Most hunting advice focuses on what you should do to be successful. In the field of whitetails on public lands, this is often scaled down to a mobile style suited to keeping up with changing deer patterns. Or it can give advice on what types of terrain features are best for a particular time of the season.
It’s about finding the right style and strategy and then using it sensibly. What we don’t talk about often are all the things we shouldn’t do when hunting on public lands. We ignore how we blow holes in our own boat long before we make it out of metaphorical harbor.
The usual suspects
Pennsylvania-based Clint Campbell is the host of the Truth From The Stand podcast and a dedicated public whitetail hunter. He thrives on doing what others don’t or don’t want to do and is cautious when it comes to following the latest and greatest trends in the public land deer field.
“One of the dumbest things hunters can do, at least in this day and age, is follow hot trends,” Campbell said. “They see someone like Zach from The Hunting Public out there stalking bucks and they think they can do it. But many hunters don’t really understand how difficult it is or what it takes to be successful.”
This is true. Much can be learned from osmosis, but probably not how to become a truly stealthy stalker. This requires practice in the real world, and lots of it. Campbell admits this applies to another aspect of deer hunting – scouting.
“I see a lot of hunters going straight for typical terrain features after a little bit of digital scouting,” said Campbell. “E-Scouting is great, but it’s just a start. Everyone has access to the same apps and tools, so the obvious things will catch everyone’s eye. You have to mix in ground work to find subtle terrain features that other people will miss.”
Campbell’s advice points to a simple reality – you have to see deer on the ground in person to fully understand them. E-Scouting often only allows you to get a basic understanding of the habitat and terrain, but getting out there and seeing it in person will help you find the spot on the spot.
Nebraska used to be my favorite state for public gully hunts. Although I had to share the forest with many other hunters, the deer were there and my time was always well spent. One thing I noticed on these hunts was that everyone I met or settled near seemed to think Nebraska bucks were into typical tricks.
I don’t know how many rattling sequences I heard, but there were a lot. I also don’t know how many scented wicks I found in trees, but some areas looked like someone had hung them up like Christmas ornaments.
All tactics can work, including calling, baiting, and using scents and baiting. But they mostly don’t, even if you’re hunting private land with a great buck to deer sex ratio and little to no pressure. Even at Whitetail Candyland, you’ll fail most of the time if you try any of these things.
On public dirt, there’s no guarantee they’ll fail, but it’s pretty damn close. The negative encounters with hunters using various calls, scents, and lures quickly mount up on public lands. You could argue that it’s a no harm no foul scenario to try a little blind calling, but I don’t think so. Drawing attention to yourself like most other hunters do is a bad idea in my opinion.
That way, the biggest mistake you can make is assuming that the tactics that are reasonably effective on good ground are also reasonably effective on public lands. They probably won’t, and they might actually hurt your odds rather than being some kind of net-neutral attempt to get a deer within range.
A good rule
Perhaps the best way to break the mold and not do anything stupid while chasing public lands is to always ask yourself how easy it would be for others to do what you’re doing. Wander 250 yards to settle on the edge of a public bean field? Or are you stationed with your rifle on a power line to see a quarter mile in each direction? Do you meet many other hunters or do you constantly see the stands of others at your places?
Simply put, it’s stupid to do what most people in the deerwoods do. Most hunters don’t fill in tags and they don’t have a track record of mature bucks in public. You fail most of the time, and you will too if you follow the crowds.
Be smart, do something different.
Featured image via Captured Creative.