Zach Ferenbaugh’s hunting style is about as distinct as the long locks that make him the most recognizable member of The Hunting Public.
Although he’ll occasionally carry in a saddle setup, Ferenbaugh prefers packing minimal gear, and he primarily employs a combination of spotting and stalking, still hunting, and posting up on the ground—all on public land.
When Ferenbaugh heads out of state for a public land hunt, he starts by e-scouting for potential access points to spots that are either tough to get to or easily overlooked.
Even if he only has five days total for the trip, he’ll spend the first day scoping out these access points in person and looking for corners with low hunting pressure.
“I’m driving around, and I find some oddball thing that hinders people from getting into the public,” he said. “And then that ends up being something that I focus on more than I anticipated.”
He also takes into account the type and diversity of plant life in the area and how deer interact with the vegetation. Ferenbaugh says this can be a challenge when hunting in a new state, but studying a region’s unique habitat can help point you in the right direction.
“If you don’t understand the plants that are growing on the areas that you can hunt and you don’t understand how the deer are using those plants, funnels may not really matter at all.”
After he’s patterned other hunters and taken a “plant inventory,” Ferenbaugh will hang his head out of the window while slowly cruising down the road, looking for deer sign—large concentrations of tracks crossing the road or big buck tracks.
He gains as much knowledge as possible—even the most miniscule details—before heading in on foot.
Even in calm, warm conditions with crunchy leaves, Ferenbaugh typically sticks to the ground game despite the risk involved.
He takes the quietest routes possible where he can still scout and hunt as he goes, even if it’s not directly in the heart of the action. He often sneaks through creek bottoms with boots in hand to go undetected.
“There’s really not many situations where I’m like, ‘I can’t figure this out.’ You learn how deer see and react to different setups enough, and you just know what you’re going to get away with and what you’re not,” he said.
Ferenbaugh has to be confident in a spot’s sign before stopping and setting up. And any time he gets a deer in range, he’s excited that he’s accomplished something special—fooling a deer’s senses.
“I do see it as a huge win anytime a deer walks past me—small buck, doe, whatever—I would love it,” he said.
When he attempts to move in on a deer, Ferenbaugh focuses on its behavior to determine his next steps.
“If I can see a deer, that’s when I feel the most confident because you can just read that body language,” he said. “If there’s any amount of alertness to the deer, you just slow down, let the situation play out, let the deer calm down, and then keep making your move.”
Once the deer is relaxed and continues browsing, the coast is clear to cut the distance.
“They are living in their world, and I’m trying to be a predator in their world,” he said. “I’m trying to go in and trick them.”
When bowhunting whitetails from the ground, Ferenbaugh says the smallest misstep can cost you an opportunity and haunt your dreams for years to come.
He says it’s important to always be ready and to remain calm—even when a buck is on alert. Rather than rushing a shot, playing it safe usually pays off. Keep your face and eyes covered as much as possible, minimize movement, stay low, and draw when the deer is turned away and you can’t see its eyes at all.
“I’m not thinking about anything else other than making the perfect move, and it’s just like total game time,” he said. “Focus. Don’t make any little mistakes. Don’t break any sticks.”
You might blow it a few times before you connect with a deer, but Ferenbaugh knows from experience that it’s possible to kill even mature bucks from ground level.
“It’s really crazy what you can get away with on the ground,” he said. “You kind of have to relearn what is right and wrong, because in the treestand you play the situation a little bit differently because they’re not looking up all the time.”
While this strategy has worked well for him, Ferenbaugh recognizes that his style of hunting isn’t for everyone. He doesn’t score his bucks, and he generally doesn’t do what everyone else does. Because mixing it up, failing, and then figuring out a solution is the fun of it for Ferenbaugh.
“Everybody’s hunting situation and goals are different—period,” he said. “Go out, set goals for yourself that you feel are realistic, and just go have fun. Because it’s not a competition.”
To learn more about Zach Ferenbaugh’s tactics for hunting public land whitetails from ground, listen to Episode 444 of the Wired To Hunt Podcast.