At one point or another, we’ve all dreamed about having a property of our own or access to ground no one else can hunt. Heck, maybe you own ground or have this kind of access right now. I’ve been fortunate enough to have been on both ends of the spectrum. I’ve spent most of my hunting seasons scouring public land with periodic access to private property. Over the years one thing has become very clear, regardless of access to private, I’ll never completely stop hunting public land.
It’s rare to have a private tract large enough or even multiple properties that you can hunt through an entire season without pressuring and impacting deer movement. Mixing in hunts on public land can scratch the itch of hitting the woods while preserving your spots on private until the time is right. Imagine if you time a few strategic sits where you knew your odds would be at their highest on your private land, but were still able to have quality hunts on public land without over-pressuring your property. You could increase your chances for success in both places without educating the deer on the private.
Since anyone can access public land, it forces you to think through your strategy and process at a very granular level. These strategies can translate to private as well, potentially making you see things from a new perspective making you even more effective on private dirt. By splitting time between both public and private, you take what you experience on public through trial and error and apply it to private hunts. Paying attention to the way bucks utilize terrain, concentrate on food sources through different phases of the season, and choose bedding locations in response to pressure can help you locate and understand key areas to look for bucks on the private property you hunt. If you’re staying detail-oriented and having success finding bucks on public ground, most likely you can carry these approaches over to the less pressured private land and put the pieces of the puzzle together.
Public land is the ultimate testing ground. There isn’t a better way to sharpen your skills and hone your effectiveness than hunting on an even playing field with other hunters. Hunting public teaches you to think in the moment and stay adaptable to influences out of your control. If you can put the time in scouting and learning how bucks navigate terrain and habitat with the hunting pressure public land brings, not only can you put yourself in a position to fill a tag on a hard-earned public land buck, but you can gain a better understanding of more effective ways to hunt private land too.
Maybe you’ve always wanted to try still hunting or spot and stalking, but didn’t want to put too much pressure on the private land you hunt. If there’s a strategy or hunting style you’ve always wanted to try, but you’re worried about messing things up on private ground, you have nothing to lose on public. It’s a great way to sharpen your skills and try new things on ground that won’t leave a lasting impact on your season. Of course, that’s not saying you should stroll in and blow up a public tract for everyone else by being reckless, but the beautiful thing about public land is having the freedom to try different things without the concern of having long-term effects like it might on limited private acreage.
The most important reason to explore, utilize, and enjoy public land is that we all own it. It’s here for us to enjoy our heritage, discover new places, and experience new adventures. It’s a resource that belongs to all of us, and if we as hunters, conservationists, and stewards of the land and wildlife don’t preserve the incredible resource that is public land, it may not be around for us to enjoy in the future.
Feature image via Matt Hansen.