By Alex Comstock
For the past two years, I've been hunting almost exclusively on public land. During that time, I've learned a lot about both the positives and negatives of what can happen while chasing whitetails on land that we all share, but above all else, I've learned to embrace it.
Hunting public land isn't easy. Especially if your goal is to harvest a mature buck. You've got to work hard, put in the time, and hunt where others don't want to go. But if you've never hunted public land before, I think you should give it a shot. Don't believe me? Read these three things I've outlined on why you should attempt it, and then think about it again.
Public Land is a Challenge
Hunting public land is 100% a challenge. I don't care who you are or what you say, but wherever you are, public land is going to present some form of a challenge that you may not endure anywhere else. If you are someone who is seeking a greater challenge, public land could be the way to go. Anything can happen at anytime, and even if you have a piece of public land you've scouted and don't think anyone else is hunting where you are, someone could show up out of the blue while you're in the stand, and mess things up.
I love the challenge of chasing mature bucks on public land because I know anyone else could be doing it. Sometimes public land gets a bad rap because people don't want to deal with unwanted competition. But getting it done on a mature whitetail buck that anyone else could have hunted creates a unique feeling of gratitude and thankfulness (more on this later). One thing is for certain, nothing is going to come easy, and very rarely can you waltz in to a piece of unscouted public land, set up in the best looking spot, and have all of the pieces fall in place. It's going to be hard, but trust me, it'll be worth it.
It Will Make You a Better Deer Hunter
If nothing else, hunting public land will make you a more proficient deer hunter. Even on highly managed land, or private land that you have permission to hunt where it isn't pressured, a mature buck is a completely different animal than other deer. On public land, he is even more wary, and harder to kill - and this is what can elevate your deer hunting ability.
What you'll learn hunting public land is that you have to cross every T, dot every i, and take everything you do to extreme caution. A mature buck that calls public land home has been hunted before. He knows when something is wrong, and he knows how to survive. And that's either move to where people aren't, or to not move at all during daylight. He knows he can move safely under the cover of darkness, and his number one priority in life is survival. If you can successfully harvest a mature buck on public land, the next time you hunt a private parcel that doesn't receive much pressure, you might think it's easy. Okay, maybe I won't go that far, but you get the jest of it. Through mistakes and failures that are inevitably going to surface through hunting a mature buck on public land, you'll hone your skills, and it'll make you a better deer hunter for the future.
The Added Gratitude
The feeling of hunting a mature buck on public land, where literally anybody else could be doing the same thing as you, and then actually harvesting him is indescribable. I don't know that I can put into words what would accurately depict how I feel during the precious moment of walking up to that deer.
More than anything, I respect deer, and I respect a mature buck that has dodged death, and survived on public land for three, four, or five years. That animal is the smartest walking creature in the woods, and to know that you were the one that figured him out, or outsmarted him to the point where you could send an arrow or a bullet through him is ultimately gratifying. It's a feeling that I think will always be unique to the public land hunter.
If you've never hunted public land before, I hope I was able to convince you to minimally give it a try this season. Not to say you should give up hunting on your private areas, but add some public land hunting to your repertoire. There's an abundance of different things you can learn while doing it, and you may even turn into a public land hunter yourself.