The Situation: There’s a chunk of public whitetail ground not far from your house. It consists of 400 acres of habitat you’ve never set foot on, and the season is approaching.
The first step is to take dive into satellite imagery of the parcel via a scouting app like onX. You want to see the property as a whole, not only for what it contains but for what is on the land around it as well.
Everything that could influence deer movement is important, so take a long look at how it appears from 5,000 feet up. Take note of access points, trails, potential food sources, patches of cover, water, and anything else that might be relevant to a buck. Then do the same thing for the neighboring properties. Drop pins on anything of interest, and get ready to walk.
The next step is to get in and investigate the whole parcel in person. E-scouting is a crucial first step, but remember that it is the first step of many. Take the time to hike to where you’ve dropped pins, but also pay attention to everything that didn’t catch your eye in the digital phase of scouting. What does the land offer? What does the other hunter sign look like?
Is there a way to take your scouting a step further and hang some cameras? How about long-range glassing sessions? The goal is to learn the land and learn the deer. As you’re doing both, you’ll start to delete certain waypoints and add others. You’ll begin to see the property in pieces and as a whole.
Then the fun really begins.
Your first season hunting any chunk of public land is a learning experience. If you’ve done enough scouting, you’ll go into the season with a good plan. But the other hunters and the deer activity can steer you in new directions. That’s okay—that’s how it always goes. How you react to them will color your days in the woods, so keep an open mind.
As the season progresses, make sure to put your time in. Hunt during the weekdays if you can to avoid some pressure, and pay attention to the fresh sign. The deer will show you where they want to be on any given week. Your job is to figure that out and then get in there as quickly as you can. When the action dries up, keep scouting, and keep hunting. Eventually, your work will pay off and you’ll get your shot.