Do you love hunting but don’t own property? Public land hunting may be the answer for you. But, there are so many different types of public land hunting opportunities ranging from National Wildlife Refuges, State Forests, State Parks, Nature Preserves, Natural Areas, Nature Conservancies, Wildlife Management Areas, Lands maintained by Army Corps of Engineers, and Military Establishments.
So, with so much public land throughout the country, where in the world do you even begin in developing a strategy to hunt public land?
Check out these public hunting land tips to help you start enjoying the vast opportunities!
Regardless of what type of opportunities your state offers, you may find it easier to begin hunting these lands by becoming familiar with the following public land hunting tips.
Tip #1: Know The Rules & Regulations Where You Hunt
Whenever I venture onto public land, whether I have hunted that particular piece of property before or not, I always familiarize or update myself with the local as well as state hunting regulations that are in effect where I am going to hunt.
In my home state of Virginia, the Department of Game and Inland Fisheries does a good job of providing outdoorsmen and women with these regulations. It does so in the forms of booklets and also by keeping the website and public land kiosks up to date with important information that could impact a visitor’s trip.
Get Your Hunting License
A regulation that goes hand-in-hand with hunting in all states is having the required hunting license or permit. It is becoming more frequent for state natural resource departments to require hunters, hikers, bikers, and even bird watchers to either have a permit, license (or in Virginia, an Access Permit) on hand before they can enjoy public lands.
Regardless of what your prey may be or what time of year you plan on taking a public land adventure, you will not go wrong by becoming familiar with the local regulations and rules that may affect your trip. Understanding such guidelines could not only make the difference in you having a safe and legal hunt this season, but ultimately will lay the foundation for a rewarding public land experience.
Use maps to help you learn how other hunters may be accessing the same parcel of public hunting land.
Tip #2: Use The Scouting Match Made In Heaven… Maps And Boots
You might already use maps when you hunt. However, you may not realize that many local government agencies will provide free maps of public hunting land. Using these maps can be a great resource for hunters to learn valuable information about the land they are hunting when pursuing game.
Whether you use government maps or get mapping information from an internet source like Google Maps, Google Earth, or one of these latest and greatest phone apps like OnX Maps, you can certainly build your knowledge about the area of public land you are scouting or hunting.
If a hunter knows what he or she is looking at on a map, that hunter’s boots can take them anywhere on a map in search of “prime” locations that could be hot spots for wild game such as whitetail deer. By examining an updated map, a hunter can pin point key areas and resources just by looking at that map. Then, a game plan can be developed based on those key areas and resources.
Some key areas and resources to be mindful of on public land maps include:
Any local agriculture or food sources
Natural transition areas where two or more different habitats come together
Waterways or other water sources
Trails, roadways or property boundary lines
Areas of elevations
Areas leading to hunter access
Any local agriculture or food sources
Natural transition areas where two or more different habitats come together
When it comes to combining maps and scouting, I love the element of hunter access, and maps can tell you a lot about it!
Maps are also helpful in predicting what other hunters may do regarding how they access a piece of public land. Not to suggest that hunters are lazy, but many are creatures of habit as well as convenience. Simply put, many hunters will follow the path of least resistance in accessing a hunting location. This means that most of the time, they will use the same locations of access (public parking areas to public access roadways) to get to their stand setups as well as the same entry/exit access points which will allow them the easiest way to and from their vehicles.
I have discovered while hunting public lands that if hunters are more inclined to take the road less traveled, which could mean a path of more resistance or a longer entry/exit access point, they will not only discover more encounters with game, but less encounters with other hunters.
By combining map study and physical effort, you can discover these areas that most other hunters will not be willingly to venture off to. The payoff in the form of a successful kill or greater sense of accomplishment is hard to match.
Some hunters will even opt for access via mountain bikes, which can provide a quiet, but faster route to the hunting location.
Identification Of Deer Habitat
Studying maps can also provide hunters an opportunity to discover overlooked areas that many hunters just do not realize game like whitetails are hiding in. In these areas, being able to identify public parking areas and highly trafficked roads can be extremely productive areas for hunters who take the time to study the maps and then put their boots to work.
