How Mobile Hunting Tactics Impact Public Ground

How Mobile Hunting Tactics Impact Public Ground

After driving throughout the night, the sun illuminated a landscape that I'd seen only on a computer screen. The digital images of Google Earth displayed an open prairie laced with thin ribbons of trees along infrequent drainages. I was having serious doubts going into this hunt—and that's an understatement.

In reality, the land looked far less appealing than it did on a screen. In fact, it looked like a place no sensible deer hunter would bother to visit. And, yet, I'd just driven more than 18 hours straight and dropped more than $500 on a deer license to hunt in the famed state of Kansas.

I thought I had made a terrible mistake. I could not imagine any deer living in this barren moonscape. It was the first piece of public ground I'd singled out, and I was eager to see what it was like in real life. Still, I simply could not fathom how the giant whitetails I'd heard about for years could live there.

It took less than 10 minutes to learn a very valuable lesson: whitetails do, indeed, live on that spare prairie ground, and they can grow to be giants.

For the next decade or so, I spent a lot of time on public ground in Kansas (and other states). There was also a measure of hunting pressure to deal with, but with a little extra effort and careful research, finding a place to spend a week chasing fully mature deer was very doable.

Today? Things are different. Very different.

I'll start by stating that I still primarily hunt public ground and expect to hunt fully mature deer when I do so. However, the overall quality of the hunting experience on public ground can't be compared to that of a decade ago.

The amount of hunting pressure on public lands has increased exponentially, and this is the case in every state I've hunted over the past few years, including Michigan, Ohio, Indiana, Nebraska, Kansas, Iowa, Minnesota, South Dakota, and Missouri. From the most remote locations to those bordering major cities, the results have been the same: plenty of company.

This explosive growth in the popularity of public land hunting has been coupled with the explosive growth in the use of mobile tactics sparked by the growth of the saddle-hunting culture and its related accessories.

I want to pause here for clarification. I have no real beef with this increase in public land popularity. Heck, I suppose in some ways I've probably contributed to it, given my history in outdoor media and my focus on public land hunting. Nor do I have an issue with the mobile hunting crowd. I've personally employed mobile tactics for a long, long time. They are effective, and they're fun.

That all said, the mobile hunting movement has caused the impact of the increased focus on public lands to be greatly amplified. Why? Because mobile hunting tactics, by default, put far more pressure on a far greater amount of ground over a period of time than standard tactics. I'll explain.

Big Footprint

When I refer to mobile tactics, I'm generally talking about the use of highly portable equipment for hunting from an elevated position. Super-light climbing sticks, saddles, and related equipment make it easier to penetrate deeper into an area and much less of a hassle to change locations multiple times during a hunt. Think about that for a moment.

When I first started hunting public ground, I had limited options for climbing sticks and hang-on stands. I went with the lightest, most portable options available. They were still quite bulky and heavy, but I was far more mobile than most because I was far more willing to do the hard work and able to move around more. But, even then, I was reluctant to move stand locations a couple of times over the course of a weekend, let alone do so multiple times a day.

By their very nature, mobile tactics mean people are spending more time moving around, pushing deeper, and covering more ground than before. This exposes more deer-holding habitat to human pressure. Pressured deer are tougher to hunt and more likely to leave those areas.

Big Impact

Another facet of the mobile movement that has a dramatic, and potentially negative impact on public hunting is the focus of using these tactics to target bedding areas.

Again, I can't argue with the logic of the tactic because I've focused specifically on thick security cover for a long, long time. This also happens to be the type of cover used for bedding. The difference, however, is that this type of cover was once seldom targeted.

The preferred method was to hunt transition areas, travel corridors, and terrain features, and that's what the majority of hunters did. This left those critical areas of dense cover relatively pressure-free. Because of this, the deer living in the area were less likely to abandon the public ground even if they did encounter some hunting pressure on a routine basis.

But, when those deer start encountering moderate to heavy hunting pressure in their bedrooms, that’s a formula that will not equal long-term hunting quality. The deer will simply abandon those areas in search of less dangerous places to live.

This is exactly what I've seen over the past couple of years. Areas that routinely held solid numbers of whitetails and could be counted on to provide some measure of predictable deer activity have become barren. The deer, quite simply, have been moved out of the area by heightened levels of human intrusion into their core areas.

Big Mistakes

Of course, I realize that I'm making some broad generalizations here. I do not intend to portray mobile tactics or a newfound focus on hunting public land as all negative. In my experience, they have hurt the overall quality of public land hunting, but they've also helped get more people involved in the outdoors. There will always be some give and take. But what we should consider is how the way we hunt can impact those we share public ground with.

Social media personalities and YouTube productions have greatly influenced the mobile hunting movement and the focus on hunting bedding areas. Trust me, as someone who has made a living producing content, the editing process can make things seem far easier than they really are. Pushing deep into bedding areas, hunting from the ground, and trying to pull off stalks or hopping from areas of hot sign throughout the day can seem pretty easy.

It's not. There are a ton of factors involved, and attention to detail is pretty important. Failing to account for the wind direction, the scent you leave as you walk, and the high impact level of your activities in areas with minimal security cover can not only ruin your chances for success during your outing but can completely destroy an area for the duration of the season.

The Takeaway

Keep hunting. If you prefer public land, hunt it. If you enjoy mobile tactics and want to target bedding areas, do it. But do it right and in a way that's considerate of others hunting in the area.

Do it in a way that minimizes the pressure you place on the deer you hunt. Your “rut-cation” may only last a week, but there are likely other hunters who would love to hunt longer or have their time off scheduled for the following week.

All I'd ask is this: exercise restraint. Think about the impact your tactics have on the ground you're hunting and understand that someone else will hunt it after you.

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