Hello again outdoors world! Just in case you have been hiding under a rock somewhere the past month, hunting season is here! Millions of people are now venturing afield in search of game big and small. I am not any different than most of the hunters out there, and I am usually stuck hunting public lands. After a couple decades of learning I have developed many different tricks to hunting public lands and I have decided to let you in on how I have had lots of success doing so.
I normally hunt the central farmlands of Wisconsin. This area of Wisconsin holds some of the best deer hunting in the entire state. Seeing how Wisconsin is always ranked at or near the top deer hunting state in the country, it serves to me to say that I hunt in the best area in the country for whitetail deer. This unfortunately does not help when you are stuck hunting on heavily pressured public lands. There is one downfall to hunting here though. Wisconsin also has one of the highest populations of hunters, making it one of the highest hunter per square mile densities in the nation. This means if you are hunting on heavily pressured areas you must work a little bit harder for success. But the hunters are there for a reason. This area is mainly small parcels of land, forty to eighty acres a piece, adding yet more challenges. The majority of the tips I will be giving here are geared towards areas such as this, but most are equally as effective on all sides of the country.
The best way to find the best spot to hunt is to hunt where the deer are. To do this requires scouting. I am not talking about going out the week before the season opens and randomly walking around the woods to see what looks good. Start your scouting in the winter. With snow cover and no hunters in the woods, it is easy to see where the highest concentrations of deer are. Well used trails and bedding areas can be clearly identified and your search for next year’s stands becomes a no brainer. Once you have a promising area picked out, go on the internet. Load up Google Earth and study the whole area. Make a mental note of agricultural fields, creek beds, wood lots, and any other terrain that might affect deer movement. Deer are not restricted to property lines. You might have public access to a bedding area and the deer’s food source may be 2 forties over. Maybe the property you have is a travel corridor and does not hold any food source or bedding cover. Studying satellite maps will help you identify which type of property you might be hunting. Look at the big picture. Trail cameras, where legal are a great tool, but keep in mind not everyone who uses public lands are upstanding individuals. If you are going to use trail cameras on public lands, do yourself a favor and by cheap. I for one have lost many of them to thieves. I am sure you would rather lose a $50 camera as opposed to a top of the line $200 camera.
Tip #2 Get Off The Road
The majority of pressure on public lands is close to the road. Even hunters who venture far off the road will still have to enter off of the road. With more scent and foot traffic closer to the road the deer tend to get pushed deep. The farther from the road you can get to, the less pressure the deer are under. In this area it is rare to catch sight of a mature buck during the daytime where people are, unless he was pushed to being there. I will use my Waushara County Wisconsin “Stompin Grounds” property as an example of this. This particular piece of property is about 60 acres. It is surrounded on 2 sides by QDMA managed farms with large agriculture fields. The front part of this parcel is heavily hunted with deep thick wooded lowland for the back half. It is hard terrain to navigate making the pressure on the back half non existent. To get to my stand locations in the back, I must walk a half mile through this lowland, but my odds of having my hunt foiled by another hunter are minimal. This brings me to my next tip.
Tip #3 Leave Early
If you really want to get in to a spot where there are no hunters, get in there early! Public lands are just that, public. You cannot make reservations; this is a first come first serve operation. You can have the best spot picked out to sit and all the best intentions, but if someone gets there before you then you are out of luck. It also helps you in other ways to get in as early as possible. If you can be in your stand an hour or more before dark, then you give a chance for the woods and it’s inhabitants to settle down and forget you are there. If you are hunting a bedding area in the morning then you will definitely want to be in there before the deer get there from their night time food sources. I see a lot of public land hunters walk into the woods right at shooting light. These are usually the people walking out of the woods in the evening not dragging a deer behind them. Getting in there early will increase your odds of success dramatically. Same goes if you are hunting the evening. Do not just go out an hour before dark and expect them to come out before sunset. Get out there as early as you can. You may have to sit through longer periods of inactivity, but you have a better chance of success.
Tip #4 Stay Away From Other Hunters
Should be easy to figure out. But let me go a step farther from what some may be thinking. If you pull up to a piece of property you intend to hunt, and there is another vehicle parked there, keep driving! There may only be one vehicle there but there is no way to say how many hunters. I say this tip for many reasons and I will break it all down. The main reason is safety. Especially during firearms season. If you do not know where the other hunter(s) is, then you do not know the safe areas to shoot. If you get in before light the sun might come up to reveal another hunter way too close for safety. If you do not know where the other hunters are, this is a very unsafe situation and should be avoided.
