By Josh Boyd
With the passing of every year, it seemingly becomes ever more difficult to procure private land access for the purpose of deer hunting. Continued urban sprawl has turned many a promising farm into a subdivided neighborhood, and increased competition for available access has driven lease prices to astronomical rates.
This reduction in access has seen many hunters take to state and federally owned game lands, in a bid to locate a spot from which to watch their next sunrise afield. However, in many areas, hunting pressure on any such property is immense and competition for a number of the best spots is fierce.
In such cases, a hunter’s best bet is to forge their own path and locate a spot where few ever journey. To do so, intense preseason scouting can provide a wealth of opportunity which most do not seize upon.
The following are some key strategies to assist you in making the most out of any preseason public land scouting trip.
Go Where Few Can
In order to find many of the best, and most overlooked public hunting spots, you will likely need to go further than most would dare venture. In all honesty, most among us like to take the path of least resistance, and this mentality carries over to the hunting strategies employed by many. In the eyes of the vast majority of public land hunters, there is no sense in walking a mile when they can hunt 300 yards from the parking area.
This is precisely where the strong-willed public land hunter can gain a distinct advantage. By studying the area in which you wish to hunt, and locating hard to reach areas, you will leave many other hunters behind you, as well as the hunt wrecking pressure which they bring. Typically, if you cross beyond any form of difficult to traverse terrain features, such as a bluff, creek, or briar and bramble-filled thicket, you will find unpressured ground on the other side.
Connect the Dots
Whether found on public or private land, deer are still deer. As such, their needs for survival do not change. If you can find ample sources of food, water, and bedding cover, all within close proximity, you will find deer as well. This understanding can pay dividends for the public land hunter, as any location which features all of these elements and is far off the beaten path where pressure is minimal will often provide a wealth of opportunity.
While food plots and agricultural food sources can be quite scarce on public land, additional food sources such as secluded oak flats, and groves of fruit-bearing trees, can be key hubs of deer activity. If you add in the presence of a slow-moving creek and thick bedding cover, you
will have located a high impact location worthy of your time. By seeking out these areas on your next scouting trip, you can potentially uncover a honey-hole that few other hunters are aware of.
Let the Trails Do the Talking
Deer are creatures of habit. As such, they will typically repeat the same bed to feed travels from one day to the next, unless given a reason to discontinue these actions. In doing so, deer of an area will often traverse the same trails time and time again, as they have learned to associate this course of travel with safety.
Many of these trails tend to be so well worn that they are evident to anyone who cares to seek their location. When trails of this nature are found on public land, one should take note, as ample opportunity for success often exists. However, you should remain vigilant in minimizing intrusion to these areas, and put significant thought into how they are hunted. Deer on public land make it their mission to avoid pressure, and any disturbance can lead to a change in pattern.
Pay Close Attention to What Is Hidden in Plain Sight
Many wildlife management areas are divided into multiple units. Of these units, some tracts tend to be larger than others. In many cases, the bulk of hunters will be much quicker to focus their efforts on 400-acre tracts of ground, than they are adjacent 40-acre segments. The wonderful thing is that the deer of that same given area are keen on this as well.
Before striking out for your next scouting trip, download a map of any WMA unit which you plan to scout so that it can be viewed from a phone or tablet without an internet connection. Armed with this information at your fingertips, you can explore these often-overlooked nooks and crannies that few give much more than a passing glance. If ample deer sign is found, and little in the way of human intrusion is evident, this is more than likely where you want to be on opening morning.
Scouting Makes All the Difference
When planning to hunt public ground this coming fall, a timely scouting trip or two can set you apart from the vast number of fellow hunters which you will be sharing the woods with. By thoroughly combing areas where few will venture, keeping tabs on ground that is hidden in plain view, uncovering bed to feed patterns, and studying the trails in between, you will place yourself in contention to experience a fall like none other.