I have been hunted public land pretty much my entire life. I’m 43 as I write this, soon to be 44. Getting old, and I can’t say I have enjoyed private land deer hunting a single time in my life. Over the the years I’ve picked up some good public land deer hunting tips that I’ve applied. I am usually successful, though I did have a few dry years not to far back.
I figured I would share some of my tips. They apply for both gun season and bow season. Some of them are very cliche and will be obvious to many experienced hunters of both private and public land. While other tips may seem new and fresh, or a different angle on something similar you may have already been doing.
Public Land Deer Hunting Tips – Cliche Tips
Without further preamble let’s just jump straight in my tips I want to share.
Go Where Others Don’t Go:
I sometimes hunt in McKenzie Creek Wildlife Area in Polk County, Wisconsin. It is roughly 5497 acres of land with a few roads around the edges, and only one road that goes a little ways inside the interior. The terrain is hilly with many deep gulches and tall ridges. Many people who hunt there don’t journey too far inland or away from the roads.
I have always seen deer there when I’ve traveled the interior. Now, getting a deer dragged out can be a real challenge once you knock one down. But you are likely to see deer, and lots of them when you spend the time going to places on public land that people just don’t go. Just be prepared to put in the extra work!
Do what you need to do; hike in, canoe, kayak, parachute from the sky!
I like to scout a month or two after the Wisconsin gun season. The woods have quieted down and the deer have started new patterns or returned to old ones. It’s nice to get out and check your stomping grounds and see what’s doing. Another time I like to hit the woods is in the early summer. Fawns are usually up and moving around and I like to check out some traffic areas for tracks. This is more of a curiosity thing for me, but it’s fun to look around.
Of course in the month or few weeks up to the bow season you want to get in the woods and look around also. If you are a buck hunter late summer and early fall is a good time to look for rubs on trees. Some people tend to think the thickness of the tree that is rubbed is an indication of a potential buck’s rack size. FALSE! I have seen with my own eyes big racks being rubbed on tiny saplings.
Finding rubs in your area is good for getting an idea of bucks in the area, that’s about it. If you want to confirm size you better set up some trail cameras.
The important thing here is to find out where the deer are bedding down and where they go to feed, as well as what they are feeding on. The transition areas between those two points is a great place to setup a stand, as is the feeding area if you can sneak in and out and not get noticed.
Another thing I do when I scout is pattern the wind. Hunt the wind! The wind can change from various times of year, figure out where it blows from and where it blows to. Hunting the wind is so important. Don’t setup your stand upwind of there the deer are traveling or feeding.
When To Hunt Is Important:
Okay, during the nine day gun season the best time to hunt public land is the opening weekend. People are in the woods and moving around, especially when they get cold and can’t sit still. When they move around they push the deer… so if you can sit tight you are likely going to see something. I’ve lost count how many deer I have harvested between 8:30AM and 9:30AM when other hunters get cold and start moving around.
After that opening gun weekend there tends to be a lot less people in the woods, and the deer are spooked and hunkered down during the day. Getting them up and moving around it tough. For sure when hunting public land for deer during the gun season you want to be in the woods when other hunters are around. The weekends are the best time.
For bow season it is the opposite for me. I like to be in the woods when other hunters are NOT around, and that is usually during the week days. The public land I bow hunt on during the weekends has other bow hunters driving around as well as small game hunters running in the woods. I prefer quieter times when I am bow hunting. Let the deer move around at their own pace and pass through my transition or feeding area unmolested or hurried.
Get On Google Earth:
Google Earth is awesome! I use it to find an aerial view of the woods I am hunting and print it off. then I create my own little maps with notes on deer movements, rub locations, bedding and feeding areas, transition points, heavily used trails, other potential hunters’ locations I may come across…etc…etc… you get the idea.
Public Land Deer Hunting Tips – The Unusual
Here are a few things I do to make my deer gun season and bow season more successful. You may think some of these are plain stupid, others you may like.
Pee Often When Scouting Deer:
This is one I do when I bow hunt. I can’t take credit for it either. I learned this from a wise old traditional bow hunter who uses no covers scents and just hunts the wind. He has success ever year, or did when he still hunted. He shall remain nameless (okay, it was Frank Nelson from Siren, WI).
Get that Big Gulp drink from the gas station or suck down bottles and bottles of water before scouting. Eat lots of asparagus, too.
Deer know when there is an unfamiliar scent in their area, but many of the properties in urine are similar between animals and man. So scout often and pee often and your scent will not be all that unfamiliar to the deer in the area you hunt. I did a little research on this myself a few years back about peeing from the stand when bow hunting; does it scare the deer and alert them from your urine smell?
Some hunters bring a bottle or two in case they need to urinate and are afraid of marking the area with their scent. Not me; if I have to go, I go.
