• Hunt the Wild

Hunting Public Land

Going the extra mile really paid off for me in 2013. I harvested this doe on the far edge of a cornfield on Indiana public land where human activity was low.

Ah! The good ol public ground. Many hate it, some love it and the remaining crowd just isn’t sure how to approach it. If you’re like me then you know that finding and keeping private ground permissions is a constant task. You knock on doors and plead your case to strangers, you beg relatives that you hardly see, and you send out dozens of letters only to get one response of denial. It’s tough, I know.

Year after year, I gain access to a new property only to lose admittance to another few. As land gets sold, leased, developed or strictly posted (whatever the case) access to property is becoming pretty tough. I often find myself worrying about where I’m going to hunt in the upcoming season as I run out of leads and people to ask. Thankfully we have public land to turn to.

One obstacle that prevents many people from using public terrain is thievery. During my hunting adventures and long conversations with other public land owners, I have learned that many people give up because they are too often victims of theft. Fortunately, there are a few tricks that you can do to reduce the probability of being targeted. The most important aspect of keeping your gear safe on public land is to focus on areas with the least amount of traffic. Walk that extra mile or use a boat to get to place most people aren’t willing to put in the extra effort to get to. The less likely people are to stumble across your setup the better. Now that you’ve distanced yourself from the main crowds, you still have to assume that there are going to be a few individuals willing to go the extra stretch. Always make sure to lock everything up with high quality chains and locks that cannot be cut by using a standard set of bolt cutters. These items should not be looked at as an extra cost, but only an addition to your already expensive gear. It’s basically your lifeline of the whole season.

One trick I have utilized while hunting public ground in the past is to attach a note to my tree stand or blind. In these I will provide a little information about myself, why I enjoy hunting and recreating on public lands, and why a person should think twice about stealing the gear that has taken me years to acquire. It never hurts to mention the consequences of being caught or reported to the game warden either. I can’t say for certain if this has deterred people from five finger discount shopping in the woods, but I feel strongly that it could. Sometimes I even write “Smile you’re on camera” multiples times on my tree stands and climbing sticks. More often than not, I have crystal clear images of who has been lurking around my stands. Don’t forget to hang those cameras high, as most people do not look up for trail cameras.

When hunting public land, you having to be willing to go where no one else is. If your adverse to the idea or still on the fence, try out this experiment for yourself. Go out during the opening day of season (whatever season that may be) and just watch hunters and their slack behavior. I would undoubtedly bet that most of them don’t travel more than 200 yards from their vehicle. I’ve seen it first-hand! Generally, people are lazy. They show up late, they don’t scout the pre-season and they sit down right in front of the first sign of animal activity they see. It certainly plays a part as to why many are unsuccessful at harvesting game on federal or state-owned ground.

Do your homework, show up early and be willing to go where no one else dares. Use the flocks of people to your advantage. Observe and learn their habits as well as the animals you are pursuing. Let them drive game toward the areas that they were too lazy to trek to. Be patient and be ready. You’re likely to see the most activity when the crowds have packed it in for lunch and the animals hear the truck doors slamming closed. It’s going to be stressful at times, but it will teach you how to overcome obstacles in the woods that cannot be avoided.

Even though you’ve accepted the challenge of hunting public ground the thought of dwindling game populations still sits in the back of your mind. Your concerned that all that hard work might not pay off as you sit for hours, maybe even days waiting on your quarry that seems to be ghost like or simply nonexistent. Fast forward to the moment of truth, as you have the animal of a lifetime in your sights. You make sure everything is perfect. You double check. You triple check. You have to make the shot count, knowing that this might be the only shot you get of the season. This is public ground and these animals are nearly impossible to pattern and predict. You have one shot and you know that you have to make it count. You slowly squeeze the trigger or gracefully release and arrow, hitting the mark perfectly. Hunting public ground makes you appreciate every opportunity you get and teaches you to be even more patient than you already have to be while hunting. I believe hunting public makes you a better hunter.

Overall, hunting public ground is difficult. It makes for long days and rough sits at times, but the payoff can be extraordinary. Whenever I harvest an animal on public ground, I get a feeling of accomplishment that is indescribable. Not only have you managed to outsmart the animal you are hunting, but you have also been able to outsmart the crowds of people as well. If you’re willing to put in the work, love a good challenge and want to open up hunting opportunities for yourself, public land may be just for you. Get out there and see what your public lands have to offer. Adventure await you.


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