Hunting Public Land – Part 1

By Mike Bleech

5 Mistakes Hunters Make On Public Lands

You may think hunting on public lands means too much competition from other hunters. Yes, hunting pressure does tend to be heavier on public lands than on private lands. However, not every public place gets a lot of hunting pressure, nor do other hunters create the same kind of competition as you often get on private lands. Many of them actually give you weak competition.

You can avoid being weak competition yourself, though, by not making the mistakes many casual deer hunters make. You should always learn from your own mistakes, but nothing says that you cannot learn from the mistakes of other hunters, too. Here are a few mistakes to avoid.

Mistake #1 – Hunting close to roads.

text-box-336x336One particular area I frequently hunt has a reputation for holding very few deer. I hear about it often. When I suggest that hunters get farther away from roads the reply is always the same – they tell me they do get deep into the woods.

I know better. During a normal deer season I see absolutely no tracks in the snow farther than 1/8-mile from the nearest road, other than those of my own hunting companions. Of course, I dare not tell that to anyone who claims to get deep in the woods. Egos get too deeply involved.

Most of the moving that deer do during hunting season results from the movements of hunters. If no one is far enough into the woods to jump deer, usually they bed all day, or most of it anyway.

Mistake #2 – Moving too fast.


Small details can make the difference between seeing a deer before it sees the hunter, or not. By walking in the small depression, this hunter lowers his profile by a couple feet.
(Photo by Mike Bleech)

Of course, by getting deeper into the woods you run the risk of pushing deer to other hunters. This is why you should avoid moving too fast. Moving fast tends to get deer running. Just one hunter moving recklessly can make hunting close to roads almost futile. It is absolutely essential that you see deer before they vacate the area.

Moving slowly, cautiously, tends to just nudge deer along (if you are not shooting at them.) They may make a few bounds, but in many cases they will not move far or fast. It is not unusual for a skilled still hunter to be able to cut ahead of deer by taking advantage of their slow movements when the course of the movement is accurately anticipated. That comes from experience and scouting.


Mistake #3 – Going where other hunters go.

While this may seem only logical to some hunters, to others there is a tendency to assume that other hunters have a good reason for going wherever they go, and so they follow them. Often, hunters park in the same places as other hunters. That’s what I call city thinking. The result is pockets of hunters separated by areas where there are relatively few, in any, hunters.

The reason for not going where other hunters go is simple. Hunting pressure moves deer. Deer generally get away from hunters, then when they get to an area where there are no hunters they stay there. Simple as this seems, it is ignored more often than not.

Mistake #4 – Setting up a stand in wide open places.  


A man-made blind will be easy for deer to spot unless it blends in with the surroundings like this one, which is set in top of a large boulder. (Photo by Mike Bleech)

Open places are generally poor places to set up blinds. Hunters often do just this because of the open shooting it provides. But when pressured, deer avoid open places, so that’s exactly where you do not want to be. Find travel lanes deer use, then keep in mind that the bigger bucks often do not follow the same paths as does, fawns and yearling bucks.

Find a place where your blind blends into natural cover, somewhere it does not stand out. Cover both in front of the blind and behind the blind to make it blend in.

Mistake #5 – Focusing on the show-off bucks everyone else sees.

Simply put, that’s asking for trouble. Those bucks that are frequently seen from roads are seen by many hunters, and many more hunters hear about them. Word spreads fast, and the size of the buck’s rack grows with each telling. By the time deer season rolls around, such a buck is likely to attract a large following.


It is not necessary to see a big buck to know it is in the area. Author Mike Bleech is examining a buck rub. By the size of the tree that was rubbed, and by the presence of gouges made by tines, it is a pretty good bet that this rub was made by a big buck.
(Photo by Mike Bleech)

A couple of major bad things happen. First, the root of most other problems, heavy hunting pressure creates a circus atmosphere. You will see hunters in every direction. On top of that, it can be dangerous when a bunch of overly excited hunters are in close proximity. Remember, that buck did not get big, which also means old, by making mistakes. Something about its habits has made killing it very difficult.

If a buck that has been showing its stuff alongside the road gets past the first onslaught on the opening morning of deer season, it will go somewhere that provides it with relative security. Hunters who look for it by the apple trees, crop field, or whatever else was attracting it to that roadside spot during the weeks leading up to hunting season, have scant chance of seeing it again, at least not until the following year when it again becomes a pre-season show-off.

Avoiding these mistakes can save you a lot of time and trouble, but it’s only half the story. To be strong competition for other hunters, you need to choose the best ways to hunt deer on public land. That’s the rest of the story.


About Mike Bleech

mike-bleech-head-shotMike 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.


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

Click here for Part 2 – Hunting Public Land

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3 Responses to Hunting Public Land – Part 1

  1. Pingback: Hunting Public Land – Part 2 | Havalon Knives

  2. Pingback: 5 Mistakes Hunters Make on Public Land « Southern Style Outdoors

  3. tyler says:

    Moving slow is excellent advice and will yield much better results, as stated in this article.

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