Finding a good hunting spot on public land can without a doubt be quite a challenge. The reality is you are one of a significant number of hunters pursuing a buck or two in a state game management area, national forest or government land. Consequently, public land is pressured and you have to pull out all the tricks from your hat to ensure a successful hunting season.
The golden key to success is in doing your homework which includes doing some research too. The fact is, hunters who stay involved with hunting all year round in some way or other, achieve more success than those going in for the kill during the hunting season and then pack everything away until the next season.
There are, of course, a few things you can do to find your perfect spot.
Arriving on a piece of public land just to find the deer there are too young for your hunting taste, or the terrain is inadequate and then having to pack up and move on, sure seems like a waste of your precious time.
We can, to a large extent, avoid such disappointment by doing our homework by means of scouting. Consequently, the more time you spend on scouting, the more successful your hunt will be.
You might also opt to scout just before the season opens as well as postseason. The fact is, you should be spending more time scouting than hunting in order to find your perfect spot for hunting on public land.
Your main goal with scouting is, of course, to track down the deer and learn as much as possible about their movement patterns without alerting them.
There are a few key guidelines for effective scouting:
- Start off by doing some digital scouting, and in doing this Google Earth might just become your most favorite tool. It might take some practice, but the more you experiment with it, the easier it will become to accurately identify high-quality portions of public land. This will save you much appreciated time when choosing your hunting spot on public land. It eliminates hours and hours of walking the land just to find out you should actually pack up and move to a different area.
The golden key here is to keep in mind that using a map to scout is merely the first step in the process to eliminate low-quality land. It is for sure no substitute for walking your boots through the terrain. So, once you have identified a favorable piece of land, get out on your feet and compare what you see to what you found on Google Earth.
- Your next step is to scout from a distance. This will provide insight on how the deer actually use the land, but this may require high-quality optics.
- You are now ready for the next step – hanging your trail cameras. Be sure to check if it is legal in the State you are hunting. This will give you a good idea of the movement patterns of the deer in that specific area.
Scouting extensively just before the season opens, will save you a tremendous amount of time when the hunt begins.
After the hunting season, most avid hunters take a break for a few weeks and then, as expected, start thinking about deer again.
And so, they use this time for offseason deer scouting. This merely means that one is utilizing your time to find bedding areas, document deer sign, and note which bucks have survived the previous hunting season. This information can then effectively be used to identify or eliminate potential spots for a tree stand for next season.
Why Postseason Scouting?
First of all, it is worth mentioning that, although in-season scouting is extremely valuable because it contains real-time information, it opens up the possibility that you might spook deer away and compromise a successful hunt.
Since no one is hunting deer anymore during the postseason, you have the freedom of movement during postseason scouting without fear of spooking them. In fact, it really doesn’t matter if you spook them now.
Postseason activities of deer hold many secrets of what’s to come in the next hunting season. By evaluating those activities we gather valuable information that will add to an easier next hunting season.
So what exactly are the secrets that are revealed by postseason scouting?
- This unique look at the landscape will provide information on travel corridors, bedding areas, and food sources.
- We can learn much about habitats and tendencies from the locations where bucks shed their antlers.
- The postseason still makes provision for good visibility for following tracks and signs because once the undergrowth and leaves start growing at full force, most of it will be covered up.
When to Start Postseason Scouting
The postseason is usually any time from late winter to early spring and there are very specific reasons for this.
Late season or postseason hunters, especially in the northern areas, achieve great results. The reasons for this being that wet areas will now be frozen, giving access to otherwise inaccessible swamps. And this is exactly where mature bucks prefer to hide out.
During this time of year tracking deer also becomes significantly easier as a result of the snow on the ground. You will be able to see where feeding and bedding areas and travel corridors are.
The ideal time for postseason scouting is to get out in the woods 2-3 days after fresh snow of a few inches. Deer now move about in their daily routines and tracks and trails will be more obvious to follow too.
