern portions of the state have huge tracts of public land and those public areas are home to some real studs. It’s hilly, beautiful country that can be a bit confusing to hunt. Miles upon mile of hardwood ridges with limited amounts of openings and crop fields means you’ll need to learn how big bucks use these huge chunks of hardwoods. But once you start to figure it out, you’ll love it.
2. The Dakotas: North and South Dakota offer some outstanding public land whitetail huntings. But the trick here is to understand that whitetails are only found in certain portions of each state. Do a little research on which areas hold the most whitetails and cross-reference that with public land holdings and you’ll be well on your way. And don’t overlook the old-fashioned option of asking local landowners for permission to hunt. With human (thus hunter) populations fairly low in the Dakotas, the odds of gaining permission to hunt are much higher than in states with lots of hunter competition.
3. Nebraska: Last fall, one of the biggest bucks in America was killed in Nebraska. It was a monster typical that topped 200 inches and was taken in central Nebraksa. Nebraska has everything it takes to grow giant whitetails – great food, lots of cover and a relatively small hunter population. Unfortunately, it also lacks in public land. But there is some and you may also have some success knocking on doors and gaining permission to hunt. Again, the key is to locate areas that are far from centers of human population. Whitetails are most prevalent in the eastern part of the state – but there are whitetails throughout the state and the further west you go, the fewer people you’ll run into and even fewer of those that pursue whitetails.
This fall, the Antler Geeks crew will be hunting a few of these sleeper states. While we’re there, we’ll be rolling video to show you what we find and to also illustrate a few of the tactics we’ll be covering in coming Antler Geek Journal entries. So stay tuned.
– Tony Hansen, Antler Geek