Public land hunting holds a ton of promise if you use a few easy keys.
I am fortunate to live in an area surrounded by thousands of acres of public land. While we manage our land that borders it, the sheer volume of the National Forest holds limitless opportunities.
There are many mornings where I simply get dressed, walk out the door, up the mountain into the National Forest, and get settled into one of my favorite deer stands. When I was younger, I felt like the best animals were all being taken from private land. That perspective changed drastically when I learned how to properly hunt public land.
I say "National Forest" land, but that is simply my generic term for any public land. No matter if it is managed by city, county, state, or federal, if it is legal to hunt, you may be astonished at the harvest it holds.
There are some basic rules to follow when selecting public hunting land. I am most familiar with the East Coast, however, I have used some of these same principles with similar success out West.
1. Game wardens
These folks are the hunter's best friend. They are always willing to help in any way and are the unquestioned authority of the boundaries of the land.
Wardens will also give you any local rules, or laws of the public land your hunting on that will help you avoid embarrassing or even law breaking mistakes. Take the time to talk with the local game wardens, they know their area better than anyone.
2. Quality maps
Attaining the best quality, most up-to-date maps of the area you intend to hunt is crucial. That, along with any clarifications a local warden can make will be your best guide.
The last thing you want to do is stray onto private land, or land that is not authorized to hunt on. With the many choices of GPS units and even Google Earth there are several ways to go about getting a proper lay of the land.
3. Entrance and exit points
You should always make sure that you have good entrance and exit points for your hunt. Be sure to consider how you will get the harvested animal out, and don't think that if you "just need to cross a little private land" that the owners will be okay with that.
The same goes for parking while hunting. Make sure that you are authorized to park where you leave your vehicle. There is nothing worse than coming out of the woods to find your truck is gone.
4. Respect private property
All of the land I live on borders National Forest. While I am respectful of every hunter I encounter, that does not mean they have unwritten permission to drag a deer out on our land. Be sure to consider how you will get the animal out.
If you stay on public land at all times getting your harvest back to your vehicle then you have no worries. Take time to plan ahead and this won't be a concern.
5. Understand that it is public land
The most frustrating time some hunters have is when they've done their scouting and get their stand set, only to have some guy come wandering through their chosen area just after dawn on opening day. Don't lose site of the fact it is public land.
Choose your hunting areas carefully. If there is an access road into the area and you set up right off of it, don't be shocked when you have to deal with hunters entering and exiting along that road. Those that stray off the beaten path hunting public land have a much harder drag when they harvest a deer. The upside is, it is usually a pretty big deer they are dragging out.
6. Scout the out of the way areas
Don't ever be afraid of going "where no man has gone before". As long as you take the necessary safety measures and plan out your hunt, these areas are going to provide the best chance for success. Yes, it may require a little harder work, but in the end, it is more than worth it.
Public land hunting provides some amazing opportunities for every hunter. These keys will help you make the most of your next trip into the Wide Open Spaces of public hunting land near you.