Postseason Scouting Strategies
What, Where and How to Scout?
Look out for any information regarding deer territory and their movement patterns. This includes tracks, trails, scrapes, food sources, beds and rubs.
Food and Water Sources:
This is an excellent spot to start your scouting since it is an extremely important aspect of a deer’s life. In fact, most of their movement and travel patterns are determined by this.
Look out for food plots, persimmons, apple trees, oak trees, agricultural fields and woody growths from a clear-cut.
Make sure, though, not to focus on current food sources only, but identify food sources that could play a key role in deer activity over the next few months too.
Deer’s bedding area preferences change as the seasons change, and also when hunting pressures becomes more apparent.
When scouting postseason on public land, you will most probably find deer bedding down in sheltered areas for protection against the winter winds.
Check out our Article Do Deer Bed in the same Spot?
Potential Access Routes:
Access routes are the golden keys to find when scouting postseason since they control and determine deer movement all year round. It is important to take note of physical barriers and also how deer move across them as this will be a contributing factor to determining the best spot for your next hunt on public land.
The goal here is to locate river crossings, food source entries and exits, and fence crossings. It is worth mentioning here that fence crossings are a constant that typically stays the same year to year since it is not reliant on seasonal changes or weather patterns.
When it comes to “how” to scout postseason, there is no right or wrong way. The key is to walk around in the woods and observe and process as much information about your surroundings and deer behavior as you possibly can.
Here are a few Tips on How to Scout Postseason:
- Start off by following a main trail or feeding field. Cover as much ground as possible in the shortest time.
- Your initial goal is to find a deer trail.
- However, not just any deer trail will do. Attempt to find either a large trail used by several deer, or a lone trail with large tracks. This will respectively lead you to the doe bedding area or buck bedding area.
- However, all is not over when you have located the bedding area. Take some time examining it as it will reveal much information such as why they chose this specific spot. Furthermore, you can determine whether it is a doe or a buck’s bed.
A buck’s bed will most probably be approximately 40 inches long, and will typically stand alone.
A doe’s bed, however, will be somewhat smaller and clustered together with other beds in the vicinity.
- Take notes of all possible information; e.g. where the sun rises and where deer would be likely to travel. Use a map to plot all the information and a camera or even a video camera to be able to study images at a later stage.
The most efficient way to find a good hunting spot on public land is to combine information you gather at different times and from different sources.
Use your Google Earth map together with the notes of field sightings of previous seasons, and photos or videos you took while scouting.
Combine your in-season scouting with your postseason scouting information to get a clear picture of where the best spot for hunting on public land is.
To be realistic, we have to take into consideration that in nature there are no guarantees. So, although deer, as all wild animals, will present behavior patterns such as typical entry and exit points from trails, it does not mean they will always enter a specific spot from the same trail as before.
It is therefore necessary to gather as much information for as many years as possible in order to establish the best spot for deer hunting on public land.
Making hunting a success on public land has much to do with attitude and having a specific mind-set. A few easy guidelines are:
Be able to adapt – you might not be able to hunt on the piece of land you initially had your mind set to. The reason for this could be something as easy as losing your access to the specific land.
Know when to move on – so you arrive at your chosen piece of land and find not-such-favorable conditions. It might be disturbances such as private individuals camping and making too much noise, or even being over-crowded with hunters. The fact is, you should move on to the next spot quickly as possible.
Your expectations should match the place where you hunt – any hunter’s dream is to take down a big, mature buck. However, the land where you decided to hunt on, might only offer numerous 2-year old bucks. Do not get discouraged and leave right away, but rather make it a successful hunting trip by taking down one of them.
Walk the extra, tougher mile – Literally. We all know we should walk farther than our fellow hunters to avoid hunting pressure. The fact is, walking farther to find the biggest buck might also entail that you “walk” over rough terrain, be it crossing a creek or climbing a steep ridge where others avoid going.