Public Hunting Land | Branching Out to New Areas
You might be blessed to hunt on private land of one type or another. Maybe it’s been in your family for generations. Maybe you worked your butt off to buy or lease a prime whitetail property with food plots. Or maybe you just know a guy who got you access for a free hunt on some land down the road. Any way you slice it, there are some great advantages to having a piece of property to yourself. But there are also some amazing opportunities and benefits from public hunting land. In fact, they might just stack up to tilt the favor away from private land.
First, there is literally so much public hunting land out there across our great country that it would be darn difficult to ever hunt it all. Granted, some states are better positioned for it than others, but there’s a lot out there. It’s basically free to use, so you never have to worry about missing a loan payment. Technically, your tax money helps purchase and maintain some of these areas, so why not use them? Many public lands include some truly scenic and amazing areas too. And as nice as it is to manage private land, it can sometimes get a little too routine. You fall into the same procedure every hunt, which doesn’t push you to grow your skills. With public properties, you can switch it up every day and stay fresh all hunting season. Trying new areas challenges you as a hunter, helps build your outdoor skills, and kicks tree stand boredom out the window.
But it can definitely be intimidating when you start your search. Luckily, it’s really never been easier for someone to quickly locate several great hunting spots from the comfort of their own home. Sure, some actual boots on the ground will be the only way to really know you want to hunt somewhere. But before all that, nimble up those fingers and start searching for some amazing public hunting land near you.
The Search for Public Land
The easiest way to start is to simply open up whatever search engine you want and type in “public hunting land in MN” or whatever state you live in. Alternatively search for “state hunting land near me” or “public hunting grounds near me” for a long list of properties. In Minnesota alone, for example, you’ll find county land, state forests, miscellaneous state hunting land, state trust lands, wildlife management areas (WMAs), waterfowl production areas (WPAs), industrial forest lands, national forests, and the list goes on. Usually, your state wildlife agency website will be a good resource for locating public hunting land. But if you’d prefer the old-fashioned way, call up a local office and ask them about public opportunities near you. Most of them will be happy to share, and they may already have a public hunting land map for you. As a last resort, whip out some county plat books and keep your eyes open for any of the property types mentioned above.
Don’t forget to look at surrounding properties and access to the public hunting land. After all, some portions of a particular unit may be land-locked by private property or require a very lengthy walk/ATV ride through a swamp to get to it. This is especially important if you primarily use ladder stands, as some public lands do not allow tree stands to be left on the property overnight. In that case, you’d need to take some fixed position stands or climbers with you that you can set up and take down in a day. The Blackhawk is a great option for strict public lands because it is very light, even when combined with the Quick-Stick climbing system.
After finding a few potential places, it’s time to get some more information about them and develop a short list for hunting. Typically, there will be some kind of web page devoted to most of the common public hunting lands above, which will provide some more details about the terrain, land cover, wildlife present, or access. After weeding out a few more options, it’s time for some desktop scouting.
Scouting for Deer…with Your Computer
If you don’t already use Google Earth® for hunting, you really need to be. It is such a powerful tool for quickly looking at cover types, saving tree stand locations or trails, and even keeping track of past hunting activity throughout the years. In some cases, you can also search online for “land ownership Google Earth” to find county-specific ownership layers that you can import into the program, which makes the whole process even easier. Anyway, open it up and zoom to the location of the public hunting land you’re interested in. From here, it’s time to pan around and zoom in and out to get a feel for the property. If it passes this test, it’s probably worth investigating in-person.
As far as things to look for, think about what you would look for on a scouting trip. Thick cover, bedding areas, food sources, water, travel routes, funnels/pinch points, and tree stand locations are all things you should be able to estimate from this aerial research. If you find that you can’t really tell from the aerial imagery, there is a way to also view historic imagery, which might offer a better view. For example, your current imagery might have been taken in summer and everything appears to only be a different shade of green. But using the historic imagery slider, you can toggle back until you find one that was taken in fall or winter. During those times of the year, the leaves are gone and you can see specific tree species really easily, not to mention bedding areas and funnels in much crisper detail. You can even see deer trails through cattail swamps with these images!
Now here’s where it gets really exciting. You can create polygons of spots you expect to be good bedding areas, save lines for potential access trails, or make points for good tree stand locations. By saving these spots on your custom public land map, you can print it and bring it with you to the woods when you decide to ground truth it. From there, you can easily cross things off the map if they don’t look like you envisioned, or draw additional points and notes to record later back in the program. This makes it such a powerful tool for any deer hunter.
