Hunting on public land is tough, but is it worth your time?
Most seasoned turkey hunters have spent at least some time chasing birds on public ground. Some of us are fortunate enough to have some solid private ground to hunt, while others rely solely on public ground. If there’s one species of big game that provides hunters all across the country with quality public land opportunities, it’s the wild turkey.
Public land is typically plagued with issues, other hunters usually being the worst. With this land being essentially a free-for-all, you will encounter a mixture of strategies and types of hunters. We all have different thoughts and reasons for hunting the way we do and often they collide. Last year, I spent my opening day on public ground and encountered eight different hunters. That would end up being seven more hunters than gobbles I heard.
These public birds usually are the smartest of all the turkeys, mainly through the education they receive from hunters. If you are lucky enough to harvest a public land bird, that’s certainly a great accomplishment for any hunter.
However, public land offers you the chance to try new tactics and work birds differently without the consequences of spooking birds off your property. Educating the birds yourself through mistakes isn’t as concerning on public ground as it is on your own farm. Success in these areas often comes through doing your homework. The amount of time spent scouting and roosting birds will have a direct correlation to your ability to close the deal.
The amount of miles you are willing to walk is often a huge factor when hunting on public ground. Last season, I would walk about two miles in before even beginning to listen for birds. Fortunately, the public tract was large enough to do so and this got me away from the traffic of the roadways. Most hunters aren’t willing to get too far from the truck, which gave me a chance to find and work birds that hadn’t had been bothered yet.
Above is a photo with one of the two birds I harvested on Missouri public land last season.
Some states in the Midwest, like Kansas and Nebraska, have significant turkey populations and can offer some of the best opportunities anywhere, especially on public ground. While other states, depending on your area and pressure from other hunters, can be more competitive as it is around my home in Kentucky.
Growing up around the National Wildlife Refuges myself, I’ve been fortunate enough to have experienced both types of hunting. If I have the opportunity, I’ll take advantage of both. Using public land early when the turkeys are still unaware hunting season has arrived, if I can beat the crowds, and late in the season after most weekend warriors have called it a year, is when I am usually more successful.
So is it worth the effort? In the end, it’s a question we must each ask ourselves. There are certainly advantages and disadvantages to giving up your precious time to try public over private land. The answer often lies in the amount of effort you are willing put forth. If you’re willing to work hard, devote the time, compete for birds, and put on the miles then you will likely be successful even on the toughest of public ground.