Deer hunter using a canoe to access public land for better deer hunting

Making the Most of Your Public Hunting Lands

Sam Ubl 2.28.2018

Growing up my family was neither “cash-rich”, nor “land-rich”, but we were comfortable. I was born with my father’s passion for the outdoors coursing through my veins. He took me everywhere he went, no matter the weather, it was always an adventure. When you don’t own land, but you want a place to yourself, you must go further than others are willing to go and think differently than the rest. I learned a lot growing up hunting by my father’s side, one of the greatest lessons of all was learning how to navigate public hunting lands and take advantage of the millions of acres we share in this country.

RELATED: Mapping Whitetails – Hidden Secrets of County Maps

Everyone loves a neat photo of a big buck loaded in a canoe floating down a small river with a proud hunter paddling back to the truck. It boasts a tremendous story of adventure captured in a photo, only without the words. If you have the time to make an adventure out of your hunt, using a boat to access the hard-to-reach places has been paramount to my approach behind some of my most memorable hunts.

Author, Sam Ubl, paddles out a buck taken by bow on public hunting grounds while filming with Jared Scheffler. Jared Scheffler is the owner of the hit public land hunting DVD series, Whitetail Adrenaline. You can watch this hunt unfold on the 2016 DVD release, ‘DEFIANCE’ Round 1.”

The practicality of an adventure this involved isn’t for everyone, however, and it certainly isn’t conducive to the work-life balance most people juggle daily. The adage, adventure awaits, is meaningful in that the possibility for adventure will always be there, you just need the time to make it happen.

So, how does the working-class family person make the most of the limited free time they have to hit the woods?

Finding Public Hunting Land To Hunt

My home state of Wisconsin has more than 34 million acres of total landmass, with more than 5 million of those acres available to the public for hunting purposes. The Bureau of Land Management (BLM), US Forest Service (USFS), Department of Transportation (DOT), state-owned land, and Voluntary Public Access-Habitat Incentive Program (VPA-HIP), make up most of those huntable acres, but it’s your responsibility to ensure the land is open to public recreation, including hunting.

Additional opportunities for public hunting exists in smaller programs and greenways. For example, a county park may allow hunting on various sections, called greenways. These parcels are less obvious to the naked eye and occasionally unmarked, albeit they are listed on the Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources website if you do a little digging.

It seems every season a new program is unveiled that allows for public hunting in areas that have otherwise never been open to hunting in the past. An example would be a small park opening its gates to public hunting for a short calendar period as a means of herd management. These programs are the least obvious as they may only be advertised in local bulletins, a potential newspaper communication, or a post on social media.

Finding public land to hunt isn’t difficult, but determining which pieces are worth hunting boils down to digital scouting using areal imagery, driving lots of miles, and making plenty of boot tracks. A general rule of thumb is to scout three times to every one hunt. In other words, if you spend more time going in blind to hunt than you do searching for clues why you should hunt there in the first place, success will never be consistent.

Hunt With the Wind in Mind

The autumn season means shorter days and longer nights, putting a real strain on anyone trying to fit a few evening hunts into the work week. This is where I see a lot of hunters resorting to sprays advertised to reduce human scent, rather than considering the wind or burning daylight to rush home and shower before they hunt.

If you don’t mind saturating your clothes with a wet spray before heading out into the cold autumn air to hunt and the message on the bottle gives you confidence in your application, who am I to judge? If I might offer one solid piece of advice science can’t prove wrong, it’s minding the wind between your entrance to your hunting area and where you elect to set up.

Wind is free and wind is dry. Wind is also directional, such that a deer upwind will have a lot harder time picking you up with their nose than a deer downwind. When the cold of fall begins to bear down on you, why not keep your clothing dry and just use the wind to your advantage? And yes, a lot of times, this means taking a longer route in.

Look for Pockets of Unpressured Ground

When referring to public hunting land, a “pocket” is an area that is less likely to be pressured by other hunters whether it be an island in the middle of a cattail marsh or a far reaching corner of the property. I begin my search for these pockets by scanning an aerial image for the edges abutting private land furthest away from the parking lots and easy walk-in access. The ideal candidate to focus on would be a corner of the public with private on both sides and far enough away from the public access point to make it less likely to be pressured by other hunters. Once I find a spot that fits the criteria I’m looking for, I plan my assault; how will I get there, and how long will it take me?

Keep it Simple

Just because it’s a far walk, a steep climb, and a short swim to get to those less pressured pockets, it doesn’t mean there isn’t an easier way in – you just might need to get creative. Not all public hunting land borders private wooded acres that may potentially host hunting pressure on the other side of the invisible fence. When I see hunting land open to the public butting up to a neighborhood, a simple reverse address number lookup in the Whitepages, or a knock on the door may yield the permission you need to park on the road, walk across a lawn, and enter huntable public land that otherwise may have taken hours to get to going in the hard way.

Remember, public land comes in all shapes and sizes, but no matter the dimensions, it adds up to billions of acres across the country, and millions of acres in many states. As citizens of this great country, we share ownership of these lands.

Stop using the excuse, I would hunt more if I had somewhere to go, instead, go find them.


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