Big Bucks Public Land

Public Land Deer

how to outsmart big bucks
Rattled this great public land buck in on my first sit.

Outsmarting Big Bucks on Public Land

Most deer hunters know how important big rubs are to locating mature whitetail bucks in a particular area. Hunting terrain features linking rubs to bedding and feeding areas can be a great way for outsmarting big bucks on public land. Terrain features such as funnels, saddles, points and hubs can be located using topo maps before you ever scout your hunting area. Scouting these areas for big rubs will let you know if there is a good buck in the area and give you the confidence needed to stay on stand longer. When you know where a buck is traveling and are able to utilize the terrain features linking these areas you are putting the buck into a corner and with good entry and exit routes and proper wind direction the buck should eventually come by within bow range.

The area I hunt has a good mixture of hardwoods, swamps and cutover with lots of ridges and cropland. Over the past several seasons I have located great terrain features that tend to funnel deer through the area and providing for some great deer hunts. In the past couple seasons I have added big rubs to the equation and the outcome has been very rewarding.

Understanding Early Buck Rubs

You should begin your scouting early in an attempt to locate the first buck rubs of the season. Mature bucks almost always make the early rubs. When you locate them be sure to mark the spot or hang a stand. you’re in the living room of a mature buck. The foliage, this time of year, is thick. Early rubs are not easy to locate. They are few and far between and hard to see. Take your time and you can find these important signposts left by the bigger bucks in your hunting area.

The trick, after locating these rubs, is to align them within areas of the terrain features already noted. The rubs don’t necessarily have to be in the middle of the terrain feature you’re hunting just nearby. In fact, I prefer the rubs to be away from the terrain feature that links the area where the rubs are located with the bucks likely bedding area.

Rubs, I have found, can be a double edged sword for the deer hunter. Your initial reaction to a shredded six-inch cedar is to get up a tree and hunt within sight of that rub. Sometimes this works, but most times you should try to locate the area that the buck is likely spending his day. If the rub is in the wide open next to a field or in a stand of mature hardwoods, where you can see a mile, then that buck is likely visiting those rubs at night and a sighting during good shooting light is not likely. In the past I was hunting areas that was covered up with buck sign, but I was not seeing any mature bucks. I continued hunting these areas because I was seeing deer but decided I had to try something different.

Where do Big Bucks Hide During the Day On Public Land

Finally the decision was made to just tough it out and hunt where I thought the bigger bucks were hiding. I located the most remote areas of the public land that I hunt and began hunting terrain features that had some low browse and acorns, but no deer sign at all or at least not any that I could detect. Ironically the very first time I tried this I had a decent six point meander by my tree well before dark which was very unusual at my old stands, even for a small buck. Needless to say after many hours on stand and fine tuning to include terrain features, my buck sightings have more than doubled and just as I suspected I see very few does now and even though I like seeing deer activity I would much rather see the antlers of a mature whitetail buck.


A lake surrounds my hunting area on three sides. I like to find two or three coves fairly close together. These coves form peninsulas where deer bed and feed depending on what is located on them. Ideally I prefer at least one peninsula that contains some thickets for buck beds. It only needs to be big enough for one deer if you’re hunting big bucks. After the bachelor group phase, mature whitetail bucks are loners. A lone brush pile, left by a storm, can be enough cover for them to bed in.

How to Find a Good Hunting Spot on Public Land

I had located some big rubs. They were way out on one of the peninsulas where there was no food and not a lot of cover. I thought the buck must be making his rounds under the cover of darkness. Now comes the decision on where to set up to ambush the buck using terrain features. I didn’t want to get too close, but close enough to get a shot during the day. This may or may not include the third peninsula, between these two, which consisted of very open hardwoods and lots of acorns. It could be where the buck feeds, but again a mature whitetail will probably use the open woods at night. Setting up at the entrance to this peninsula will increase your odds at a shot.

Public Land Tree Stand Placement to Outsmart Big Bucks

I set my stand between the bed and the rubs and at the end of the peninsula with the acorns. The lake was in sight of my stand. Now, if the buck decides to leave his bed and check out his territory, I have it covered. The rubs tell me that he prefers that area and gives me a direction the buck is traveling. I have enough visual coverage of the area to adjust if the buck is coming from another direction. It helps when you have a rub line connecting all the peninsulas. This is what I had in this location.

The first mature buck was seen after several days at this stand. He emerged from nowhere at 10:45 am. It was a hot windy morning. I nearly left the woods several times, but he rubs gave me confidence that a good buck was in the area. It was mid November. The does were hot and this mature 8 point buck looked like he had been out a little late.

The Shot was True

The shot was true at 32 yards and I saw the nice eight pointer go down. The buck came down the narrow point I had chosen for this stand. The point proved to be perfect. Drainages skirted both sides and was chocked full of brush and briers. A great place to hide, but miserable for travel. When not pressured, deer will use the easiest route.  That’s where locating good terrain features is key. The buck was on the move and had no time to waste crawling through the thick stuff.

He came right down the center of the point grunting. I stopped him with a light grunt of my own and sealed the deal. Coincidentally, the buck had just made the turn to visit his rubs and scrapes on the peninsula. These thick drainages provide great bedding areas for does. The buck was probably checking for does and the quickest way was down this point. He could check both sides by smell and sound. He was signaling to deer in those thickets that he was coming through. Deer know how to use the terrain to cover more ground to locate hot does. In this case the terrain features weren’t the normal saddle or spur, but rather some ditches and a couple peninsulas.

