Hunting Public Land – Part 2

By Mike Bleech

4 Secrets to Outsmarting Other Hunters
for Public Lands Whitetails

Outsmarting other deer hunters on public land might also be called “third level deer hunting”. While you may see novice hunters on public lands, a good share of hunters will have intermediate skills. Even though the essence of deer hunting is competing with deer, still a large part of it is competing with other hunters for the deer. That should be plenty of reason to elevate your deer hunting skills to the third level.


Which is most important when hunting whitetails on public land – outsmarting deer, or outsmarting other hunters? You gotta do both. Dan Stimmell grew up hunting in a national forest and his record indicates he is more successful than over 95% of public land deer hunters. (Photo by Mike Bleech)

Various surveys have shown that a large share of deer hunters gravitate to public lands, so hunting pressure is a constant consideration there. Even if more hunters do hunt on private lands, public lands concentrate hunting pressure more than most private lands. This affects everything involved with hunting deer.

Secret #1 – Learn to use your tools.

Do not just carry maps, a compass and a GPS – learn how to use them. At the very least you should be able to navigate through the woods with a compass and a topographic map. Learn to do that even before buying a GPS. A GPS does not replace either topo map or compass. Knowing how to use them will greatly enhance your use of a GPS.

Topo maps usually are available at sporting goods stores near public lands, sometimes at offices of public lands, through the mail, or from websites.

Topo maps are valuable tools not just for finding your way around, but also for planning hunts. Deer movements very often relate to terrain. They tend to avoid using very steep slopes. They tend to walk along benches, which are relatively level sections along otherwise steep slopes, and they tend to cross ridges at places where it’s an easier climb over the ridge.

think-you-need-to-outsmart-deer-theres-more-to-it-than-thatWhile scouting, make accurate notes directly on your maps about information you find. Include what you discover while on foot, and also things you learn while driving. Combining this information may reveal patterns that point to good hunting. As an example, by noting where most other hunters enter the woods, you can position yourself where the deer will likely go.

GPS units are not compasses. Some may possess compass capabilities, but only compasses are compasses. Carry a compass within easy reach to frequently check the direction you’re traveling. On the other hand, nothing can replace a GPS unit for creating a virtual map of your movements, for marking specific locations where you have been, and for getting back to those locations. In addition to making notations on maps – on your GPS, plot significant spots, such as good places to stand.

Maybe most important of all, be sure to plot the location of your vehicle or camp to make it as easy as possible to get back at the end of the hunt. This can be a virtual lifesaver if you are dragging a deer.

Secret #2 – Know where deer go.

keep-hunting-after-others-quit- 298x448

A great way to end a deer season – a deer on the last day. One way to outsmart other hunters is to keep hunting after they quit. (Photo by Mike Bleech)

Making good use of maps will help you determine what may be the single most important information a hunter can know. It can help you determine where deer go. This usually is a lot more important than knowing where they are, although knowing where they are is the first part of knowing where they go.

Heavy hunting pressure is usually the norm on public land. This can be a big problem, but savvy deer hunters turn it to their advantage. If you know where deer are at any particular time, and you assume that other hunters will get the deer moving, then you have a very good chance of intercepting the deer.

Here are a couple of common examples of putting this to use, even with minimal scouting. Experienced deer hunters know that deer like to bed in clear-cuts, or similarly dense new growth that results from timbering, fires or wind storms. If hunters jump them from thick of cover, and another clear-cut is nearby, that is probably where they will go.

Another example – if deer are pushed either up over, or down from a steep ridge, they will usually run up or down the end of the ridge, or through a cut on the side of the ridge. They tend to use places where the sidehill is not so steep.

Secret #3 – See what other hunters don’t see.

Carry good binoculars, and use them often. Binoculars allow hunters to see farther and more clearly. This helps even the playing field between deer and hunters since deer have superior natural senses.

Think about it. Deer not only see better, they’re also better conditioned to using their senses. By comparison, people have so much external stimulation in the form of television and other things that dull senses.


Making the extra effort is key to successful deer hunting. This hunter climbed onto a large boulder to set up his stand. Note that it is surrounded by natural cover. (Photo by Mike Bleech)

A still-hunter moving slowly, cautiously through the woods should stop often, spending more time looking than moving. But human eyes have limitations that cannot compete with the eyes of deer without the help of optics. This is important to hunting more effectively than most other hunters.

When choosing binoculars you need to understand the trade-off you make. Compact binoculars may be light weight, but usually have a narrow field of view and are not as bright. Full size probably is best in forest cover because deer often hide in shadows. Both 8X and 10X are popular magnifications for deer hunting binoculars.

Secret #4 – Take advantage
of natural cover.

Blinds, either in trees or on the ground, are excellent hunting tools but, unless they are placed wisely, deer are likely to notice anything new in their area, just as you would notice an extra foot stool in your living room. Even if you use a blind, use natural cover to make it less obvious. Before you hide in the blind, hide the blind.

That doesn’t mean constructing a blind to hide your man-made blind. Just a fallen tree crossing the blind, breaking up its outline, may be enough to conceal it. Blend it in with the surroundings.

Much of what we have covered involves working with nature. Technology goes only so far. Hunting always comes down to understanding the relationship between deer and their habitat, and being more in tune with nature than other hunters are. That’s what makes you much more likely to use your Havalon knife before you get back to your truck.


About Mike Bleech

mike-bleech-outdoor-writerMike Bleech has been a full-time freelance writer/photographer since 1980 with more than 5,000 articles published in more than 100 publications. He is the outdoors columnist for the Erie Times-News and the Warren Times Observer. Over the years he has become an expert at hunting the Allegheny National Forest and other public lands.


To read Hunting Public Land – Part 1, click here.


For more articles by Mike Bleech, click here.
And click here for the best skinning knife, once you’ve gotten your trophy. 

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