Tips for hunting on public land
Friday, March 11, 2016
I've done quite a bit of hunting on public land all over the United States over the years. While I've had a few bad experiences, by and large I've been pretty successful on public land hunts.
That being said, even during the best times, hunting on public land is different from hunting on private property, and you must adapt your hunting strategies to the appropriate situation. Below, I'll share some of the things I've learned along the way.
American hunters are fortunate to have literally millions of acres of public land across the United States with opportunities for hunting almost every North American species of big game. While each place is unique, there are still several common practices you should follow for success regardless of exactly where you are hunting.
First, though this should go without saying, you need to make sure you have a hunting license for the state in which you would be hunting. Then, it might also be necessary to purchase a special hunting permit for the specific piece of public land on which you intend to hunt. Some places require one; others do not.
Regardless of whether you need a special permit, you should become intimately familiar with the regulations for the land on which you intend to hunt, be it a National Forest or a military installation. For the most part, the regulations, seasons, antler restrictions and bag limits on public land will line up pretty closely with those for the rest of the state. However, sometimes the regulations are slightly different, and you could end up in trouble if you inadvertently break one of the rules.
Once you understand the rules and regulations, you can start to scout the available land for spots to hunt. It is best to find several different spots at widely separated locations. In fact, isolated spots that require more effort to get to are the best.
Since the land is open to the general public, you will be competing with many different people for hunting spots once the season opens. There are few things more disheartening than driving into the woods on the opening morning of hunting season to see someone is parked right where you intended to hunt that day. If you have to drive and walk a great distance to get to your hunting location, it is much less likely that someone else is planning to hunt there as well.
Also, as the season progresses, the animals will naturally retreat from areas with heavy hunting pressure. Big trophy animals, especially deer, do not get big by being dumb. They will usually find a remote section of the woods to hang out without being disturbed by hunters. If you are hunting far from where other hunters are, you will be much more likely to encounter more animals.
You can also make other hunters work for you by scouting for areas where animals will likely retreat to once the season begins. If you've identified a likely place, then position yourself there or in a natural funnel the animals will have to pass through to get there, there is a good chance you'll get a shot at something pushed your way by another hunter.
On public land, some of the most productive days of hunting will probably be at the beginning of the season. After that first weekend of the rifle season, the amount of animals seen will dramatically decrease as they react to hunting pressure and start moving more at night and retreating to more isolated locations. You can still be successful later in the season, but you'll have to adapt to changing circumstances.
Another strategy is to hunt during archery and/or muzzleloader season if your state offers those special seasons, especially if they occur before the general rifle season. Since these seasons are typically hunted by a much smaller number of people, they are a great time to hunt public land and potentially fill your tag before the woods are flooded with hunters during the rifle season.
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