Early Season Deer Scouting Tips

It’s time to get out there and do some early scouting and finding the terrain features that will help you harvest your next mature whitetail buck. Look for early rubs and make a note. Look at the big picture and try to imagine where deer are traveling and put together a plan. Locate the terrain features that tend to funnel deer movement into a confined area. Later in the season cautiously scout these locations and some new ones for active and aggressive rubs and be patient. Deer sightings may go down, but mature buck sightings should increase.

This approach to hunting may not be for everyone. It took me several seasons to stay away from all the sign and focus on where mature bucks were bedding. Some hunters, even if you proved this method to them, would still prefer to hunt where they can see a lot of a lot of deer. I understand this, but if you are serious about bagging a mature whitetail, especially with a bow, try this approach. This method takes some time to learn and to begin to see the whole picture, but it’s well worth the time. Hopefully this information will help you put together topos and big bucks and harvest a mature whitetail this season.

Bowhunting Sanctuary on Public Land

Hunting public land has always been a tough sale to bowhunters. The perception of too many hunters killing all the deer has been an ongoing belief for years and one with plenty of truth but as with anything there’s always peaks and valleys. I think that years of the above perception has slowly but surely reduced the number of hunters utilizing public land. I have decided to use this perception to my advantage and I’m not alone. There are many bowhunters that have figured out that leasing or even gaining permission to hunt great properties, no matter how many deer there are, is a lot more of a headache than they initially expected. This article focuses on creating your own bowhunting sanctuary on public land.

Hunting Lease vs Public Land Hunting

Leasing land or having sole permission to hunt a property, especially miles from home, can lead to some disappointing seasons. Leased properties, as well as properties you have permission to hunt, come with many problems. If you search forums you can find just as many issues, if not more, with stolen treestands and confrontations on private land as you do on public land. With the growing number of hunters taking to the woods each season the woods can become crowded. Battles can and do derive from a big buck being sighted by many from the road or on a neighboring farm. This isn’t new. I experienced it on land that I had sole permission to hunt back 30 years ago.

This is the reason I enjoy hunting public land. It’s free access or very affordable and I can move if I need to. There are thousands of acres of public land in every state that has whitetail deer. These thousands of acres provide a place to hang a stand or set a blind with little or no worry of someone slipping in and hunting it while you’re not there. I will explain. Oh it happens on occasion and I have had a few bad experiences hunting public land. However, with every bad experience knowledge is gained. I want to list a few tips to locating not just a good place to hunt on public land but a sanctuary of your own. This will take some hard work and planning. If you are a serious bowhunter then you won’t mind.

Locate Deer Hunting Public Land Sanctuary

The journey begins long before visiting the ground you plan to hunt. When deer hunting public land you might have to visit several properties before choosing the one that suits your hunting style. Do you enjoy roughing it in the backwoods or a comfortable cabin or motel or do you have a camper and enjoy using campgrounds that usually accompany these public properties. All of these things must be considered when selecting a potential property before you ever start your scouting.

The first step to scouting public land is to study maps. Your initial study should not be pinch points or funnels. These are great places to look once you know where you plan to hunt. Your initial map study should be to locate a piece of public hunting land that suits your hunting style. This could include public lands in surrounding states as well as your own. If you aren’t capable of hunting out of your home state then search within your state. There is more deer hunting public land than you might think. Once you determine the area or radius that works for you the work begins. The search should start as soon as possible and remember this might take several seasons. Once you find your very own public land bowhunting sanctuary you will find that it was well worth the effort.

Mapping For Deer Hunting Public Land

Maps are easy to find with the internet and with these maps you can go to a new public land property and have a good idea where to hunt before arriving. You can study maps online and these are great tools to locate remote areas within your chosen property and also access points where other hunters will enter the area. A sanctuary will be an area where few hunters go and this is the area you must locate. You can find low pressure areas among heavily hunted public land. It might take a little more effort. It could be a long hike or creek crossing that most will not tackle. Maybe you like to use a small boat or canoe. There is always a way to go a step further than most. This will help you find a public land sanctuary of your own.

Once you locate the property you want to hunt and that property has what is needed for your style of hunting then it is time to start planning the hunt for the upcoming season. Planning your hunt means preparing your hunting gear and shooting your bow. More importantly your planning should include an out of season trip to the property. Familiarize yourself with where you can camp or stay the night. Locate access spots and trails that can get you to the areas you think might get less pressure. If you’re like me and use a boat to access hunting areas then drive to the boat ramps around the lake and determine what ramps you can launch from during deer season. Keep in mind that during deer season the water is low. All this information is vital to a smooth and hassle free hunt once the season begins.

Video for Outsmarting Big Bucks on Public Land


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About Ken McBroom 307 Articles
Ken McBroom is an accomplished outdoor writer and photographer. Growing up in Lynchburg Tennessee allowed him many opportunities afield as a boy and young man. Later in life, after Desert Storm, Ken’s wanderlust took him to Alaska to live and work and experience the last frontier. Married now with two beautiful children, Ken now calls Kentucky home where he continues to communicate our American outdoor traditions and the lifestyle it offers.

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