Well, here we are at the final of my three part series on hunting public land, “How to use hunting pressure to your advantage when hunting public land”. As with the other two parts in this series, for many of you this information may not be at all surprising but it is my hope that there are a few that will benefit from what I have learned during my 15+ years of hunting public land.
I truly believe that one of the greatest factors for why some hunters avoid public land is hunting pressure. I’ll be the first to admit there have been times when I seriously doubted my own sanity for hunting on public land, especially during the gun seasons. However, when you live within a one hour drive of over one million acres of Wildlife Management Area land it pays to find ways to use hunting pressure to your advantage. Here are three of the tactics I employ each year to use pressure to my advantage.
Take a hike!
If there is one thing I have found while hunting public land it is that there are a lot of hunters that fear getting lost, or perhaps they are just plain lazy. Now I am not trying to offend anyone, so if this applies to you then please consider it constructive criticism and not a direct insult. More often than not hunters stay within a few hundred yards of where they park their truck. The only time they may venture further away is if they are able to use an access road to walk to where they plan to hunt. I have been there myself, so I speak from experience when I say these hunters will probably see deer the first day or two on the stand and then the deer just disappear. There are a few exceptions to this rule so keep reading, the next section will include a couple examples of when to break this rule. For now, consider getting off the beaten path. Use topo maps to identify old roads that are no longer used, search for saddles or other terrain features that create natural funnels located away from access roads. In some cases you may get lucky and find old abandoned farms or home sites. Many of which will sometimes hold a long forgotten orchard that still produces fruit each year. I know of one North Georgia WMA that contains the remnants of an old ghost town. On another WMA I sometimes hunt there is an out of the way tract of land that for the past few years I have pretty much had to myself during archery season because the only access is by foot. So pack a lunch and plenty of water and wear out some boots. It just may pay off for you.
Sometimes the obvious is simply ignored
Practically every year, usually by accident, I locate a whitetail hotspot in an obvious location. These are usually so close to the road that many times I can see my vehicle while in my stand, or I may be able to hear kids playing in their yards, and in one case I listened to an air compressor turn on like clockwork every 60 minutes because it obviously had a leak.
It is hard to even tell you what to look for, because there is nothing really specific about these locations, in fact the only common trait is I almost always have the area completely to myself. Deer, and especially older bucks, learn pretty quickly how to avoid hunters and if there is an area where there is little human activity they will take advantage of such a location. When I was thinking about writing this article two locations such as this came to mind. The first always makes me chuckle a little because I have even told people about this spot and still I have never seen another hunter near it. I found a funnel to a wildlife opening right behind a DNR check station! It seems a lot of hunters avoid the DNR. Who would have figured that? I once shot a doe so close to this DNR check station that the DNR Officer on duty there heard my shot. Now, to his credit waited till he heard me coming down in my climber and then called out to ask if I had made a good shot. He even helped me drag the deer out of the woods. Below is an image from Google Earth of that exact location. Before and since that day I have taken several deer from this spot and never have a witnessed another hunter in the area.
The second kind of “obvious” location I look for is any form of natural funnel where open hardwoods border roads, power lines or even a river or large creek. In Georgia this is sometimes provided by a strip of dense pines or other really thick sliver of cover. Many times it can be hard to find trees large enough for stands in these types of locations which is another reason they are ignored by many hunters. Just this year I have keyed in on such a location during spring scouting that offers tons of sign, has resulted in numerous photos on my game cam and I am very excited about this location . Yet there is not a tree larger than 6″ in diameter at the base anywhere in the area I want to hunt. So, I have built a natural ground blind and will be waiting on a wind out of the Northwest come archery season. The image below is that actual sliver of pines. The deer are coming out of the hardwoods and they are using the pines for cover, walking parallel to the road to a larger stand of pines to the Southeast. You would have to see the activity through there to believe it. It is thick, nasty and COMPLETELY ignored by the other hunters. We’ll see what happens this fall.
Searching for an Escape
The final tactic I want to share with you probably comes too late to use effectively this season. Yet it is one of my favorites and did result in my largest public land buck to date. What I try to do is locate escape routes used by deer when the pressure is on. I do this by getting back out into the woods a month or so after the season has ended. By then the woods have calmed down from hunter activity and the deer have started settling back into a normal routine. So, I usually take a break from the woods till late January or early February and then it is time to start kicking things up. This time of year the woods are still very open so I can see much further than I can once the leaves start showing up. Plus I can disturb the deer without it having a negative impact on my success the next season as the deer will settle back into their normal routines long before the next archery season. This is the one time of the year that I also intentionally break a cardinal rule in that I slowly push deer out of their bedding areas. I move very slowly so as not to send the deer into the next county, I want them to leave one security area and head towards another. Basically I want to see where they go when disturbed, and I want to make a note of the path they chose when they left. I will then investigate the path taken by the disturbed animals and if I am lucky I can locate a lesser used trail indicating an escape route. I make a note in my journal and/or on my GPS and will use this information the following season. As I stated my largest buck on public land to date was a result of this method. I had pushed a couple of decent bucks out of a bedding area a few different times over a couple of years and had notes in my log and I felt this might be a good location to ambush a buck sneaking away from other hunters. I waited for the first “Managed Gun Hunt” on this WMA when I knew there would be a higher number of people in the woods. I slipped into the area well before daylight the first day of the hunt with a sandwich and several bottles of water and prepared to sit all day. At the end of day 1, nothing, this was a Thursday and I planned to be back the next day. Day 2 resulted in the same result. I saw a couple does milling around at about 100 yards but nothing else. Saturday morning I began to question my tactic and almost headed to a different location but I felt confident that I was in a good location, I just needed some luck. So, on Saturday I am back in the stand well before first light and my wait began. I could hear a lot of activity on the roads through the WMA, especially around 10am as people started heading out of the woods. Mid-day came and went with little activity at all. Then around 3pm I started hearing gravel popping again as hunters were returning to their stands for the afternoon. I heard a vehicle stop nearby and could hear soft voices and other light noises. About 45 minutes later, a flicker of movement caught my eye. I stared at the area but could not make out anything and began to think it was a sparrow or some other small bird flitting through the underbrush. Then as if he just appeared out of nowhere, a large bodied 10 point stepped plainly into view. He was sneaking his way right down the trail that I knew would lead him to a broadside shot at about 12 yards. I held my breath and tried to calm my nerves. About 20 seconds later he stepped into an opening and within a brief moment I saw my nock disappear behind his shoulder. He only went about 50 yards and piled up.
No tactic works perfectly every time. But this one instance of success will keep this tactic in my list for some time to come and I highly recommend you give it a try before next season.
Well there you have it. I hope everyone will find something useful out of the three different articles. As I am sure you already know, nothing is absolute when it comes to hunting. But over the years I have harvested a lot of deer, on public land, using these tactics. Sometimes the results are better than others but they each should have a place in your tool belt when you hit the woods this fall.
Public Land Whitetails taken by the author on public land in Georgia, Indiana and North Carolina
If you do utilize any of these tactics as a new approach this fall and you experience success as a result, please come back and share with me. Nothing would make me happier than to know you were successful as a result of something you read here. Until then……..
May all your arrows find their mark,