By Alex Comstock
Hunting public land presents challenges like none other when it comes to pursuing mature bucks. The hunters that are consistently successful usually possess common traits, and one of those I've found to be is simply working harder than every one else. One person that I've continually been impressed with is Curtis Zabel from Behind the Bow. To learn a little more about what makes him tick, and his work ethic that helps make him successful on public land, read our Q&A below.
Q: Hunting public land can be quite the challenge. What’s the allure of hunting public land to you?
Curtis: Growing up I never had the opportunity to hunt much private property. Both my uncles owned smaller parcels of property and they were both always quite the drive to get to. My dad got me started at a young age, taking me out, sitting me down on a 5 gallon bucket and told me not to move. Honestly, I think starting out this way has made me a more well rounded hunter and I've taken it upon myself to further my game bowhunting public property. I've had some knock on the door parcels throughout the years, but I always drifted back to public land. I've always felt like I was limited. Like I was shackled down. I don't necessarily enjoy sitting the same spots, staring at the same trees every year. I yearn for adventure, the challenge, and for the unknown. I really enjoy learning new terrain, exploring new areas, and hunting down different bucks on public property.
Q: From what I’ve seen, you do some stuff that some people might consider crazy. What are some of those tactics you implore hunting public land to help give yourself the best chance possible of crossing paths with a mature buck?
Curtis: I will go above and beyond to have perfect access to my tree. Most setups that grant me a good access route usually yield a good sit. I feel like this is one of the most often overlooked aspects of hunting. By that I mean walking down creaks for long stretches, kayaking, circling long distances, or even walking up thorn infested ditches. Usually I like to take a very undesirable path that deer will not take or a way that will help contain my scent such as using water.
Very late nights and very early wake ups for packing in and packing out large amounts of hunting and camera equipment can easily get very old. It is something that comes along with being successful, comfortable on stand, and having the proper equipment for getting the best footage. Most people I don't feel like would necessarily enjoy doing those things. I in fact tend to enjoy the struggle. I embrace it.
Traveling long distances, wasting lots of gas, putting on a ton of miles, sleeping in parking lots, or less than desirable motels. Some people may feel as though some of these things are a little over the top but I feel the same way about their scent killer.
Q: What are some things you do that others might not be thinking of when it comes to public land hunting? How do you feel you differentiate yourself?
Curtis: I'm pretty average. I don't feel like i differentiate too much from the other public land bowhunters out there. We all have to deal with the same obstacles. If I had to choose, I would have to say I have a pretty fiery drive inside of me. My obsession with bowhunting is off the charts and often unhealthy at times. Failure drives me. Success drives me. My infatuation with whitetails gets stronger every year and it scares even myself. If I have any amount of free time you can bet I will be in the woods doing something. I am not a real sociable person honestly. There is something about being out in the elements alone hunting or scouting that I just love. My life is literally revolved around whitetails and it get sickening to some I'm sure, but not to me.
Q: How do you handle failure? It’s inevitable, especially hunting public land, but I think some people might struggle with the fact of working so hard, only to have a mature buck slip through their fingers. How do you get back after it after a mishap?
Curtis: When I was younger I would really struggle with controlling my emotions and my anger. This would often times drive me into a negative space that would be very hard for me to pull myself out of. It is nothing but a downhill spiral once you start thinking negatively. It's something I'm still working on and I struggle with it from time to time. One thing that helps me get over this is looking at the bigger picture. I am bowhunting. There are people who are sick, can't walk, overseas, etc. There's much bigger problems in life than getting busted by a whitetail or having swirling wind. That usually puts me back in the positive mindset.
Q: How do you set your expectations? This is yet another thing I feel as though some people struggle with. Hunting public land is quite different than hunting a managed property, and those expectations can dictate someone’s mentality when it comes to deer hunting. How do you go about doing this?
Curtis: I think too many people care too much what others think of them. I could care less. I have all sorts of goals and they are my own goals. Everyone should have their own goals and think for themselves. The world would be a better place.
Q: What do you consider a successful season? Is a successful season only at the end of blood trail, or are there others ways for you to have a successful season?
Curtis: Every year is a success in my eyes as long as I'm continuing to learn and experience new things. Yes, punching a tag on a large antlered animal always helps the matter and is no doubt a huge success. But I feel like my most successful years come from a previous year of being "unsuccessful". It forces me to up my game.
Q: If a random person asked you one piece of advice for hunting mature bucks on public land, what would you say?
Curtis: One huge thing I think is people forget about the most important time of year. SPRING. If you are fishing, boating, turkey hunting, etc you aren't scouting. Scouting is key. A lot of people put hunting on the back burner after the rut and completely forget about the most crucial time of year.
There is nothing set in stone. There are no secrets. There is no one item on the market that is going to kill deer for you. Keeping an open mind, a positive mindset and replacing your excuses with solutions is what will bring you to a successful hunting season.