Most hunting advice focuses on what you should do to be successful. In the realm of public land whitetails, this is often drilled down to a mobile style that lends itself to keeping up with changing deer patterns. Or, it might involve advice on what types of terrain features are best for a specific time of the season.
It’s all about finding the right style and strategy and then putting it to good use. What we don’t often talk about are all of the things we shouldn’t do while hunting public land. We ignore how we shoot holes in our own boat long before we make it out of the metaphorical harbor.
Pennsylvania’s Clint Campbell, is the host of the Truth From The Stand Podcast and a dedicated public land whitetail hunter. He thrives on doing what others don’t or won’t, and is cautious about following any of the latest and greatest trends in the public land deer space.
“One of the dumbest things hunters can do, at least in modern times, is follow the 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 a lot of hunters don’t have a full understanding of how hard that is, or what it takes to be successful.”
This is true. You can learn a lot by osmosis, but probably not how to be a really stealthy deer stalker. That takes real-world practice, and a lot of it. So while those Hunting Public boys put down a lot of deer with unorthodox setups, that doesn't mean anyone can walk into the woods and do the same. This, Campbell admits, applies to another aspect of deer hunting—scouting.
“I see a lot of hunters beeline it for typical terrain features after a little bit of digital scouting,” Campbell said. “E-scouting is great, but it’s just a start. Everyone has access to the same apps and tools, so the obvious stuff is going to draw all of the eyeballs. You have to mix in the boots-on-the-ground work to find subtle terrain features other people will miss.”
Campbell’s advice points to a simple reality—you have to see deer ground in person to fully understand it. E-scouting often just allows you to develop a base understanding of habitat and terrain, but getting out there and seeing it in person helps you find the spot on the spot.
My go-to state for public land rut hunts used to be Nebraska. Even though I had to share the woods with plenty of other hunters, the deer were there, and my time was always well spent. One thing I noticed during those hunts was that everyone I bumped into, or found myself set up near, seemed to believe that Nebraska bucks were suckers for typical tricks.
I don’t know how many rattling sequences I heard, but it was a lot. I also don’t know how many scent wicks I found in trees, but some areas looked like someone had hung them up like Christmas ornaments.
All tactics can work, including calling, decoying, and using scents and lures. But they mostly don’t, even when you’re hunting private land with a great buck-to-doe sex ratio and little to no pressure. Even in whitetail candyland, you’ll fail most of the time trying any of these things.
On public dirt, it’s not a certainty they’ll fail, but it’s damn close. The negative encounters with hunters using various calls, scents, and decoys stack up quickly on public land. You might reason that it’s a no-harm-no-foul scenario to try a little blind calling, but I don’t believe that. I think drawing attention to yourself in the way that most other hunters also draw attention to themselves, is a bad idea.
In this way, the biggest mistake you can do is to assume that the tactics that are somewhat effective on good ground, will also be somewhat effective on public land. They probably won’t, and they might actually hurt your chances instead of being some kind of net-neutral attempt at tricking a deer into range.
Maybe the best way to break the mold and not do dumb stuff while hunting public land is to always question how easy it would be for others to do what you’re doing. Are you hiking in 250 yards to set up on the edge of a public beanfield? Or are you posted up on a powerline with your rifle to see a quarter of a mile in each direction? Do you bump into a lot of other hunters or constantly see others’ stands in your spots?
Simply put, it’s dumb to do what most people do in the deer woods. Most hunters don’t fill tags and they don’t have a track record of mature bucks on public. They mostly fail, and you will too, if you follow the masses.
Be smart, do something different.
Feature image via Captured Creative.