Let’s face it, hunting public land can be tough…especially when you have never stepped foot on the property. There are some steps you can take, however, that will tip the odds in your favor when it comes to hunting a new area. Let’s take a look at five such steps that should help put you in range of that public land buck-of-your-dreams this fall.
1) Go Aerial.
Aerial photos, that is! Before I ever step onto a new piece of hunting property or WMA, I like to get a good feel for the area’s terrain and habitat by looking over aerial photos and topo maps. Thanks to the Internet and Google Maps, this is a pretty simple process.
Once you have located the hunting property on Google, a lot of great information can be had from a high-quality aerial photograph. You can differentiate the various habitat types: fields, stands of hardwoods, pine plantings, cedar thickets, etc. You can also locate water features, drainages, and potential travel funnels.
In addition to the habitat and terrain, don’t overlook studying the area’s access points on the map. This will give you a pretty good idea of where the hunting pressure will come from, as well as potential areas off the beaten path.
Now, with a basic understanding of how the hunting area layout, I move on to step 2.
2) Make the Call.
The next step to public land deer hunting success is making a call to the people who know it best…the ones that manage it. The titles will vary, but it could be a wildlife biologist, area manager, or in my case here in Georgia, a wildlife technician. You should be able to track down their contact information via the internet or with a phone call to your state fish and wildlife agency.
When you get them on the phone, DO NOT make the mistake of asking where to go to kill a big buck. I can tell you from experience that these folks hear this question way too often, and nothing tightens their lips quicker. Instead, show them that you have done your homework by asking about details about specific locations – hunting pressure, what food sources are around, the age structure, hunter success, etc. You will get a lot more information when they see your putting in some effort yourself.
3) Scout it Out.
This one should be pretty obvious, and it’s where a lot of people start. Since you’ve taken the time to do your homework, though, you will have a much better idea of where to begin your scouting efforts and what to look for while you are out there.
There is no replacement for time spent on the property. Period. Sure, you could luck up and kill a big buck the first time you ever step on a WMA, but the odds are astronomical. Every hour spent on the area learning the terrain, the habitat, deer patterns, and the quality of bucks present tips the odds in your favor.
4) Get the Picture.
It’s a risky practice on public land, but in my book, the information to be gained by running trail cameras is worth the risk. Good quality units can be had for around $100 and most companies make metal lockboxes and cables that you can use to safely attach your camera to a tree. Is it theft-proof? No. But it will certainly lower the odds of it disappearing.
5) Stick it Out.
Probably the most important key to deer hunting success on public land is persistence. Be out there as often as you can, and have multiple stand sites ready to avoid burning out anyone hunting location. On the days you can hunt, be willing to sit in the stand all day if possible. Most of the other hunters will be heading out of the woods after a few hours on the stand in the morning, and then come back a few hours before dark, both of which will get the deer up on their feet and moving.
There is no magic formula when it comes to deer hunting public land. However, these five steps should help to tip the odds in your favor of filling your deer tag this fall.
If you have a public land deer hunting tip that would benefit the PBO readers, share it with us in the comments section below. Shoot straight this fall!