Another problem with this I will put this way. Okay close your eyes and imagine this scenario. You get into your stand well before sunrise. You set up on a trail that runs from a corn field 200 yards away to a bedding area 100 yards behind you. You have done your homework and know there is a big mature ten pointer using this trail almost every morning. The wind is perfect and your hopes are high. Like clockwork the buck leaves his corn field at first light and starts down the trail. It eases it’s way through the woods taking in it’s surroundings and browsing as it goes. Suddenly it catches a wind of something he does not like. He breaks his route and heads to a different bedding location a quarter mile in the other direction all before you even get a chance to know he is there. He did not wind you, he winded the other hunter set up on the other end of the property who also had good wind to hunt the trail he was hunting. Neither of you ever now what happened but you wondered why you did not see anything. Or maybe it was the other way around. The deer that was to come to the other guy, you just messed up because you were there. This problem can be completely avoided, and your success rate increased by picking a spot where no one else is hunting.
Tip #5 Hunt The Other Hunters
Now I do not mean in a Jeffrey Dahmer kind of way. When you are hunting heavily pressured public lands, a great tactic is to hunt escape routes. If you know where the bedding areas for the deer are in your area, set up in a way that you can catch them being chased away by other hunters. The area that I hunt for the fire arms season, I can always count on hunters coming in late and leaving early to provide me with plenty of action. Say you know the deer in your area like to bed in a creek bottom during the day, but it is also a spot you know there will be a hunter come morning. Figure out where you think the deer will run to when that hunter jumps it from it’s bed and cut off it’s escape route. Identify any funnels leaving that area. In the central farmlands of Wisconsin, come opening day of the firearms season, all rules and expectations go right out the window. You do not need to hunt food sources or hunt does. Instead hunt pinch points and funnels. Hunt the thick cover. Hunt anywhere you think a deer would go to hide from hunters.
Do not just go out with hunting only one stand on your mind. Pick the stand you want to hunt, but have a backup plan in mind. As I mentioned in tip #4, if you pull up to the spot you want to hunt and another hunter is already on that land somewhere, you will want to have another spot close by to try. If you listened to tip #3, you will definitely be thankful you left early. You may have to hit up a couple different spots before you found an empty one. I have my favorite spots to hunt, but sometimes it is just better to take a spot you do not like as much, rather than go through the headache and heartbreak of hunting around other hunters.
It also helps to rotate your stands so they do not go cold. If you have 10 different stand locations in a square mile or 2, you can keep your stands fresh. Do not sit the same stand day in and day out and expect a mature buck come around. These animals are smart and realize when they are being hunted. If I hunt a stand for 2 outings in a row, I will leave it alone for about 10 days or so and hunt a different place. Let it cool down and all scents you may have left to wash away.
Tip #7 Brush Blinds
There is no more exciting way to hunt whitetails in my opinion than brush blinds. Well with the exception of deer drives that is. A brush blind is a blind built out of naturally existing materials. A large fallen tree makes a good base for a brush blind. Build up walls using sticks, branches and fallen trees to surround you on all 4 sides. Make it big enough to accommodate at least 2 hunters. Even if it is just for hunting one person, you will want some room to stretch and move without brushing the sides of it. This will help when the deer comes in from the wrong side or behind you. Take a folding chair with you and set it up in the blind. Sit down and make the walls high enough to come up to at least your upper chest when seated. You can even put moss chinking in the walls to help block wind and weather. Brush blinds make the best blinds in the deer woods. And they are legal to leave behind. It is completely natural and deer really do not mind them and get used to them fairly quickly. This comes in handy because you do not need to haul in a pop up or tree stand in and out of the woods. This makes you very stealthy as you are not making the noise attributed to setting up a climber or pop up. The fact that you can have it there at any time and making it easy to slip in and out quietly makes this an awesome tool. You can go in the summer and build 5 or 6 of these around you hunting area and always have a place all ready to go under any circumstance you find yourself in. I actually use brush blinds more than I use all of my pop ups and many tree stands combined. The quieter you can get into your stand, the better off you will be.
Brush blinds do take some work to build and some upkeep to keep it functional. Sticks, branches, and trees used to build a blind will break down. Every year you will have to go in and stack more material on. On the average for my brush blinds, I make them about 36-48 inches high. By the time the next summer roles around they usually shrink in height anywhere from a few inches to almost half depending on what materials I have available. If I have a bunch of hardwoods logs for my wall it might not need much work at all. But if it is a blind built of mainly small branches, it may be almost wiped out and needing a total rebuild. But the advantages of hunting out of them make it well worth the work.
Thanks for stopping by to read this. I love hunting public lands and have had great success using these tactics over the years. Give them a shot and let me know how they work for you. Good luck and hunt safe everyone!