Whether you have access to 500 acres of pristine private deer land or you’re hoping to be the first vehicle in the parking lot at a public game management area, harvesting a whitetail with archery equipment is a difficult task. No matter your approach or technique, getting a deer into bow range and successfully executing an ethical and effective shot is hard. And let’s be honest, accomplishing this on public land takes things to a whole new level of difficulty. Having said this, successfully hunting whitetails on public land can be done with the right approach and a little determination. There are a great number of hunters across the country that are all sharing the same public land, but the technology and products that are available to us are better than ever. Great public land opportunities exist in nearly every whitetail state, you just need to go out and grab it.
Public Land Access
Several premier whitetail states still offer a great deal of public land that can be hunted by anyone motivated to do so. Most of the Midwest, southern, and southeastern whitetail states all provide quality opportunities, along with regions of the western United States that support whitetail habitat. If you’re a public land whitetail hunter or looking to become one, the land and tools are available to get the job done. Nebraska, Kansas, Minnesota, Wisconsin, North and South Dakota, Missouri, and several others all have public acres waiting to be explored by the ambitious whitetail hunter. Learning quality public land opportunities in your home state and relatively close to where you live is a great place to start. It takes time and energy to be successful with a bow on public land so convenient access to that land is an advantage. Out of state adventurous trips, although far more difficult with a much tougher learning curve, can often provide the most valuable experience when trying to learn the ways of a successful public land hunter. These trips force you to scout and think outside the box. Whether you’re packing out meat or not, a great deal of valuable knowledge will be obtained.
Research is where it all starts. Assets like hunting atlases that show public lands or OnX Hunt and other apps and websites can be invaluable. Zero in on the area you plan to hunt and familiarize yourself with the public ground that might fit your needs from the comfort of your home, even months before your hunt takes place. Identify public spots that have timber, food sources nearby and optimal bedding cover. It’s not an exact science or guarantee, but today’s technology allows you to learn a great deal about a property without ever seeing it in person. A strong preseason map scouting routine can greatly reduce the time it takes to find deer once you’re in the field. As your hunt nears, pay close attention to weather patterns that might dictate deer location and activities. If it’s been extremely dry, focus on game management areas that have a water source for example. Ever little piece of information you can gather prior to a hunt potentially helps shorten the amount of time it might take you to get a whitetail within bow range while in the field.
The Mobile Hunter
Most hunters don’t have the time to spend days on end in the field scouting before or during the season. A long weekend is often the best-case scenario, which means you want to spend the limited time you have hunting. To learn about an area or specific piece of public land while hunting, you need to be mobile. Sitting in one spot is rarely going to pay dividends, especially if your knowledge of the area is poor. The mobile, public land bowhunter is often the most successful. And along these same lines, the hunter that’s willing to walk the extra mile to get away from human disturbance is often the most successful. Whitetail deer have an incredible knack for quickly finding the small untouched areas of a property where they aren’t being disturbed by hunters. These areas are often the furthest from the trailhead or in the thickest, nastiest sections. Its for all these reasons and more, that owning and perfecting a mobile treestand setup is hugely important when bowhunting public land.
The term “hang and hunt” is widely associated with public land hunting and for good reason. In many states it’s illegal to leave a treestand up on public land overnight and for the strategic purposes we listed above, hanging a stand, hunting, and moving to the next spot is usually advantageous. A quality, lightweight hang on treestand with a set of lightweight climbing sticks is key to the public land hang and hunt. A hang on or lock on treestand will always provide the most versatility in terms of finding a tree that will allow for a safe setup in a quality location. Hang on treestands are much safer than climbing treestands or “climbers” and typically far more comfortable. Climbing sticks are the other key piece to the hang and hunt system. Tree pegs that screw into a tree are often illegal on public land, not as safe, and can be difficult to carry despite their smaller size. Climbing sticks provide a quick, but safe option to get you up a tree and to the proper place to hang a stand. The final piece to a good hang and hunt treestand system is its packability. Lack of weight is of course very important but possibly even more crucial is how your treestand and climbing sticks can be stacked together and positioned on your backpack of choice. Well thought out mobile treestands and climbing sticks should marry together in a relatively streamline fashion that distributes weight properly and creates the easiest carry possible.
Putting in the Time
Now that you’ve done your preseason research, you have the proper gear and you’re ready and willing to work hard and stay mobile, it’s time to put in the hours. Again, bowhunting any game animal is not an easy task but bowhunting whitetails on public land is even harder. Often, it’s going to take time to perfect your techniques, gear, and hunting locations. There’s no greater approach than simply spending time in the woods. Several pieces of public land across hundreds of miles may need to be explored and along the way you will have successes and failures when attempting to become a deadly public land bowhunter but isn’t that exactly why we hunt? For the trials, tribulations, and experiences we have in the field.