Just about a month ago, as many of you know, I moved to a new part of Michigan. With this move I’ve obviously also had to obtain new land to hunt. I live on 90 acres that I have access to, but other than that I’m currently empty handed in regards to additional hunting ground. That being said, I’m unfortunately in a tough spot with the season fast approaching. So while I’m still attempting to find some private ground, I’m also planning on trying my hand at hunting some public ground nearby as well. With that in mind I’ve been rereading everything I can find about hunting public land, and reaching back into my mental archives to try and recall various strateiges I’ve learned over the years.
So while I’m internally sorting through the tips and tricks for success on public land, I thought I’d share a few of the major ones with you all as well. If you’re in a similar position to me, don’t get down, big bucks can be shot off public land and here’s how.
Go Where No One Else Will: Probably the most important thing you can do when hunting public land is getting to areas that no one else will go. Hunting pressure is your #1 enemy, so finding those hard to reach areas where deer haven’t been pressured will put you in the money. Most public land hunters won’t walk much further than a couple hundred yards from the road, so plan on getting as deep as you can into the property, to get away from those folks. Other than distance, barriers such as rivers, swamps and the like can keep hunters from accessing certain spots. Bring waders or a canoe to get across these types of obstacles and you can sometimes get to spots that are just as good as any private!
Look for Hunter Sign: When hunting public land, hunter sign is sometimes more important than deer sign! The actions of other hunters very often effects the deer behavior more than natural factors, so keep in mind where other hunters are and then try to determine how deer are reacting to their presence. For example, if you find several stands on the southern border of a public land piece, you can bet that deer will most likely skirt this area. Look for stands, cut down trees, bait stations and other obvious signs of hunters, and then place your stands in locations that seem to be the areas deer retreat to, to avoid the other hunters.
Speed Scout: Once you’ve found areas that are hard to get to and away from hunter sign, you can then finally focus on deer! A couple weeks before the season, try sneaking into the area while being very careful about your scent. Highly pressured deer, like those on public land, will be even less forgiving to human scent, so be extra carful. On your quick scouting mission look for early rubs, scrapes and high traffic areas. If you need to fine tune your stand location a little, to be closer to this early season sign, do it. Early rubs and scrapes are typically indicators of a mature deer.
Hunt The Right Times: In addition to hunting the right areas, you also want to be hunting the right times. Specifically with public land, your odds are probably best in the morning and on weekdays. Why is this? Well it’s because thats when the fewest hunters are typically out in the woods. Get out on those mornings when it’s harder for other hunters to get out of bed, and you could get a chance at some undisturbed deer. Also, when hunting the morning, stay in your stands well into the afternoon. If there are other hunters on the property, they may spook deer towards you when they leave their stands in the late morning.
In addition to time of day, the day of the week is equally as important for hunter pressure. More hunters obviously are out on the weekends, so if you can manage to get out and hunt a few weekdays, you’ll likely be one of the only ones.
So, while hunting public ground is certainly a challenge, it’s definitely not impossible. Find those hard to reach spots, be aware of other hunter locations, fine tune your sets based on recent sign and hunt those low pressure times. Do this and you’ll be in a great position to drop a dandy public land whitetail. And honestly, there are few things more impressive than that.