Not having any private land to hunt for most of my life, I have had to adapt to the only areas that were available to me – public hunting land in the form of wildlife management areas (WMAs). I have hunted on public land in Kentucky for the last 15 years, and during that time have had some good years and some bad ones. I hope with a few of these tips that I have picked up over the course of those 15 years, you can be successful with all the pressure that comes along with hunting public land.
1. Take your time to understand the rules of the area you will be hunting. Public hunting areas often have a different set of rules, seasons and/or bag limits than hunting on private land, and knowing those rules is the first step to having a safe and successful hunt. Is there a kill limit? A minimum spread size? (if you are not sure, don’t shoot). There are some WMA’s that only allow one deer to be taken, so if you go on a trip with the guys and shoot a doe on the first day, you may end up in camp doing the cooking and cleaning for the rest of the trip.
2. There is a lot of controversy over high pressure areas and the need to get off the beating path and walk farther back than the average hunter will go. My experience tells me otherwise. Some of my best sits have been no more than 50 yards from the road or trail. A buddy of mine killed one of the biggest bucks of his life last year 20 yards off the main trail and 100 yards from the truck. It’s not a matter of hunting away from the road, as much as it is just hunting the spots that other hunters overlook. So don’t take the close areas for granted. Most hunters hunt the middle, and as a result, I either hunt close or as far back as I feel like dragging.
3. Just like private land, find the food and water source and get close. With the hunting pressure on public land, the deer will try to move as little as possible but they have to eat. When scouting, I look for a deep swag that the deer can transition to, between food and their bedding area.
4. Expanding on the 3rd tip, try not to hunt the fields. Get in the woods. I hunted the fields for years and saw a lot of deer, but that’s just it “I saw”. It does no good if they come out 100 yards away. And it never fails, if I moved to where they came out, then they would come out in a different spot. If you focus on the wooded area, it forces you to pin point the deer’s travel path and you have a better chance at seeing the bigger buck in safe shooting light.
5. Cover is one of the most important aspects that gets over looked. If you hunt public land, you will soon figure out that some deer walk around looking up. Get out and scout the area during the day so you have a few stand choices that have good coverage. There have been many times when I was headed to my stand location and found someone else already in the area. So I would have to go look for another location, settle on a place I am not used to and don’t know the direction the deer are coming from. Looking for a tree to climb in the dark is not the easiest task. The main take away from this tip is to have a few stand locations picked out, and in areas with good cover.
So, if you are like myself and have to spend much of your hunting time on public land this year, try some of these tips to push the odds in your favor. There are definitely great public land bucks to be had, it just takes a little more work to make it all happen