Deer Hunting Public Land

deer hunting public land
Hunting deer on public land


If, like me, you are fortunate enough to be able to hunt quality public land for whitetail deer throughout the Midwest and other areas throughout the country, you know the excitement and thrill that it can provide. I’m sure you are questioning my choice of words for the opening statement. I assure you I meant what I said. Fortunate and public land deer hunting do not find themselves in the same sentence very often. Public land deer hunting gets a bad rap and sometimes it’s deserved, but often it’s not. We are fortunate to have public land deer to hunt. It is a valuable resource available to all deer hunters. Public land is especially valuable to those that don’t have their own deer hunting property. Those who have taken the time and put in the work that’s required to hunt public land know this first hand. 

Public land deer hunting can make any hunter want to put down his bow for the season and call the bank to take out a loan to purchase a fancy hunting lease for the next year. In an era of immediate gratification, some hunters have lost a true sense of what the hunt is really about. Public land deer hunting is tough because you’re not the only person hunting the property. This doesn’t mean that public land isn’t worth the time and effort it just means it takes more time and effort. Many things, including public land deer hunting, is how you look at them and where some see public land deer hunting as a last resort, I see opportunity. With a different outlook and philosophy, along with these few tips and you too can put your tag on a dandy public land whitetail.

The archery hunter and the rifle hunter have two very different philosophies when it comes to deer hunting. I’m not saying that gun hunters are wrong and bowhunters are right, or the other way around. I’m just encouraging hunters to think outside the box and use what they know to their advantage. Rifle hunters can simply take the information given in this article and information they have gathered elsewhere and do the exact same thing. For those who bow hunt on public land during rifle season, those who hunt after their states gun season ends or heavily pressured land, we can learn from these different philosophies and use the knowledge to our advantage.


The nationally agreed-upon argument against public land deer hunting is pressure. “There are too many hunters on public land.” In some cases, they might be right, but you can find less pressured areas on public land. Using the internet and maps will help you locate these areas and where some hunters see a problem, others see an opportunity. If you didn’t know this already, guns are not the only weapon you can hunt deer with. Just because the masses may take to the field on the opening day of gun season in November, it doesn’t mean the woods will be standing room only come September. Bowhunters on public lands are only a fraction of rifle hunters. In many states, archery hunters have two full months of hunting free of gun hunters. This is a perfect opportunity to get in the woods and tag an early-season public land whitetail.

Every hunter knows that bullets fly farther than arrows and because of this, hunters using these weapons hunt deer in different ways. Both with different ideas about how to go about tagging their buck. An archery hunter needs his buck to be within close range in order to shoot, but a rifle hunter has much more room to play with. Distance is such an important issue for bowhunters that it requires much more preparation than hunting with a rifle.  

Since a deer must be close, scouting plays a huge role in determining an archery hunter’s success. Every detail and scenario should be planned out and thought through. Scouting on public land is best done in January or February after the season has ended. Deer you may encounter will have forgotten the intrusion by the time next season comes around. Also, in most states during this time, public lands tend to see less traffic. This gives you the opportunity to have the property all to yourself, while not disturbing anyone’s hunt.  You need to look for the typical deer sign.  Trails, rubs, scrapes, funnels, pinch points, and food. But the most important piece of habitat to look for is cover.


Public lands receive high hunting pressure throughout the hunting season so cover becomes very important to the deer as well as the public land deer hunter.  Deer need to find that place where they feel comfortable enough to bed down.  As we think about hunting pressure on public land we need to rethink our typical thoughts on the topic of pressure.  

The saying, “Keep your friends close but your enemies closer,” is spot on in this situation. We need to stop complaining about other hunters and use what we already know. Gun hunters need open land.  The open cover gives you the ability to see and shoot deer farther away. Rifle hunters will typically choose stand locations near open ground to increase their chance of seeing deer. I mentioned earlier that we needed to look for cover when scouting. We need to do this because gun hunters won’t typically hunt thick cover because shot opportunities are fewer. This means that there is less pressure in those areas where the cover is thickest. Bowhunters can hunt thick cover. There may be pressure from gun hunters, but by doing your homework you can increase your success on public land.

Now that we have found the thick cover, and know why we should be hunting it, we need to know how to hunt it. Deer use this thick cover to hide from gun hunters and other archery hunters.  More often than not, whitetails are using this cover as a bedding area. It is a place they feel secure. Because this is a bedding area, we don’t want to disturb the area. The deer currently feel comfortable enough to remain on the public land and we don’t want to do anything to change that.


Oftentimes the best strategy for public land deer hunting is to hunt the escape routes leading from the more open areas, where the deer felt comfortable before hunting season, to thick cover. When pressured, deer will use familiar trails to escape.  These trails lead right to the thick cover you’ve found while scouting in the off-season. You want to find the deer highways that lead right to the thick cover. Find the edge of the thick cover with some deer signs. You should set your stand far enough away so that you don’t spook deer bedded down while walking to and from your stand. When choosing a stand location, or which stand to hunt, remember to predict where the deer are coming from.  This way you know where the deer will be and where they are going and you can play the wind accordingly.  

A setup like this allows other hunters to drive the deer towards you. When hunting a stand similar to this on public land, remember staying on the stand longer often pays off.  When other hunters get restless during the mid-morning, they leave their stand.  During this time they may startle deer on their way out.  When this happens, you can bet they’ll be running a trail straight to the thick cover near you.

On the surface, hunting pressure on public lands may seem like an obstacle to public land success. However, if you think out of the box, you can put a tag on a public land whitetail.

Scent And Deer Hunting

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.