For bow hunters, archery seasons often provide an opportunity to hunt public land with fewer hunters around.
In all public hunting lands, there is at least one season for hunters to take advantage of big game with a particular weapon. But on many public lands, big game can be hunted during different seasons such as early archery season, gun season, or maybe a late muzzle loader season.
In some states, like here in Virginia, hunters can chase game during overlapping seasons. In my experience hunting big game on public land, I have found that many hunters choose to hunt more during the general firearms season than any other season. This can really be good news for the bowhunter and the black powder hunter in the short and long term.
If archery and black powder hunters play their cards right, they can avoid the high traffic of a gun season by spending the majority of their hunting time during the archery and muzzle loader seasons.
These hunters will discover the benefits of hunting these seasons as there will typically be more encounters with big game and generally less pressure from other hunters. Combine that with good scouting techniques and the willingness to venture deeper into public land, and hunters can hope to have much more success during their public land outings.
Protection of our public lands is a high priority. That also goes for the public roadways, trails, or paths that lie within. Hunters, hikers, and campers across the country will quickly find that most public lands have limited roadway access. This often includes restrictions on motor vehicles, including ATVs. This means that visitors are usually limited to walking or using bicycles, or in some cases, electric vehicles.
Other than your own two feet, the other two options that I know of that can help get you and your gear from point A to point B when hunting public land would be a bicycle or a good game cart.
I myself rarely use one during hunting season, but a bicycle is one of my best resources during the off-season when it comes to scouting as well as helping me move tree stands or other gear around public land.
I have found that using a bicycle during the off-season is so beneficial that I get twice the work accomplished and twice the scouting done.
During hunting season, I always have my game cart with me. A game cart is just as important to me as having my license, weapon, and other gear.
I just know that I am going to need it and I am always better off with it. Most of my hunts on public land take me around a mile or more into public land, so by having it, I can place all my gear on top of it, strap it down and transport it with ease while I walk. Not to mention when I do harvest big game, it makes life so much easier if I don’t have a partner with me.
Not all local agencies see eye to eye on the topic of public land transportation. So, before venturing off to your local public hunting lands this season, make sure you check with your local agency to see what the acceptable forms of transportation are before bringing your ATV or purchasing that new electric bicycle.
To go along with your map, you can never go wrong with the following items when hunting public land:
Compass: A good compass is a must and something you should know how to use. Some public lands make it mandatory for hunters or visitors to carry a compass when on those lands in the event that they get lost. On big tracts of land, you will be thankful to have this piece of equipment if you ever get turned around.
Headlamp: A reliable headlamp with extra batteries is important to have for entry and exit. But, if you are ever lost, this resource can help others locate you.
Orange:Blaze orange or pink is typically going to be something that hunters should have on during most firearm seasons, and possibly during other hunting seasons, depending on local regulations. Having this garment with you at all times, regardless of the season, can be an important piece of safety equipment while moving about public land.
Fire Starter: The all-important fire starter is something that I think most hunters overlook in their pack. I hunt land that I am very familiar with, but you just never know what may happen when you are out on an adventure. So, a fire starter is a tool that could be critical to your survival in unfamiliar or even familiar territory. I always carry a fire starter, just in case. Bowdrills, fire saws, flint and steel, magnifying lenses, matches, lighters, battery and steel wool and fire pistons are all types of fire starters
Boots: Taking care of your feet is extremely important. So, having a good fitting, durable pair of boots is a must. For me, I prefer to use rubber boots, mainly because the majority of the land I venture into has swamps or marshes. These boots also provide good protection from snakes. This really sets my mind at ease during the early season, as I move through thick cover. Always carry an extra pair of socks, regardless of the season. Your feet will thank you for it!
Tip #6: Use Trail Cameras
Over the years, I have become addicted to – and really do depend on – the information that game cameras can provide me. Whether it is areas I have a history of hunting, or new areas I am learning about, game cameras are a perfect way for me to gather needed information without continuously disrupting a particular spot.
Trail cameras can be very useful in determining what types of game may be frequenting the public land that you are planning to hunt.
Typically, I will leave my game cameras out during the summer months into the opening of season and I may check them roughly two to four times before the season begins. I place my cameras near known bedding areas and travel corridors, where I have established mock scrapes, or near established stand setups.
