Are you about to walk into a crowded hunting area? Here's how to know and what do do about it.
Good hunting opportunities and hunting pressure sometimes to go hand in hand. Even if you are hunting muzzleloader or archery season, typically thought to be "alternative" methods that might decrease the participation numbers, hunter density is a real thing to consider. It can effect success rates; that cannot be denied any longer.
What is it that can make an area cross the line into "too crowded?"
Public lands, especially in states that don't have a whole lot of them, can get crowded. In some cases, it has become more and more difficult to enjoy a peaceful "get-away-from-it-all" hunt, the type that we're all looking for. Heavy pressure in a hunting area can mean the area being too small to host the number of hunters that use it, or relate to an area where too many hunters flock to the spot because it has gotten a good reputation for success.
National Forests, National Wildlife Refuges, and even public lakes can have a great draw for hunting sportsmen and women alike, but it's getting harder and harder to have those place to ourselves anymore. Short of hiking miles into a wilderness area, deer hunters, elk hunters, and the like are going to have to make a game plan for hunting land that is going to be occupied by other hunters.
Land Use Permit Distribution
Some areas in certain states only give out a specific number of permits to hunt a large area, but even with this, the hunt-able regions in those areas can still be overrun with people. Most of the folks who hunt in such places concentrate in a few fairly small locales that are well known, close to entrance and access areas, making them seem as overcrowded as any other public lands.
This is true for refuges that allow waterfowl hunting, whitetail deer hunting, and even elk hunting.
If this is the case, get ready to put in the steps. An e-bike can really come in handy in these cases, if allowed. The farther you get away from the parking lot, the less crowded it will be.
Doe Permit Numbers
Nothing says an area is about to be hunted by a lot of people quite like the fact that all the doe permits have been gobbled up.
In New York, for instance, DMP (deer management permit) numbers are based on wildlife management unit location. In some areas they allot a large amount based on the number of antlerless deer they wish to be taken. In others, they allot much fewer throughout deer season.
It's not unusual to see all of the DMPs taken in areas that don't allot many, but if you're scoping out areas that have many permits available, and they all get taken, that's a sign that a lot of hunters will be in the woods trying to fill them.
Pre-Season Parking Areas
Anyone who has ever hunted on public land knows the benefits of scouting. Well, scouting works with wildlife and it works with parked cars, too. If you see a full parking lot before a season even begins, it's an indication that it will be busy and crowded during the season, too.
This isn't to say that you won't see folks out there on opening day that never visited the site previously (because you will), but for those who are serious about using the area you will want to gauge this factor leading up to the season.
Peak Hunting Times
Opening day, bird release dates, youth hunting season, and the peak deer or elk rut are all considered to be the time when the most hunters will be in the field. It stands to reason that you will see the most vehicles parked along the road, near trailheads, and in the parking areas in any one spot during these times.
Sure, these times typically have promising success rates, but if you can help it, wait until the level of hunting pressure is lower.
Public Hunting Areas
Private property certainly sees less pressure than public areas, but a good determining factor of pressure can be deciphered during the regular archery hunting season. Bowhunting season is a vastly popular time of the year, but not every bowhunter can or will hit the woods early in the season. If you can pay attention and pick up on how many bowhunters there are, it can help you decide if a spot is too crowded or not.
Public access can have a two-fold effect on the hunting experience: it can show you where the hunters are and it can show you how many are using an area. Deer herd and hunter numbers aside, there is a good reason why so many folks will try to use the same area.
Don't Let Hunting Pressure Stop You
We all want to have the woods to ourselves, but that can't always happen. Sometimes hunting pressure can be used for the benefit of the hunter; moving people can make for moving animals. Those who sit tight and stay patient can have some great success thanks to the actions of others.
Stick it out, stay diligent, and trek farther into the woods and prairies than most hunters are willing. That's how you get around crowded hunting areas.