Public lands house some of the best game, and sourcing the opportunity for big buck kills starts with skill. While many enjoy the close proximity of private hunting grounds with familiar game, public lands are where you’ll find the unseen and unexpected bucks alongside the mysterious and often uncharted landscape of untouched nature. Deer hunters have been pursuing game on public land for decades, most of which choose so out of necessity, not by choice. But, the perks of hunting on public lands can grow with skill.
Pros vs. Cons
For starters, hunting on public lands is free; however, the space you choose to hunt can be crowded if well-known, leading to an unproductive hunt. Hunting on public lands can bring an element of frustration and danger to the hunt that many hunters would prefer to avoid. Gunshots, unfamiliar landscape, and territorial companions can alter your experience for the worst, but that isn’t always the case. Research, scouting, calculation, caution, and persistence are all exercises that benefit a group or solo public hunt. Gaining experience is half the battle, but once you wash, rinse, and repeat, you can curate a pretty clean kill. Public land deer hunting is an American heritage and can yield impressive results.
1. Hunt Low-Pressure Public Lands
Over-settled regions pose a problem when it comes to hunting public lands. If you live in an area with too much development, it can be a challenge to source the landscape you need to find deer. Space and solitude increase west of the Mississippi, but the dark and distant hollow of Southeastern territory never fails. Travel is never out of the question, and the Plain states from North Dakota to Texas and west to the Rockies are especially empty. Finding such places requires research and scouting, a critical process in developing your public hunting repertoire. Studying state department fish and game websites with statistics, license sales, success rates, and more can help you source low-pressure public lands.
2. “Hunt” for Habitat
While location drives real estate, habitat drives hunting. A 100-acre public hunting lake isn’t going to house many deer, but the surrounding fringe of forestry might. Inconspicuous pastures broaden into brushy pockets perfect for hiding big bucks. Using satellite images or apps, you can learn to outline hunting zones within public lands that offer amazing game.
3. Scope Out the Area
Superior opticals and hours of magnification can bring those o-so-distant deer into view. Binoculars and spotting scopes can make far-reaching buck visible from as far as 4 miles out. Find a high spot then scan early or late in the day when deer are most likely moving. They may be moving from heavy brush or forest to cross a meadow or pasture or grazing in beds of alfalfa, wheat, or corn. Pay attention to their habits: where they’ve come from, what they’re doing, and where they’re going.
If you’ve spotted a forage cornucopia, this means a concentration of deer. Check crop fields for tracks and droppings, mark them, visit at dawn and dusk, and you might find feeding grounds that are traded off seasonally.
4. Work Around Privacy Boundaries
“No Hunting” signs obviously indicate that you’ve encountered private land. Working around those boundaries takes skill. A private ranch may encompass plenty of deer, but bucks often wander outside of grounds. Seek likely travel routes near fence/property boundary crossings that offer areas of least resistance from ranchers.
5. Rethink Your Routine
While old bucks might indeed stick to a relatively circumscribed area no wider than 2 or 3 miles, but some may move as many as 10 miles in a night. If the deer are moving far, you have to think big. If you’ve hunted public lands for some time, you may have already had to perfect this skill. Changing up your routine when you run into empty hunting grounds can offer new opportunities. As we’ve mentioned, private grain fields can sometimes offer space for public hunting nearby. A crafty, tougher-than-most buck has his routines too but can easily stray off-course. Find a comfortable buck standing in what appears to be safe territory between brush and private land, and you may have found the biggest kill of the year.
6. Hunt Small
Don’t overlook tiny thickets perfect for camouflaging deer. Bucks know how to assume a low profile which is true in heavily hunted places where undisturbed areas are scarce. If a buck finds a nice isolated patch of hiding cover, he might not know or care what it’s near, so long as he can nap undisturbed. Disturbing a buck’s rest territory is one way to flush them out when the time is right.
7. Try Big and Wild!
When traveling is an option, big public-land Rockies can provide hunting hotspots for mule deer. Conifer forest can also hide whitetails just as well as mule deer. You can spot them foraging beside elk or flagging from willow to graze in sagebrush. Western public lands can hold a variety of deer, all you have to do is find them. Hunting Western public lands in October or November is the perfect time to find migratory whitetails trying to avoid the deep snow freeze.
Deer Hunting Tips | Big Buck Bounty | Mississippi and Alabama
Hunting on public lands can be an exciting new activity for a seasoned, private lease hunter. Whether it’s your first time or you have plenty of public hunts under your belt, it’s helpful to refresh your memory and see what others suggest. Discover the best hunting tips from experts in the field! Join the Big Buck Bounty newsletter and take a look at some prize-winning bucks found on private and public lands over the years. Browse public hunting lands in Mississippi and Alabama and see if your buck lands in the trophy room!