Make the best use of this winter by starting your scouting for new public hunting land right now. It’s never a bad thing to have too many properties you can hunt on a given day; unless of course you find perfect tree stand spots for each one. But that’s a pretty good problem to have, don’t you think?
Post Season Scouting for Whitetails
All the snow lately has probably got you thinking about one thing: how much you miss fall. Not just the amazing weather and sights of fall itself, but deer hunting too. Fortunately, hunting doesn’t have to end when deer hunting season ends (we’re not talking about poaching either). You can continue your pursuit to become a better hunter throughout the year, and there’s no better time than now for a post season scouting trip. If you’ve ever wondered when to start scouting for deer, you can start immediately after the season closes! Most people don’t think about scouting for deer in December or January, because it’s either too cold or they don’t see the benefit of it. But it’s really an ideal time to wander the woods and learn more about the animal you obsess about during the fall. Plus, it’s some good exercise to keep the holiday treats from sticking to your gut too much.
Why Post Season Scouting?
Scouting is one of those deer hunting 101 skills, and every hunter should be doing it to maximize their success rate. Similar to pre-season scouting, you can learn a great deal about the woods and whitetails to help you during your next hunt even if you’re scouting after the season ends. When used in combination with scouting before deer season, however, you can double your knowledge. Pre-season deer will have different movement patterns and behaviors than post season deer. So you should ideally combine these experiences to find the average behavior for your hunting area, and know where to target them as they transition throughout the season.
Another nice thing about post season scouting is that you really can’t do any harm from spooking deer. During the pre-season, it’s usually good to sneak around without disturbing bedding areas or alerting deer that you’re there. If you run into a bedded buck, you might hurt your chances at hunting him that season. But you don’t need to worry about that for post season deer. If you jump them from their beds, they’ll run away and have 8 to 9 months to recover from it before you would possibly be able to hunt them again. So feel free to tromp wherever you want.
Finally, the post season is a good time to scout because you can find out where the deer have been gathering in the last couple weeks of the season. Especially if there’s snow on the ground, you can easily see where they’ve been feeding, traveling, and bedding in your area. The frozen ground even allows you to inspect some swampy areas where reclusive bucks might hide out during the season. This allows you to set up predictive tree stands next year in the right spots without having to do much more than a quick reconnaissance scouting trip in the fall. The Big Game Tree Stands® Boss Lite fixed position stand is perfect for quickly hanging on one of those trips next fall. This time of year is a good one for clearing new trails or shooting lanes too, since there aren’t any bugs and the temperatures are cool.
Planning a Post Season Scouting Trip
You have a few options to plan out your scouting trip. You can either use your time to inspect your usual hunting spots and further pinpoint where the deer activity is. Or you could also try a new hunting area you haven’t been to before, to get a feel for the land and check for deer sign there. If you’ve got lots of time, you could easily check out several areas. Plan on a weekend for thoroughly walking a few hundred acres during one of these trips. You can obviously get by with less than a weekend. But if you find yourself crunched for time, you’re not likely to inspect every deer trail you come across that could lead you to a hidden oasis.
Many hunters wonder how to find a good hunting spot on public land, and assume it will takes miles of walking to figure this out. While you do need to walk a bit to confirm things, you should always start your post season scouting with some desktop research before you leave for the woods. You can use any kind of aerial maps for deer hunting purposes as long as you can see satellite imagery and zoom in fairly close. Use them to glance through your hunting area, looking specifically for areas you’d like to target. Identify the food sources and bedding areas you know about, and then locate likely travel routes between them, knowing that mature bucks will often take a very meandering route to stay out of sight. If it’s a completely new area you’re looking at, make your best guess at these spots. Some promising areas to look for include recent clearcuts, agricultural fields, small woodland openings, dense brushy riversides, or thick conifer stands.
As far as logistics for one of these post season scouting trips, you should pack light and wear lighter clothing than you think you might need for cold weather. You’ll be very active beating the brush throughout the day, so wearing layers of performance clothing can make a big difference in staying comfortable. You don’t want to sweat, so peel off layers or slow down if you find yourself perspiring too much. You may want to pack along an extra insulation layer or wind-breaking shell jacket in case you get stuck somewhere you don’t intend. If there’s a lot of snow, plan on using gaiters or snowshoes to make the experience more pleasant and keep your feet dry.
Otherwise, pack some water and a lunch to keep your energy and hydration up throughout the day. If you haven’t pulled your tree stands down for the season, now is a good time to do it before winter really sets in. If you have lock on stands, make sure you can carry them out with your extra gear. If you mostly have ladder stands, however, you’re going to need to recruit some help to haul them out. Toss a notebook, map, and compass in your bag too so you can record your thoughts and not get lost. It’s also always good to carry along some basic tools, especially if you plan on doing any habitat work. You can easily pack a serrated hand saw or some ratchet shears should you need them.