The long version of the research I did is that it does not freak out the deer. In fact, many hunters pee on scraps they find… I do too! Spreading your scent around the around is not a bad thing, but that doesn’t mean the deer won’t freak out if they spot you, and you should still hunt the wind as they don’t pin point your stand location.
If You Use Deer Scents, Make Sure You Use The Correct One:
I run into more bow hunters, usually those new to it, that use the wrong deer scents when hunting. You can buy standard doe pee, doe pee with estrous, or buck urine. When you use those scents during the deer hunting season is critical.
Standard Doe Pee:
Safe to use during all phases of the rut. It is a standard doe pee that is common all year long in the woods. It calms deer and lets them know other deer are in the area. Sometimes they get curious and will follow the scent thinking there is a new deer in the woods.
Doe Pee with Estrous:
You only want to use this in the ‘seeking phase’ of the rut, the actual peak rut, and the week or two after the rut. Here in Wisconsin if I use this stuff during the bow season it is only during the last six days in October and the first ten days of November. Bucks aren’t stupid. You can’t trick them into thinking there is a doe in estrous ready to mate in August or September… using this stuff at the wrong time will spook the deer and make them extremely wary. Works pretty well to draw in curious and love hungry bucks.
I have never used buck urine, but from what I have read online hunters tend to use it mostly closer to the peek rut. During that phase of the rut, bucks are more territorial and will seek out and confront any new bucks in their area. It’s a great way to pull in a buck if that’s what your going for.
So when in doubt, use the standard doe pee. I like to use Tinks’ #1 Doe Pee, safe all year round.
Also, don’t overuse any deer scent lures. Be gentle with them. A little goes a long way.
Build Brush Blinds
When I hunt deer I do it from the ground. Doesn’t mater if I am gun deer hunting or bow hunting. I never bow hunt for deer where I gun hunt deer. In fact, I have been hunting deer with a rifle in the same section of woods since the age of twelve.
When I bow hunt I tend to move around year to year. Deer patterns do change a little, so I find being able to be mobile is important. The past few years I have been using pop up blinds when bow hunting and they work great.
However, gun deer season I build brush blinds. Well, I actually haven’t built a new blind in several years, but I do keep building up the same old ones.
Here is my tip for gun hunting from a ground blind during the gun deer season in Wisconsin: When you hunt public land you always have to worry about somebody coming along and scouting the area you hunt. Usually new hunters to the area will do this, or hunters looking for a new spot. If you hunt public woods you know from experience a lot of people can be around come opening day of gun deer season.
To keep my section of woods less used by other hunters, I maintain four brush blinds. Come late summer I will head into the woods I gun hunt and start building back with fresh brush the same four blinds. Anybody scouting the area and doing a thorough job will see those blinds and think the area is heavily hunted… and go somewhere else to hunt.
My brush blinds are just out of eyesight from each other in the woods.
Doing this keeps new hunters from moving into the area, or it has so far for me over the years. It’s public land so you really can’t keep people out if they really want to hunt there. But it is a psychological deterrent.
It also provides a less ‘hectic’ piece of woods for the deer on the opening weekend of gun season. If they feel less stressed there they are likely to slow down and stick around. Depending on where I know other hunters are in the woods around me, I may move to a different one of my brush blinds in the middle of the day.
While I don’t archery hunt from my brush blinds, I do sometimes small game hunt from them. They work well for sitting in when looking for a lazy afternoon of squirrel or rabbit hunting in the Fall.
Check the laws in your State for ground blinds. Here in Wisconsin you can build brush blinds for public land deer hunting made from the natural resources of the woods. No permanent stands are allowed on public land.
Hunt All Day Long
I hunt all day long. Gun or boy season, it’s doesn’t matter. If I am up at my cabin for an extended period of time to hunt, then I am in my blind before sunrise, and don’t leave my blind until after legal shooting time.
A lot of bow hunters will hunt the few hours in the morning and then the few hours towards the end of the day, leaving their stand in the middle of the day. Not me. I hunt all darn day and never leave my blind.
I bring snacks and a light lunch to munch on as needed, as well as some water. I eat right in my blind and use zip-lock sealed bags to cut back on scent. Nuts and raisers are great for a snack. Whole grain bread with a couple slices of mild cheese and some turkey go a long way. I’m not moving around a lot or doing much of anything where I need a lot of calories to keep my energy up.
Many hunters don’t bow hunt the middle the day when it is warmer and deer are usually bedded down trying stay cooler. But I tell you what, I see just as many deer moving around in the middle of the day on public land as I do any other time of day during bow season. They can appear anytime. So I hunt all day.
Most Important Public Land Deer Hunting Tip!
My number one most important ever public land deer hunting tip is this; get outside and go hunting!
Just getting out and doing it is going to cause to learn what works for you, and what doesn’t. Reading up on public land hunting helps, but there is no substitute for getting out and doing it.
Good Luck, and be safe out there…