By Chris Eberhart

Public land hunting is an art form.  It is just plain different than hunting private acres where you basically control what happens.  Since you have no control of what other people are doing on public ground one of the most important aspects of scouting such areas is scouting for other hunters.  Doing your prep work right means finding every stand, every trail, every bait pile, noting parking spots, and just being totally aware of what’s going on. When you know what the people are doing it will soon become obvious what the deer are doing to avoid the hunters.  One good thing about public ground is that it often contains bedding and lowland areas that were perhaps not so good for farming in the days when states still acquired public property. Bedding is often a key element to keeping deer on the public ground. One option for the opening day or two of season on public ground is hunting the back door.

The best way to describe this is to describe a spot that I hunted for a couple years. The area in southern Michigan consisted of a patchwork of public and private land. Some of the public ground was easily accessible, and some of it really tough to get into. The area was dominated by a huge cattail marsh that hugged the back side of a lake and was about a mile square.  The cattail marsh was almost inaccessible, but only almost. It was basically surrounded by locked up private property, unless you parked at the other side of the lake walked around the lake and cut through the marsh (along an inconspicuous self made trail). The walk was about a mile to get to a line of trees that wasn’t more than a quarter mile off the road.  Along that road was a long narrow eighty acre piece of public ground with great terrain and a lot of big oaks.  Between it and the marsh, however, was a chunk of private property. I actually asked for permission to cross the private property, and was very pointedly denied, and impolitely warned that if I even stepped foot on that land the law would be called. The owner had no trespassing signs on every tree along the line. The private property too was full of giant oaks.  Both the public and private oak laden properties were hunted hard.

The line of trees extended off the back of the private property along an ancient railroad grade for about three hundred yards into the marsh.  Off the end of the grade there were several small high spots in the marsh where bucks bedded. Since I knew that there were about ten stands on the public ground, and many more on the private I was pretty sure that this area would be hit hard on opening day. My plan was to be on that grade leading into the marsh, very early, to catch opening day bucks departing the hard hit land up front.  I was hoping to catch them before they turned completely nocturnal in a few days. This is the same idea as hunting an escape route on the opening day of gun season.

When you know of a public land area with good bucks that gets hunted hard on the opener it is a good idea to look for the back door. That is where the bucks will go on opening day, often late in the morning or during midday, after most hunters leave the woods.  This is a great extra option to pull a good buck off public ground before hunting your private land spots where you perhaps have a bit more control.

Two years in a row I made the long walk out into the marsh on opening morning. Both years I had encounters with big Michigan bucks.  A total of four mature bucks passed by between 10:00 am and 2:00 pm, one brute ten pointer I unfortunately lost.  The situation subsequently changed when one of the neighboring landowners decided to illegally open up the old railroad grade as an access route for quads.  Hunting spots come and go, and I still hunt out in the marsh sometimes, in dry years.  Hunting the back door on public ground is one option for opening day, which is right around the corner. Whenever I scout public ground I am always looking for spots like this. You should be too.

– Chris Eberhart,

If you want more great whitetail hunting information like this, check out Chris’ latest book, Bowhunting Whitetails The  Eberhart Way