The only caution with post season scouting is to not wait too long. As winter really grabs hold, the temperatures plummet and the snow piles up. Whitetails in many areas tend to migrate to better wintering areas, called deer yards, where there is food nearby and thick cover to protect them from winter winds. Whether they migrate near or far, their patterns will be different. Step into a cedar forest in mid-winter, and it will look like there are hundreds of deer per acre. But the same hot spot will likely be pretty barren during early season deer hunting. The point behind post season scouting is to catch deer patterns while they’re still applicable to hunting season.
Where and What to Look For
If you’re still wondering exactly how to scout for deer in the winter, you should start with some high percentage spots to make the rest of the trip successful. As we mentioned above, food sources and bedding areas are great places to start your deer scouting. A whitetail’s world this time of year revolves around these two things. If you’re not sure about where these spots might be or don’t know how to find deer in the woods, start wandering some ATV/snowmobile trails until you cut a track. Either way, you should start looking for deer trails entering and leaving the areas above or crossing the trail. After finding some with buck tracks in them, start the tracking process. If you don’t know how to track a deer for a few hundred yards, you really need to try it. You can discover all kinds of interesting things about deer behavior by learning where they go, what they stop to look at, what trees they browse on, etc. Very often, they will take strange routes that lead you to a new area you wouldn’t expect them to bed, which is great information for next year. Patterning big woods bucks can be challenging, given the vast acreage involved and seeming lack of food. But that’s when following a buck’s trail really pays off. Use your journal and map to record notes on what you find and where you find it.
The really critical thing you should look for on one of these post season scouting missions is a good-sized travel corridor you could set a tree stand in. The best tree stand placement for most of the deer season will be concealed along a deer trail. If you’ve been puzzled with how to find a good deer hunting spot before, simply keep an eye out for other deer sign and pinch points as you track your deer from food to bed or vice versa. Finding deep woods bucks is easier when you can see their large tracks in the snow. If you see a history of rubs on the trees along a buck trail, it’s likely that this buck or others have used the same route before. If at any point the trail gets narrow against an opening, a fence line, or a brushy point, you might have found a good place for a tree stand. Particularly if there are mature trees with good cover (e.g., big conifers, oaks, maples, etc.), you should record the spot as a place to re-visit next fall with a trail camera. That way, you can analyze what kind of deer movement is still there next year before you hunt it.
While you’re out post season scouting, you should also keep an eye out for other work you could get finished. For example, if you feel confident you have found one of your new deer hunting spots and will put up a tree stand in a the area next fall, grab those ratchet shears and saw and start pruning out an access trail and shooting lanes to save on the work you’ll have to do next year. It will grow in quite a bit throughout the summer, but there shouldn’t be anything heavy in your way to slow you down. That’s good since you want to remain discreet in the fall and make as little a disturbance as possible. Depending on where you hunt, deer can get spooked by fresh cut trees in the fall.
If you’re on private land where you are allowed to cut even more, you may want to consider doing some quick and dirty timber stand improvement to see more deer while hunting. If the property you’re on is lacking in quality winter cover (i.e., consists of mostly mature trees), you may want to consider doing a few quick hinge cuts. Hinge cutting is best done on trees that are 6 to 7 inches in diameter at breast height (dbh). If they are larger than that, you’ll reduce the chance of it hinging properly and make it unsafe to do too. Use your serrated saw to cut halfway through the tree trunk on the opposite side of whichever direction you want it to fall. Gently guide it down as best you can so that it doesn’t break off from the base of the tree. This remaining connection will provide some water and nutrients to the tree top for another year or two, which will keep it alive and producing buds and leaves. Treetops make excellent deer browse in the winter, because the buds and smaller twigs are much softer and more nutritious than coarse, woody growth below. Cutting a tree along a trail produces more food for them as they walk between food and cover, which may even stall them long enough for a shot next fall. But it also helps them this winter by providing some easy-to-reach food and cover. Some good trees to try hinge cutting include maples, basswood, aspens, and beech.
Don’t Miss Post Season Scouting
This year, don’t miss out on the opportunity to make next deer season more successful. Post season scouting is a good way to spend a winter day, even if you don’t find the perfect spot to hang a tree stand. Use these deer scouting tips to check out some new areas or learn more about your property. Getting back out in nature for a while to explore the woods is never a waste of time.
