Contrary to what most people believe, public land hunting doesn’t mean saying goodbye to finding deer and hello to hunting pressure.
You just have to KNOW what to do and come up with a strategy to have a successful trip.
Read my 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
Technology has come a long way. I love taking advantage of it when looking for good hunting spots!
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
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 with ALL the information to successfully hunt on public land.
They also have features that apply to SPECIFIC TYPES of public land 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!
And if you’re a previous user of ScoutLook, you should automatically be migrated to HuntStand while keeping all your account and location data.
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.
This feature really comes in handy because I don’t want to be in trouble for trespassing on private land!
It can also help the hunting public find new spots ANYTIME!
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 different things using waypoint icons and colors. These include:
- Tree stands
- Trail cameras
- Particular trees
- Access routes
- Any deer sign, among others.
A line and shape tool can also help you measure distances and acreage using only your phone.
My experience with this app has been a BREEZE! It’s a goldmine that will help any hunter find public land for hunting.
HuntStand is arguably the most beneficial app for the whitetail hunter in you. They give ALL THEIR USERS nationwide access to their parcel layer.
I got 10 FREE parcel queries per month even if I didn’t pay! You can upgrade this for as little as $19.99 per year.
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!
I normally retrace my steps by looking for that one weird-looking tree or something like that. Now, I don’t have to rely on my memory!
You can also create personalized and detailed maps of hunting areas, which was really handy for me when my smartphone died.
Order a printed version up to 4 x 6 feet in size, which you’ll have in as little as 4 days.
If you don’t want to spend, their FREE VERSION has tons of features and benefits that also help you find the best hunting area on public land.
Step 2: Scout Remotely
I like to scout BEFORE I get to the area, so I can form a strategy and have a good idea of what to expect in the public land areas I’m 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
Since a lot can go wrong, I always download up to 40 miles of area information as BACKUP.
I’ve lost cell service before, so this is a great way to prepare for it just in case.
Remember that all deer hunting spots are unique, so choose areas where people do not go.
Mature public land deer can observe human behavior, so they avoid spots that are frequented or continually disturbed by humans.
Step 3: Location, Location, Location!
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.
No matter how much research and scouting you’ve done beforehand, there are TONS of factors that could affect your actual hunt.
I’ve faced hunting pressure from other hunters, bad wind patterns, and more. Other 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!
BONUS: For those living near New Mexico, I have just the guide for you. You can read up on my 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.
In my experience, one hunting area I actually visited looked COMPLETELY different in person than when I saw it online.
I guess it speaks to the country’s rich topography and biodiversity.
I like to spend my first day driving around the spots I plan to hunt to confirm what the app has told me:
- 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 that public property turns out to be unsuitable for bowhunting, 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.
For example, I’ve visited a place that borders water, so I used a kayak to access the other side that other hunters seldom visited.
If there are steep areas that most people can’t get into, push yourself to SAFELY trek into that area. I’ve had to conquer my fear of heights for this!
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.
It’s about being SMART about who you do your deer hunting. I’m SURE you have the brains for this operation!
Step 6: Hunt for the Freshest Sign
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?
What I usually do is position myself 100 yards away from the bedding area, giving me the HIGHEST chance of seeing deer during legal shooting hours.
I’ll admit, this tactic may be quite aggressive, but believe me when I say it’s one way to BUMP UP your success rate.
Step 7: Organize and Store Your Data
With all the info at your fingertips, 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 weren’t in the app.
For example, you 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.
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.
Doing so saved me a lot of confusion and stress from unexpected changes.
It also lets me 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
I used to think that I had no choice but to give up the hunt whenever it’s post-season (December to January).
There is a saying: “Know thy enemy.” This is as true for deer hunts, as anything else.
Various properties let you conduct some post-season hunting so you can learn more about that one piece of public property and your deer of choice.
When you combine post-season scouting with a pre-season session as well, you’ll gather DOUBLE the data!
Pre-season deer have various movements and behaviors than post-season deer. 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.
In my experience, post-season scouting was hard and tiring. But it actually increased my chances of landing a good hunt!
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 I’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.
Feel free to share this guide with your fellow deer hunters who need a good place!
Good luck and happy hunting!