Public Land Hunting Whitetails
There are hundreds of millions of acres of huntable public land nationwide. Yes, a lot lies in the western part of the country, however, there is still plenty of land throughout the rest of the country to be used for general public use. With that being said there are many myths about public hunting areas, leaving it with a stigma. For many years I avoided even attempting to hunt public land due to the stories that surrounded it. Here are a few pieces of personal insight I've discovered over the last 3 years of hunting public ground to help guide you to success.
The first thing I had ever heard was the supposed horror stories of people everywhere, guys setting up on top of each other in complete chaos, and bullets and arrows flying everywhere like a war zone. This couldn't be any further from the truth. I've had many times where I've never seen another person out, but there have been some times when I've seen 3 or 4. The biggest takeaway I've had is to communicate with your fellow hunters in the parking lot to help prevent setting up on each other. 99% of hunters you meet in the parking lot would rather have a conversation so you both end up having a good hunt.
Map studies have also helped lead to my success. With technology today, you can dial in on deer without trekking through the woods, and blowing deer out of beds. OnX, Spartan Forge, and even Google Earth are some of the Apps out there to get to know your terrain. A satellite image will only show you so much, but it can give you some key features to hone in on so you're not wasting time with boots on the ground. With that being said though, boots on the ground, and seeing things at ground level is another key to success.
I had a conversation recently with a good friend of mine who was struggling to find deer in Tennessee on public grounds. He sent me several screenshots of areas he thought would be great spots that hold deer. I agreed with the areas he was looking at, however, I stated he needed to get boots on the ground as well and look for signs of deer. I've seen where guys pull into a piece of public land, don't spot a deer or track upon exiting their vehicle, and get right back in the truck to leave. I like to call these "lazy hunters". You need to do your homework to dial in on the deer movement in your area regardless of whether it's public or private land. As I stated to my friend, if you see no sign of deer regardless of the food, water, or habitat in the area, then it's time to move on. As hunters, I think we get blinded by this way too often.
Lastly, ask yourself where is the hunting pressure. As the season progresses and more and more hunters take to the field pressure on deer goes up. Watching where guys go when heading into the woods, or having those conversations in the parking lot will tell you a lot about the pressure being applied to a certain piece of ground. Plan around that pressure. If you see a lot of guys only going in 100-300 yards to hunt, go in deeper. If you see everyone going deep in, stay closer to the access.
There is a particular piece of ground in Northern Illinois that I hunt where everyone seems to go as far back in as they can. When I run into these guys in the parking lot, they tell me they saw no deer, but I may have seen half a dozen staying close to the front of the property. I've shot many deer off this particular piece of ground all within 1-200 yards from the parking lot. One of the deer I harvested was my biggest public land buck that I shot setting up 80 yards from the parking lot on the ground. Setup to the pressure. If you see 3 people go left, you go right, find the sign, set up, and get your deer.
Hopefully, some of these pointers help guide you to some success. Give public land a shot. You may lose access to your private hunting land or lease, but don't let that keep you from getting out. As stated at the beginning of this, there are millions of acres of public land out there to take advantage of, don't let the public land stigma keep you on the couch. Hop on a hunting app, figure out where the public land is by you, take a drive, do some scouting, and fill your freezer with your next harvest.
Good Luck & Straight Shooting!