Here are our outside-the-box tips for hunting public land.
Not having your own private land hunting area is tough. While some forms of hunting, like waterfowl, lend themselves well to public land, others, like deer hunting, do not.
Now, you've likely read a million articles already about public hunting that all have the same tips.
We've got some rather different tips for public-land hunters to try this year that will help you make better use of these wildlife resources.
Try float hunting.
This tip won't work for every area, but if you're in a state like Michigan or Minnesota that has public hunting areas loaded with water, it may be the way to get an advantage over everyone else. If there is a swamp or river running through the hunting lands, there are probably spots other hunters aren't going because it's too much of a hassle to reach these potential stand sites.
It's going to take more work to haul out a kayak or canoe to reach these areas, that's why they're great. Most bowhunters aren't going to put in that extra effort to reach a remote island backwater hunting spot. The deer know this, it's why some of these places become sanctuaries for mature bucks when the hunting pressure is the most intense.
Another great thing about hunting this swampy, soggy areas? You can often leave your trail cameras and treestands there without worry of them being stolen. You'll often have the area to yourself.
Hunt escape routes from other hunters.
This is probably going to work best before the opening of firearms season. But instead of going out and looking for spots on the usual food sources, scrape lines or near bedding areas, go out and purposely look for signs of other public-land hunters. They usually aren't hard to find. Just a short walk from the parking area and you'll likely see hastily constructed ground blinds or obvious stand placements.
Many deer hunters might see that and decide they need to find another area. But if the sign is good that there's deer in the area, you simply need to get creative for when opening morning arrives and all hell breaks loose.
Look at the area you're hunting. Maybe it's surrounded by private land or is bordered by an off-limits National Wildlife Refuge. These are likely going to be the sanctuary spots and if a buck finds himself on public land when the shooting starts, he's likely going to make a beeline for them.
This is where you need to think like the deer. Where would you make your escape in this area if you were surrounded by hunters? It certainly won't be past the guy who threw his stand up in the public area a week before the season started.
Look for natural funnels and ridges that the deer can use to sneak past other hunters. Look for the thickest cover possible between other hunters and safety. In a situation like this, you might want to utilize a tree saddle or climbing stand so you're not broadcasting your location to the deer or other whitetail hunters.
The downside to hunting an escape route is that the deer likely won't be there long and you'll also likely only get one shot. Make it count!
Try out Google Street View.
Almost every single article you'll ever read recommends studying maps and satellite views of public property to find hunting opportunities. While they are good for identifying possible big buck hiding spots on public ground, they can also lead you on a wild goose chase.
Sometimes, you find what looks like an awesome spot on BLM land, only to get there and find the spot has either totally changed or there are little X-factors that make it a bad spot to hunt. It could be something like a bunch of new houses being built right next to the border of the land, or perhaps there's been some logging that wasn't in the satellite images because they were out of date.
That's why, in addition to aerial views, I suggest looking at Google Streetview. Often, you can tell just by the view from the road if it looks like an area is going to be worth your time or not. The image above is of some public hunting land close to home.
Sometimes, you can get lucky and the car taking the images drove through during hunting season, giving you a rough idea of the pressure if you see any vehicles there. Look for the date the image was taken in either the upper left hand corner or the lower right hand part of the screen.
Another thing you can do is to drag the Streetview cursor over an area of public land. Sometimes, you'll get lucky and see a little blue dot indicating a photosphere. Drag the cursor over the dot and you'll see a photo or a 360-degree view someone took in that spot. It can give a good idea of what the terrain is like.
As I said, it's not foolproof solution. Not every area has Streetview coverage. But it is a chance for an "eyes on the ground" look before you get to the area. Especially if the area you're looking at is several hours away.
Utilize a drone for scouting.
Before we go any further on this, consult your local regulations on drones before you fly one over a public hunting area, because this may not be legal everywhere. Also, out of common courtesy to other hunters, do this only in the off-season.
But basically, this is taking looking at satellite views a step further. As I already noted with the last tip, many satellite views are either out of date, or they don't have enough definition to find the trails, funnels and bedding areas you're looking for. That's where a drone can be an invaluable tool.
We suggest doing this in winter after the seasons have ended. It'll likely work even better if you've got snow on the ground because the game trails will stick out like a sore thumb. Fly around 100 feet or so above the treetops to get a view of those areas you're curious about. I feel like this is a good height that won't alarm most of the deer. You'll also be able to better spot possible stand sights for that big public-land buck. You may also see signs of other hunters to avoid.
Either way, you're getting real-time information that other hunters, who are relying only Google satellite views, aren't getting. We suggest recording and viewing the footage again on a computer later. Because there may be small details that are missed when viewing the drone footage on a smartphone screen.
Many hunters, if given the choice between 15,000 acres of wilderness outside the city and 100 acres surrounded by neighborhoods and shopping malls are going to go with the wilderness every time. But urban bucks are some of the best kept secrets of the hunting world.
Most of the time, public access is going to be limited to archery gear only, which automatically drops the pressure all on its own. It can be hard to walk into an area like this and think of it as a good hunting spot, especially if you're hearing the noise of dogs barking and kids playing on neighboring private property.
The thing to remember is that urban deer are used to this. In fact, they're probably counting on there not being hunters there.
Hunting some urban areas may go against all your instincts, especially if you have hikers or dog walkers routinely walking through your setup. But sometimes you must radically change your hunting spot and your style to get away from hunting pressure.