When I do check these cameras, I will be able to determine what type of game is in the area, if the area is going to be productive for what I am pursuing at the start of the season, or if I need to abandon the area altogether and move to a different location.
A camera can help me determine if I have a doe “hot spot” or doe bedding area. It will give me an idea of when the rut is picking up or tapering off. Game cameras will also provide information on possible shooter bucks to target. Sometimes cameras can provide insight on why you may not have as much game traffic in a particular area. Perhaps you are getting more coyote traffic or bear traffic, which could discourage animals like deer from using that particular location.
In some cases, a spot you thought was secluded and out of the way may end up proving to be a highly trafficked area by other hunters.
In any event, using game cameras on public lands can really help you determine what you are working with when it comes to particular locations. Be advised, cameras are a resource that others are willing to take from you! So, take the proper precautions to protect your trail cameras. This may mean you may have to secure them by locking them to a tree, or as I have done in the past, placing them at an elevated level, making harder for others to get see and get to.
There are so many other tips I could provide when it comes to public land hunting. But, the tips I have provided here are ones that have been tried and proven effective for me on the public lands I hunt. And, I am sure they will work for you on whatever public land you explore and hunt.
When you go out, look back on these tips and use them to your advantage this season and in the years to come. You will find that by using them, and maybe even by altering them somewhat, that you will have much more success when you are hunting public lands in the future.
Remember that there is nothing more important than being safe when you are out. So, take every precaution to do so, and make sure you take every opportunity to make a “Trophy Moment!”
Hunting is not only fun, it’s fulfilling to be able to provide meat for your family and loved ones. However, taking the animal should not be the only goal.
A hunter should always make every effort to kill the animal with a single shot, one that results in as quick a demise as possible.
So, how can you know where to shoot a deer so that you can accomplish this? Well, a hunter needs to be well-versed in deer anatomy, so that the animal can be taken with as little suffering as possible.
Where you shoot a whitetail (or mule deer) could be the difference between a clean, ethical kill and a wounded, suffering animal.
A deer’s vitals include the heart, lungs, stomach, liver and intestines. But where is the best place to shoot a whitetail? Read on!
Where To Shoot A Deer
The definition of what an “ethical shot” is when hunting deer has been an oft debated topic. Whatever your definition may be, a shot that presents the opportunity for the quickest and most humane (and legal) kill should be utilized.
It’s easy for excitement to give way to poor shot selection when hunting (especially when shooting at long range). Unfortunately, this often leads to the wounding of an animal, resulting in unnecessary suffering.
So, where is the kill zone on a deer? The following are locations of a deer’s anatomy, that if properly executed, will result in an effective kill.
Taking into account the position of the deer in this photo, where would you shoot this whitetail? And, which would be the best shot to take?
The Heart Shot
Simply put, a heart shot on a deer is lethal. However, while it will result in the death of a whitetail, it does not necessarily always provide the best blood trails. When the heart is hit, the flow of blood decreases and may result in less of a blood trail than you were hoping for.
bullet or broadhead that penetrates the heart often pierces the lungs as well, which is beneficial to ensuring a quick recovery of the animal.
When taking a heart shot, it’s good to be sure that the caliber of bullet you are using is sufficient to penetrate the shoulder blade and ensure a clean kill. The downside to a larger bullet is it can result in a larger amount of unusable meat upon processing.
The Lung Shot
The lungs provide a large target for rifle hunters and bowhunters alike. While a bullet can enter the lungs of a deer and exit, shooting its lungs with a broadhead will make it difficult for the deer to breathe. Usually, that difficulty breathing will keep it from being able to run too far after the shot. Sometimes, however, simply clipping a lung or not having a complete pass-through shot can result in poor blood trails, making the deer more difficult to track.
A lung shot with a bow is often as effective as a heart shot. Just aim for the middle of the lung area. A well-placed lung shot will cause the deer to suffocate to death. However, a lung-shot attempt that hits too far back may only pierce the liver, which can result in a much slower death and more difficult to track animal.
