Public land hunting has always been challenging, but as the decades have passed, some of the challenges have changed.
For years the images of overcrowding, sparse game populations, and rugged/subpar terrain has filled the minds of many hunters when they think about public land. However, this is starting to change due to shifting hunter mindsets and improving management practices by state and federal wildlife agencies.
Anybody that has hunted public land consistently over the last few years should know that with a little bit of work and scouting, it is possible to stumble across a hunting goldmine.
Thanks to a growing sect of outdoor media on platforms like Youtube and Instagram, public land hunting has become increasingly popular.
This has been beneficial in showing newer hunters that regardless of your resources, there is good, accessible hunting out there for everybody. But with this growing popularity comes a new set of challenges for today's public land hunters.
Here is a list of five things public land hunters didn't have to deal with 25 years ago.
Digital mapping has cut down on the unknown
One of the greatest innovations in modern hunting has to be the evolution of digital mapping services like onX Hunt and HuntStand. Now for a recurring fee, hunters are able to visualize and study every square inch of the country. This is great for scouting public land and allows hunters to unlock new spots in a timely fashion. Granted, you still need boots-on-the-ground scouting to confirm your spots, but digital mapping has now put digital scouters into a Little League-sized ballpark.
Paper topography maps and a compass aren't the preferred tool of hardcore scouters anymore. Both of those tools are now in every hunter's pocket in the form of a smart phone. At one time only the hardcore secured the tools and put in the work to find the best, out of the way spots. Now it's as easy as entering your password on an app store purchase. Public land hunters now are aware that the area they are hunting on Saturday mornings is probably being e-scouted by a guy in a recliner miles and miles away.
Word spreads like wildfire
In this day and age, word travels fast. How many times has this hypothetical situation happened to you or somebody that you know? You or your buddy kill a buck and somehow somebody finds out where it was killed, whether through a text or social media post. You go back the next weekend and three new trucks are parked at your trailhead.
Very few groups hang on to every word like avid hunters. At one time, word had to travel through personal conversation or through pictures seen at the local check station or breakfast spot. This could have taken months or even seasons. Now, the internet exponentially speeds things up. Tapping "Post" has probably killed more honey holes in the last 10 years than anything else! Public land hunters have to be more ready to keep spots on the hush nowadays.
Increased nonresident pressure
It is every hunter's dream to travel and hunt, and again outdoor media has made it a realization that it is possible for almost everybody. If you want to hunt a new state, public land is by far the cheaper option to a guided hunt. In many places whitetail and turkey tags are over-the-counter, which also increases the attractiveness of traveling. This pushes hunters to new states and often into the backyards of that state's resident hunters.
For those trying to master their home piece of public ground, it can be annoying to have to hunt around a bunch of folks with differing license plates. They have every right to be there, but we've all felt this way before. I'm sure hunters in Illinois, a known big whitetail producer, love seeing a new truck parked at their favorite trailhead every week. Today, public land hunters don't only have to hunt around their neighbor, they have to hunt around the guy from multiple states away.
Increased competition with tactic-driven hunters
Most public land hunters today look for an edge to put themselves in better position than the other hunters on the property. Public land experts on social media and Youtube have taught hunters how to be more efficient. You now have your bedding cover hunters, transition area hunters, staging area hunters, etc. Everybody seems to have a better understanding of how deer use their environment. There are fewer hunters just picking trees in a good looking spot.
Most other hunters know the tactics that you plan to employ. Many public land hunters would agree that competition with other educated hunters has greatly affected their success. Public land hunters now can't just rely on the "hunt smarter" approach. They have to be willing to stretch the limits and also "hunt harder".
Social media scrutiny
If you were to scroll through social media you would quickly realize that everyone is a critic. Social media has an excess of scrutiny of hunters and this is not always by anti-hunters, it is by other hunters as well. Shooting a young, smaller racked buck or a Jake turkey is not praised on social media. "Should have gave him another year" or "that buck was too young to shoot" shows up in too many comment threads.
This attitude has spilled over into public land hunting as well. Hunting, not just public land hunting, at one time was about shooting what made you happy, and others were generally happy for you. It can be hard to be happy with your harvest if others are tearing you down. Public land hunters today have to grow some really thick skin if they are going to share their harvest with others.
I am in no way saying that public land hunting is more challenging than it was years ago. I don't see anybody volunteering to travel back in time and hunt less public acreage with shockingly low wildlife densities. The challenges of today are just different from those of that time.
Public land hunting is supposed to be a challenge, that is why it is attractive to so many. Just remember we are all in this together and everybody shares the same challenges. Next time you are hunting public ground, don't let the challenging nuances negatively affect your hunt, let them fuel your success.
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