Brandon Butler with a Missouri public lands buck taken this fall.
Deer season is winding down, but there is still time to fill a tag or two. If you’re hunting property that has been hit hard this year, and your confidence is running low, consider exploring a new piece of public land.
Many Midwestern deer hunters make the mistake of overlooking public land. Too often thought of as small chunks of crowded last resorts, public parcels in the Midwest are often misunderstood. The truth is, millions of acres of public lands across the Midwest produce tons of deer, including mature bucks, each fall.
Conservation Areas, National Forests and Wildlife Refuges are all managed in some capacity for wildlife by their respective agency, making these lands some of the best habitat around. Deer don’t know if the property they inhabit is public or private. What they know is when hunting pressure is applied, they must retreat to the most remote areas they can find. These are often found on public land. Bucks that learn to avoid hunters survive to reach maturity. If you want to tag a public land buck, then you have to know where to look.
Take a midday ride around the perimeter of a public parcel on a hunting season Saturday and you’ll likely learn where hunting pressure is being applied on surrounding private lands. Stopping and knocking on doors to ask for permission is still a good idea, because even if you’re denied, you’ll find out if others are hunting there or if the landowner doesn’t allow hunting. Such knowledge can work in your favor.
If you know there is hunting pressure on bordering private land, then scout the public land to figure out where deer will cross onto it once bumped from the private. Be sure to be in your stand early enough to catch deer leaving the private. Those hunters could spook while heading to their stands. Also, stay in your stand late enough in the morning to be in position to catch fleeing deer bumped by the private land hunters on their way out.
On Midwestern public land, you do have to expect other hunters might move through your area at some point. If they do, they’ll likely move deer. Inside corners are a prime location to put a stand because nervous deer won’t cross an open expanse unless they must. They’ll move inside the cover, and on an inside corner, you’re covering two different directions from which they can come and go.
Inside corners can be found on agricultural fields, pastures or where habitat types change. If you can locate an open bedding area back in the timber, set your stand on the inside corner so you can shoot into the open, but also cover the trails running inside the timber alongside the field.
Many public properties in the Midwest surround a large lake or run along a river. Few hunters are going to put in the effort of loading into a boat before dawn to motor or paddle their way to a deer stand. Remember, the typical public land hunter is only going to walk a couple of hundreds yards from where they park their car. When they do this, they are going to push deer back into the remote areas. If you slip into a stand from the water, then you can be set up and waiting in one of these remote areas that aren’t easily accessible from the road.