You can drop a deer with one shot if the spinal cord is severed. A neck shot that severs the arteries in the large arteries in the neck can be particularly bloody and lethal. But, while a lethal neck shot causes little damage to the meat of the animal, if the spine is not severed, it could be difficult to recover and it may even survive.
While a neck shot can be a risky shot with a gun, it’s simply a very poor shot to take if you’re a bowhunter.
The angle of the shot should be taken into account when deciding where to shoot a deer.
The Brain Shot
If it is well executed, a brain shot will drop a deer immediately. When you put a bullet through the brain, it will disrupt the life functions of the deer and it will lose consciousness immediately. This shot results in no loss of meat, but is a very difficult shot to make, due to the small target area.
While we’ve covered various parts of a whitetail’s anatomy that can be aimed for during a hunt to result in a kill, it’s also good to be well-versed in the rest of a deer’s anatomy, so you can become a more well-rounded and knowledgeable hunter.
Wait, a deer has how many stomachs? Well, just one… sort of. Read on…
All deer species have a four-chamber stomach. The four chambers are called the rumen, reticulum, omasum and abomasum. Deer are able to consume large amounts of food in a relatively short period of time. That food is swallowed and passed to the first stomach, which is known as the rumen.
The digestive bacteria in the rumen begins to break down the cellulose found in the plant life that the deer has consumed. However, the rumen cannot completely break down and absorb all the necessary nutrients, so the deer will regurgitate the food later and chew it again. This is often referred to as the deer “chewing its cud.” This allows the deer to further break down the food, so it can absorb the nutrients it needs.
Once the food is chewed the second time, it moves to the reticulum, which serves as a strainer of sorts. Foods that are more difficult to digest will remain in the rumen and reticulum chambers for a longer period of time. This can cause a “roadblock” of sorts and can lead to malnutrition and sometimes even death, all while having a “full stomach.”
After a period of about 16 hours, the food will pass from the reticulum to the omasum. In the omasum, the water from the food is absorbed. The food then passes to the abomasum, which produces acid that further breaks down the food that the deer has eaten.
After leaving the abomasum, the remaining food particles and liquid are passed to the deer’s intestines, where it will eventually exit the body as feces and urine. Whitetail typically defacate an average of 13 times per day.
A deer has four different chambers of the stomach, each with a different role in food digestion.
While whitetail cannot maintain top speed for long distances, they can run up to 40 miles per hour in short bursts.
With the use of their hooves, they are able to make sharp turns and pivots, even at high speeds. Their hind legs provide the power for their speed and jumping ability. In fact, deer are also good swimmers.
Whitetail bucks have tarsal glands on the inside of their hind legs. These glands secrete a musky scent unique to that individual deer. The buck will urinate on the glands and leave the scent in areas that it paws out on the ground, called scrapes.
Other male and female deer visit these scrapes to check scent. During the breeding season, or “rut”, bucks will scent check scrapes to identify what female does may be in the area or what intruder buck might be in his territory.
Male deer have antlers on top of their head as part of their anatomy. Although rare, it is also possible for a doe to grow antlers occasionally. A whitetail’s antlers are actually live tissue that are composed of bone. A deer’s antlers hold the distinction of having the fastest growing tissue of all animals.
Antler growth typically stops in late Summer to early Fall. Once growth stops, the deer will remove the velvet from their antlers by rubbing them on the bases of trees. After the breeding season ends, bucks will shed their antlers. Shed times can vary in different parts of the country, but typically take place between January and March.
A whitetail’s antlers can grow at an average of up to 2 inches per week!
Whitetail Ears And Hearing
A deer has hearing that is far superior to human hearing. This serves a whitetail well in identifying danger in the form of humans and other predators.
Muscles attached to the whitetail’s ears allow it to rotate them and hear in multiple directions without having to move its head.
This helps it to determine which direction the sound or is coming from and possibly even how far away the sound is. This part of a deer’s anatomy plays a critical role in its survival.
Eyesight… “All Around” Vision
You may have heard the saying that someone has “eyes in the back of their head.” A deer of course does not have those, but because its eyes’ location on the sides of its head, it does in fact, have a 310-degree field of vision. Almost as good as eyes in the back of the head!
Although it is hard for deer to focus on one object, their excellent vision helps them see clearly in the night-time hours.
