Contrary to what most people believe, hunting on public land doesn’t mean saying goodbye to finding deer and hello to hunting pressure. You just have to KNOW what to do and come in with a strategy to have a successful trip.
Read our guide on how to find good hunting spots on public land wherever you are in the country, so you can make the most out of the season!
- Step 1: Use Technology to Your Advantage
- Step 2: Scout Remotely
- Step 3: Location, Location, Location!
- Step 4: Speed-Scouting Public Land
- Step 5: Get Creative with Property Access
- Step 6: Hunt for the Freshest Sign
- Step 7: Organize and Store Your Data
- Step 8: Post-Season Scouting
- Final Words
Step 1: Use Technology to Your Advantage
Your grandfather may have had to rely on old-school maps and their unreliable dial-up internet connection to get shoddy bits of information for their deer hunt on public land.
This made scouting a next-to-impossible task for many with its steep learning curve. It also had the bad effect of disturbing the hunting public areas.
But THANK GOD technology has come a long way. So why not TAKE ADVANTAGE of it?
Today, the world and all its information are literally at your fingertips. Your PHONE IS KEY to a successful DIY whitetail hunting trip.
If you know what to do with them, map-based smartphone hunting apps can make hunting public land a breeze.
Advantages of Hunting Apps
You no longer have to rely on Google Earth just for a map.
Specific hunting apps can put you in key hunting locations in a flash and massively improve your success rate in your weeklong bowhunting trip.
These apps are specifically tailored for hunting and provide many public land hunters (LIKE YOU) with all the information to successfully hunt on public land. They also have features that apply to SPECIFIC TYPES of hunting.
Apps You Can Try
Among the app options out there for public land hunting, two apps stand out: Onx Hunt and HuntStand.
As a note, ScoutLook has merged with HuntStand to form ONE SUPER APP that every hunter needs to try (so you’re not stuck in your parking lot because of a wasted deer hunting trip).
And if you’re a previous user of ScoutLook, you need not worry because you should automatically be migrated to HuntStand while keeping all your account and location data. Yes, even if it’s a parking lot.
Interested yet? Now let’s get down to the details so you can decide what’s best for you.
1. Onx Hunt
With Onx Hunt, one of the top features for whitetail hunting on public lands is the private and public landowner information so you know when you’ve accidentally strayed into private land.
This can also help the hunting public find new spots anytime. Other interesting features include:
- The wind and weather forecast also helps you plan your hunt around natural weather changes and wind direction.
- You also get plenty of tools to help you organize and mark locations of tree stands, trail cameras, particular trees, access routes, and any deer sign, among others, using waypoint icons and colors.
- A line and shape tool can also help you measure distances and acreage using only your phone.
This app is a hunter’s dream when hunting public land for whitetails anywhere in the country.
Huntstand is arguably the most beneficial app for the whitetail hunter in you. They give ALL THEIR USERS nationwide access to their parcel layer.
Even if you don’t pay, you get 10 free parcel queries each month. And you can upgrade this for as little as $19.99 per year.
What else is in store? Well…
- Their public-access layer gives you info on all publicly-owned property in the U.S. With further zooming in, it becomes a detailed topo map then clear satellite imagery.
- With its solunar information, you can see peak times to maximize your arrow and bowhunting times.
- You can even mark up parcels with very detailed info related to stand locations, access routes, trail cameras, and more so you don’t need to remember that weird-looking tree stand just to retrace your footsteps.
- And if you want a backup in case your smartphone dies, you can create personalized and detailed high res maps of hunting areas and other great places, then order a printed version up to 4 x 6 feet in size, which you’ll have in as little as 4 days.
Whitetails watch out, here YOU come!
If you’re unsure of whether this is for you, their FREE VERSION has tons of features you can try to get an idea of the many benefits using this app has for finding the best hunting area on public land for you.
Step 2: Scout Remotely
You can also start scouting even BEFORE you get to the area so you can form a strategy and have a good idea of what to expect in the public land areas you’re eyeing.
Scouting remotely lets you determine habitat diversity, locate water and food sources as well as timber-species convergences.
This also lets you look for:
- Travel routes
- Any deer bedding area in those spots
- Areas in those public lands that are difficult to access where big bucks and deer may be hiding
And because a lot of things can go wrong, you can also download up to 40 miles of area information as a BACKUP in case you lose cell service during your bowhunting trip.
