Getting access to private land for deer hunting is pretty rare without a lease or some connection to the land owner. These days you certainly can’t blame someone for turning hunters down. Land owners are frequently holding the property for friends or relatives to hunt and don’t want a complete stranger to walk off with a trophy.
If you can’t afford to buy or lease your own hunting property, setting up on public lands is probably your only choice. The good news is most states set aside large parcels of land for public hunting. The bad news is the properties are often overloaded with fellow hunters looking for similar opportunities.
Battling crowds is certainly not something to look forward to, but doing some homework ahead of time can help deliver a quality hunting experience in just about any tract of public land. Go where other hunters won’t go and you’ll find solitude and deer. Looking for sign is natural for deer hunters, but in this case look for human sign and keep moving until you can’t find it.
Most hunters won’t go further than a quarter mile away from the parking lot. Many of them think they are going in much further than they actually are. Do some walking around during the summer months and truly get to know the land and actual distances. 500 extra steps will most likely put you in places that other hunters won’t go. One caveat to this strategy is carrying a deer out. Be prepared for a longer drag.
Cross A Barrier
Many public hunting areas have rivers or streams flowing through them. Often times hunters stay on the road side of these obstacles simply because they lack gear to cross water. A pair of hip waders will get you through many of these streams and into a public hunting area that feels like private land. Briar patches, thick regrowth in clear-cut areas, and even steep terrain can also keep most hunters out of a given area. Simply wearing rugged clothing such as chaps and being in good physical condition can put you in position to hunt trophy deer on public land. Crossing barriers may require you to leave the stand in the truck, so be prepared to hunt from ground level.
Scouting From Home
Google Maps, Yahoo Maps, and Mapquest offer excellent satellite imagery for free. TerraServer also offers free map viewing with enhanced options for a fee. Zoom in on a potential hunting property and look for out of the way places deer and hardworking hunters can find privacy. I am astounded at ponds, streams, and even trails that can be found using these maps. There are countless situations in which these free maps have led to incredible hunts.
Web based scouting exposes land features you may not have noticed before. Most hunters naturally hit the big woods while ignoring smaller tracts of timber. It doesn’t take long for deer to notice this as well. Hunting small islands of woods can often be more productive than hitting larger sections of forest due to less pressure.
Hunting public land can be incredibly frustrating. You are at the mercy of other hunters who often act without regard to your plans. Sometimes purposely, most of the time accidentally. Putting in extra work to get away from the crowds can pay huge dividends.
Utilize topographic maps and aerial photos to cover ground more quickly. The goal is to find the easiest way to get to a hard-to-get-to place. Google Earth is free and easy to use. There simply isn’t an excuse to not know how to get to your favorite spot in the woods. You’re looking for the back corner of public properties that have no easy public access. If there is an access road or a hiking trail going to a certain spot, keep looking. Find the places deer go when hunters push them out of the easy access areas.
On The Ground Recon
Private land hunters utilize trail cameras extensively but many are afraid to hang a trail camera on public land. With the price of quality cameras continuing to fall, there really isn’t any reason not to use cameras on public land(unless it isn't legal). Bring a few climbing sticks along and hang your camera ten feet off the ground.
Just place a few sticks behind a secure camera box so the camera points toward the ground. You will still get some great photos and only someone with a lot of desire is going to even have a chance at your camera. Set up the camera along trails headed into heavy cover. This is where deer will retreat when the pressure gets intense.
Wait Out The Infantry
The big disadvantage of hunting on public land is dealing with the crowds. Successful public land hunters learn to turn a disadvantage into a benefit. Get into your out of the way spot silently, unseen, and without leaving scent behind. When the crowds work their normal spots, you will be waiting for the deer to come to you. They have to go somewhere!
Avoid The Routine
As much as it is preached, the majority of hunters rarely hunt all day. If you’re willing to go further and stay longer, the blaze orange army will work for you all day. Hunting all day is great strategy for private land hunters but it is imperative for public land hunters. People tend to move through the woods at random throughout the day. Even if they only bump one deer, it can make your day a success.
The bottom line is to get to places others won’t go, do what others won’t do, and take advantage of their mistakes. It’s a recipe for success in the woods and in life.