A whitetail’s excellent sense of smell is one of its best defense mechanisms. A deer will lick its nose to make it moist. This allows it to “capture” odor particles that are carried by the wind and that stick to the deer’s nose. This not only helps a deer identify danger, but also plays a huge part in the breeding process.
Both male and female deer leave scent behind via urine and various scent glands. Among other things, a whitetail’s incredible sense of smell allows a buck to know when a doe is ready to breed, or when an intruder buck is in the area.
A deer’s nose is its best defense mechanism.
It’s very important to not only be familiar with deer anatomy as a hunter, it’s just as important to know what your limitations are with the weapon you are hunting with. Is the weapon going to be effective in producing a clean kill? Is your skill level such that you can safely and accurately make an ethical shot? Practice. Practice. And practice!
If you pair knowledge of deer anatomy with skill and patience, success is on the horizon!
If you’re a hunter, you have probably experienced the ‘ole “foot stomp.” It usually goes something like this… You’re watching from a tree stand or a permanent blind when a deer sees your shape or movement, or gets wind of your scent. It senses the danger and stops abruptly, curls up a front leg and starts stamping its hoof.
Deer do this to either confirm the apparent danger or become comfortable that there is actually no threat. Sometimes the deer will flee, but hopefully for the hunter, the animal will eventually settle down and continue browsing or travelling in a manner that allows an ethical shot.
Deer will stomp their hooves to try and cause movement from perceived danger.
It’s not uncommon, especially in suburban areas, for people to mistake deer for defenseless animals. But don’t let their majestic appearance and graceful movements fool you.
In addition to hunters, deer have other natural predators. These can include wolves, coyotes bobcats, and sometimes even bears and alligators.
When a predator threatens or attacks, a deer can either run or fight. Bucks often use their antlers to defend themselves, but just like does, can rise up on their hind legs, using their hooves to strike predators. They can also kick from behind, using the hind legs and hooves, if necessary.
Deer hooves do more than just leave tracks. They can be used by a deer to help defend itself against predators and perceived danger.
For hunters, the rut is a magical time of year. It’s that time when many hunters dream about that deer of a lifetime walking into view. Bucks are rubbing trees, using licking branches, and making “scrapes.”
In addition to hooves giving a buck the ability to chase does back and forth at high speeds, they also play a key part in the deer scraping activities.
Bucks will make “scrape lines” along travel routes and as they move through their territory. These can show up along field edges, fence lines and between feeding and bedding areas.
Bucks will paw and clear (scrape) an area to be free of leaves and debris. They will urinate in the scrape to leave their scent, effectively marking their territory. In addition, they will lick and chew overhanging branches, leaving forehead scent as well.
Does will also visit and use these scrapes, allowing bucks, upon a revisiting of the scrape, to know if a doe is ready to be bred.
As you can see in this video (sound up), whitetail bucks will make “scrapes” on the ground with their hooves and urinate in them. They will typically make these scrapes under a “licking branch,” where they will chew and rub their forehead, leaving scent.
Deer have interdigital scent glands in between the two hooves on each leg and one of the most important glands the animals have. Deer use the scent dispersed from these glands to track one another.
The interdigital glands are small, sparsely-haired sac located between the hooves on each foot. The sacs contain a yellowish material called sebum. The scent is left in a deer’s track every time it takes a step.
Fawn tracks are much smaller than full-grown deer tracks. The size of a fawn hoof print compared to human thumb
Mule deer utilize a bouncing gait, known as a pronk or stot. The whitetail do not utilize this type of gait, but rather tend to run and leap when fleeing danger.
While whitetails and muleys may have their differences, hoof structure and tracks are nearly impossible to differentiate. Both whitetail and mule deer have two hooves that form and upside-down heart-shape on the ground with the rounded bottom.
The side of the hooves are convex, while the tips of its hooves are located towards the inside of the track. The outside of the toe is usually slightly larger than the inside toe while the hind feet are smaller than the front feet.
Hopefully, we’ve been able to provide you with a useful overview of how deer use their hooves. Here’s one final thought… those deer tracks you find will only tell you where the deer have been. Here’s to hoping you find out where they end! Happy hunting!