Public lands aren't usually a hunter's first choice for tracking down prize whitetails. Typically, the largest deer seek the relative sanctuary of private lands. However, big bucks get taken off public tracts year after year, leaving many hunters wondering what they might be missing.
The fact is, the Midwest has a reputation for its strictly managed public land where deer flourish. Ohio, in particular, is one of the best states in the nation for hunting public-land whitetails, with woods packed to the gills with the kind of trophy bucks to rave about for the rest of your life.
However, not all public lands are created equal. Some offer few resources to produce magazine-quality deer. Others are so highly pressured by hunters that you'll likely see an orange vest before you see a buck. Here, we share some of the best public hunting tracts every avid hunter must experience when coming to Ohio.
If this list isn't enough, the Ohio Department of Natural Resources (ODNR) offers updated maps and information on hunting in Ohio.
1. Woodbury Wildlife Area, Coshocton County
If you ask a few Ohioans to point you toward a good slab of public deer hunting land, few spots will come up in your conversations as often as the Woodbury Wildlife Area. Located in Coshocton County, about an hour-and-a-half drive northeast of Columbus, the Woodbury Wildlife Area covers some 20,000 acres and is practically overflowing with trophy bucks.
Woodbury and Coshocton are popular spots for hunters and other nature enthusiasts, so you may have to take the less traveled paths to find the prime deer areas. Still, Woodbury is a beautiful piece of Ohio public land, and the adventure is worth it.
2. Dillon Wildlife Area, Muskingum County
If the wide-open expanses of Woodbury sound appealing, but the crowds turn you off, then the Dillon Wildlife Area is a similar whitetail deer hunting area that you might be interested in. It's located in Nashport, just a half-hour jog from Woodbury, so you can quickly try both out on the same trip.
Considering Ohio's hunting reputation, public lands like Dillon and Woodbury are in high demand for destination hunters—but it's not too tricky to find less-traveled spots and the deer herds that take refuge there. Still, the deer in this area are under moderate pressure from hunters, so a little patience and exploration will serve you well.
3. Conesville Coal Lands, Coshocton & Muskingum Counties
The northeast region of Ohio is a thriving deer habitat, loaded with great places to set up camp and hunt. If you are heading to Coshocton for the Woodbury or Dillon Wildlife Areas already, complete the hat trick with the Conesville Coal Lands.
The hunting pressure on this 12,000-acre piece of land is slightly lower than the Woodbury or Dillon areas, partially because you need a permit to hunt here. Don't be scared away by that statement, though: Permits are free and can be picked up at local bait shops or secured online.
4. Shawnee State Forest, Scioto County
If you want public hunting land in Ohio but need to get away from the northeast triangle, head to southwest Ohio for the Shawnee State Forest. At 60,000 acres, Shawnee is the single most extensive public forest area in Ohio and is a prime deer hunting spot as a result. Many Boone & Crockett bucks have been taken off this public tract.
The woods are thick and scattered with overgrown trees and plants, but if you're game for a more rugged hunting experience, there's little doubt that you can be successful here, especially during the gun season at the tail end of the rut. Be aware that the Shawnee State Park, located within the forest, does not permit hunting.
5. Eagle Creek Wildlife Area, Brown County
The Eagle Creek Wildlife Area was established as a public hunting tract in 2018. It's 2,300 acres may not seem like much, but being nestled between farmlands and thick timber in the heart of the famed Brown County in the northeast corner of Ohio, this is a spot you don't want to overlook.
What makes this piece unique, as well as a honey hole for mature bucks, is that it's a controlled-access property. Only 65 people are drawn from a lottery annually, allowing each hunter to spread out and have a great chance at harvesting a trophy whitetail.
6. Indian Creek Wildlife Area, Brown County
The Indian Creek Wildlife Area is an Ohio state-run wildlife center also in Brown County, with 1,695 acres of public land located just outside Fayetteville. You can practice your archery skills for bow hunting at the onsite shooting range or bring out your hunting rifle and work on your aim.
The area is filled with diverse features, including wetlands, ponds, and marshes for waterfowl hunting or fishing. There are also expansive woods and grasslands for hunting, plus a dog-training area.
7. Wayne National Forest Lands
Another great public hunting area is Wayne National Forest Lands in southern Ohio. It's one of the ideal locations for taking down bucks during hunting season. The 833,000-acre property is a combination of smaller pieces of land.
The only downside to this magnificent area is the boundaries are not clearly marked, making it easy to wander onto private land. Per the Ohio Division of Wildlife's hunting regulations, hunters need permits to be on private land, and getting caught without one could lead to a $500 fine and six months in jail. So you better be sure to track where you are while hunting.
READ MORE: The Best Time of the Day to Hunt Deer
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