When you think of trophy whitetails, public land likely isn't the first thought to pop into your head, and that's understandable. However, monster bucks get taken off public tracts year after year, leaving us scratching our heads. Not all public lands are created equal, though. Some offer little 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. However, the Midwest has a reputation for its strictly managed public lands and vast agriculture that will make public land feel like whitetail heaven.
Ohio, in particular, is one of the best states in the nation for hunting public whitetails, with woods packed to the gills with the kind of trophy bucks you will be raving about for the rest of your life. Of course, Ohio is a big state, with numerous major cities and suburban areas, but it has quite a bit of public land available to deer hunters, much of which is home to big bucks. Here are some of the best public hunting tracts that every avid hunter needs to experience when coming to Ohio.
Woodbury Wildlife Area
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 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.
Dillon Wildlife Area
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.
The deer in this area are under moderate pressure from hunters. 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. The Dillon Wildlife Area is located in Nashport, just a half-hour jog from Woodbury, so you can quickly try both out on the same trip.
Conesville Coal Lands
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, 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.
Shawnee State Forest
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 area. 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, and it's easy to see why.
The woods are thick and scattered with overgrown trees and plants, but if you are game for a more rugged hunting experience, there is little doubt that you can be successful here, especially during the gun season at the tail end of the rut.
Eagle Creek Wildlife Area
The Eagle Creek Wildlife Area was newly established as a public hunting tract in 2018. Two thousand three hundred acres may not seem like much, but nestled in between agriculture and thick timber, located in the heart of the famed Brown County, this is a spot you don't want to overlook.
What makes this piece so unique, as well as a honey hole for mature bucks, is that it is a controlled access property. Only 65 people are drawn annually, allowing each hunter to spread out and have a great chance at harvesting a trophy whitetail.
READ MORE: The Best Time of the Day to Hunt Deer
Enjoy the outdoors?
Don't miss a story! Sign up for daily stories delivered to your inbox.