Hunter hikes up a hill while holding a spotting scope.
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Veteran Public Land Deer Hunter Shares Realistic Expectations for First Timers

Public deer hunting land is hard to beat. No farm payments, no food plot management, and trophy potential with a high ceiling awaits any hunter willing to trek onto some of America's public hunting land. Many new hunters are intimidated by public land. Stories of insane hunting pressure and poor densities have been passed around for years. Hunting public land isn't quite like hunting a manicured private farm in the Midwest, but it is nowhere near as bad as stories make it out to be. Sure it can be hard, but there's no reason to shy away from public land hunting when it can be one of the most fulfilling styles of deer hunting. If you're planning on giving public land a try this year, here's what to expect.

Not all public land is equal.

public hunting land

I've been fortunate enough to hunt many different public parcels in a couple of different states, and every public property is unique in terms of terrain, deer density, and hunter pressure. One particular spot I hunt in Southern Arkansas is famous for being the target of heavy hunting pressure. Mix this with average-to-below average deer densities and flat, monotonous terrain and it doesn't sound too appealing, but the trophy potential is actually very high. Needless to say, I try to set higher standards for a shooter buck in this area.

I hunt another particular property in southern Missouri that is on the other end of the spectrum. The area is large, which lowers the hunter pressure during the early archery season. The deer density in this area is above average and the hilly terrain makes it easier to spot and stalk the deer. You are almost always going to see deer while hunting this place, but due to the poor soil quality and the high number of deer in the area, the trophy potential is subpar. Each property has its own unique set of bones that makes it what it is. Because no two properties are equal, you should try your best to study the area and set appropriate expectations for your hunt.

There's no such thing as too much scouting.


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The best way to find more success hunting public land is to scout, scout, and then scout a little more. You can't do it too much. Pre-season, post-season, and mid-season scouting are all beneficial and provide you with different intel. Private land hunters often limit their deep-cover scouting in an effort to not disturb sanctuaries or force deer off the property. When it comes to public land scouting, you can get aggressive. Scout deeper and more thoroughly. Being more in tune with the property might offer you an opportunity that isn't afforded to less driven hunters.

I love post-season scouting on public land because I let all my fear of bumping deer disappear. I can remember scouting a river bottom property in Missouri sometime around early March. I located a large cutover that had a heavy amount of trails and travel signs coming in and out of it. It was obviously a large bedding area and bordered a large oak tree grove. It was the perfect setup and great placement for the predominant winds. Needless to say, I returned to this spot the next November and was lucky enough to tag a nice eight-point buck in just two sits. My post-season scouting paid off nicely. Just remember, scouting is so beneficial and cannot be understated.

Never miss a chance to even the odds.

public land hunting

I love bowhunting, but like many other hunters out there, I have no problem picking up the rifle when the calendar changes. Hunting public land is hard enough and if the goal is to harvest an animal, why not pick up a rifle and increase your range? Sometimes a rifle can help even the odds, but just because you get to carry a gun in the woods with you doesn't mean that those public land bucks will cooperate any more.

Last season in particular was a great example of this. Early bow season had come and gone and it was time to chamber a round in my 6.5 Creedmoor. Missouri's gun season was eleven days and I didn't even see a buck until the eleventh day. Luckily everything went right and I was able to put the buck in my truck, but the deer did not cut me any extra slack. It is also worth noting that there would have been no way to get this buck with archery equipment considering the range. The bucks don't always cooperate, so don't miss a chance to even the odds.

Final Public Land Hunting Truths to Remember

public land hunting

If you're heading out to hunt public land for the first time this year, here are a few final points to keep in mind.

Selecting a public property is just as important as picking your stand site. Know where you're going, visit it in the daylight before trying to navigate your way in the dark, and familiarize yourself with the place as much as possible.

Trophy bucks aren't behind every tree, but you never know what'll walk by. Expect the property to be pressured and crowded, but you can almost always find low pressure areas if you move. Ultimately, don't be afraid to think outside the box and try something new.

READ MORE: The 5 Best Public Hunting Lands in Ohio