Remember that all deer hunting spots are unique, so choose areas where people do not go. Mature public land deer patterns humans and avoid spots frequented or continually disturbed by humans.
Step 3: Location, Location, Location!
No matter how much research and scouting you’ve done beforehand, there are tons of factors that could affect your actual hunt.
You can face pressure from other hunters, a bad wind pattern, or more. Most public land hunters know even the smallest sign can spook your deer.
And if you’re not prepared when something unforeseen occurs, you’d have to start from scratch! Yikes!
So to be more efficient and make the most of your hunt in or post-season, choose a central area with access to multiple deer hunting spots.
That way, it will be easy to change to a different area if something goes wrong, like when you miss your target buck.
BONUS: For those living near New Mexico, we have just the guide for you. You can read up on our article about the Best Elk Hunting Units Around New Mexico if you’re interested!
Step 4: Speed-Scouting Public Land
Before you even start shooting or stalking, spend the FIRST DAY of your trip speed-scouting the area. While you’ve gathered a lot of data during your remote scouting, things may be very different in real life.
The country is rich in biodiversity and topography. Because of this, some areas look completely different when you ACTUALLY see them. So spend your first day driving around the spots you plan to hunt to confirm what your app has told you:
- Stop and check the trees for markings once in a while
- Check the ground
- Do some habitat work if you feel that particular spot of the property has one promising sign or two
If some areas of that piece of the public property turn out to be unsuitable for finding bucks or doing bowhunters’ work, just mark it off and proceed to the other public properties you have in mind.
Step 5: Get Creative with Property Access
You need to find good hunting locations that aren’t crawling with the hunting public while still having enough game to make it worth your while.
If the property borders water, use a kayak to access that portion that other hunters will seldom visit. If there are steep areas that most people can’t get into, push yourself to (SAFELY) trek into that area.
And while you’ll find the most success in a hunting area that’s difficult to reach, there may be hidden gems in certain overlooked spots or even those near a parking lot or parking area!
It’s about being smart about who you do your deer hunting. And we’re SURE you have the brains for this operation!
Step 6: Hunt for the Freshest Sign
Here’s one thing you need to remember: Deer, especially big public land bucks, won’t go far from the safety of their bedding area during the day.
What does this mean for you?
Well, you can position yourself 100 yards away from a bedding area to give yourself the HIGHEST CHANCE of seeing these deer during legal shooting hours.
While this may be an aggressive tactic, believe us when we say this is one way to BUMP UP your success rate.
Step 7: Organize and Store Your Data
With all the info at your fingertips from deer beds, weather, specifics of various public lands, spots big bucks frequent, and more, you’ll have a pretty good idea of what you’re likely to expect before your hunt.
But the thing is, there may be new things you’ll notice during your trip that wasn’t in the app.
For example, a hunter may favor a particular hidden spot by a tree stand with good deer trails. All of this WILL VARY from area to area and season to season.
So it’s best to ensure you always update your app with WHATEVER INFO you find throughout your season so that it’s easy to search up later on.
This also lets you remember the right spots where you’ve had good luck before, so you don’t have to search for them again.
Lots of public lands can be small or large, but even other hunters know each area will have its particularities.
Make your life easier and organize all your data so scouting deer won’t be as time-consuming next time!
Step 8: Post-Season Scouting
You may think you have no choice but to give up the hunt whenever it’s post-season (December to January). Think again.
There is a saying: “Know thy enemy.” This is as true for deer hunts, as anything else.
Various properties will let you conduct some post-season hunting so you can learn more about that one piece of public property, as well as the deer you’re so obsessed with.
And when you combine post-season scouting with a pre-season session as well, you’ll gather double the data.
Allow Us to Explain
You see, pre-season deer have VARIOUS DEER MOVEMENT PATTERNS and behaviors than post-season deer, so you can combine both of these to find their average pattern.
You can also know when and where to target them on the property and come up with the perfect strategy for your public land hunts during hunting season.
While post-season scouting can seem to be one laborious and uncomfortable task, doing this on public lands where you plan to hunt DURING the season will greatly increase your chances of having a good hunt on that property.
So when you can, give post-season scouting a try! You may be pleasantly surprised!
Hunting on public land can seem daunting and nearly impossible, but we’ve given you an excellent place to start.
It’s all about finding the good spots on the public land, being patient, and doing the (digital) legwork.
CHANGELOG: June 15, 2022 - Made minor updates to content September 9, 2021 - Reviewed and updated article links