Take Fall Turkey Hunting to New Heights
November is flying by at a record pace. Before you know it and if we’re lucky, we’ll be gathered around a table giving thanks with family or friends. Now imagine going out yet this fall and putting a big tom turkey on the ground, just in time for some Thanksgiving table fare. How proud would you be serving your family and friends some fresh, deep-fried wild turkey instead of the store-bought version? If that seems like it would be a fun twist for your tradition, you should consider going fall turkey hunting this year.
While spring turkey hunting typically gets most of the hype and attention, there’s a lot of exciting action to be had in the fall too. Some states have more relaxed regulations for fall turkey hunting, which can increase your chance at harvesting a bird. In Minnesota, for example, the fall turkey hunting seasons are liberal and you can possess an either-sex fall tag. That means you could legally kill any turkey that strolls within range. That alone drastically changes the game if you’re hoping to guarantee a Thanksgiving bird. To make things even easier, this article is going to discuss how to successfully hunt turkeys from a tree stand. If you’ve already got turkeys in your hunting areas and have some deer stands up, you’re all set!
How Are Fall Turkeys Different?
Before you hunt, it’s important to know the different turkey habits in the fall; they are very different critters than they are in the spring. Springtime is all about mating season and courtship displays, while fall is all about food and survival. Toms will spend a great deal of energy chasing hens in the spring, but they pretty much stick to bachelor groups in the autumn looking for food sources. Because of these tendencies, you would typically use hen decoys and hen calls to convince a tom to come investigate in the spring, but you need to use tom or jake decoys and similar male calls to get a gobbler to come by in the fall. As you can see, there are a lot of big differences between hunting a spring turkey versus a fall turkey.
Why Tree Stands for Fall Turkey Hunting?
Most people associate hunting turkeys with ground blinds, and that is definitely the most common approach. In the fall, many people also choose a run and scatter tactic, which can use the bird’s confusion to bring them right back in for a shot. But in most cases and places, people already have tree stands in place for deer hunting throughout the fall, which means turkeys are used to seeing them. Why not use them? Generally, they are also already very concealed and located on food plots or good travel routes, which are good spots for turkeys as we’ll discuss below. Depending on where you hunt, many turkeys are not used to aerial predator attacks. Since most hunters don’t approach them that way either, you can sometimes get away with a little more movement, especially if you’re wearing a good camouflaged set of turkey hunting clothing,. Finally, it requires the least amount of work to do, assuming you already have some tree stands up. If you don’t have some existing ladder stands or pre-hung lock on stands, your best bet is to choose mobile stands (i.e., lock on stands). That way, you can adjust your location easily depending on where the turkeys are or are not. You may want to hang a universal shooting rail with the fixed position tree stand, so that you can drape a camo blind kit around it for additional concealment; just don’t hang it so high that you can’t see the decoy below you to make a shot.
Speaking of the best locations to find fall turkeys, food sources and travel corridors are the best. Clover and hay fields offer greens for turkeys to eat with room to run, while brassica fields offer food and cover. Wooded cover between roost trees and feeding areas are also good ambush sites, particularly if there are any hawthorn, crabapple, or similar fruit trees. Many fall turkey crops have been full of small apples or fruits after shooting them. If you have deer stands in any of these areas, consider hunting them with a new goal: a fine turkey dinner.
Fall Turkey Tactics
Now that you see why tree stands can work so well for fall turkey hunting, let’s look at some specific turkey hunting tips you can use. First, you may want to monitor your hunting property for a few days with trail cameras, just to survey the area and see what’s happening. You can get a lot of information out of a trail camera, including how many turkeys are on your property, the number of toms/hens/jakes/jennies, the time of day the turkeys are using an area, and which direction they are coming from/going to. Review the pictures to form a plan about where and when to hunt.
If you’d like a large tom for the table, set up a male turkey decoy (probably a jake) in the food plot, field, or travel corridor. Whether other toms feel threatened or just want to come check out the new bird in town, decoys are very useful for fall turkey hunting to provide a distraction point and draw them in quickly. The more realistic the decoys, the better. Set the decoy up about 20 yards from your tree stand, so that you can still take an ethical shot if a gobbler hangs up beyond it. Again, make sure you can see the decoy and position your shotgun from your tree stand; you don’t want to have to stand up and move around to get ready.
Now as far as how to call fall turkeys, we already mentioned it briefly above. Males respond to male calls and females to female/poult calls. One of the best fall turkey calling tips if you’re looking for a gobbler is to give a few tom yelps every twenty minutes or so, which are lower and raspier than a hen. It should follow a slow three-note cadence, followed by a pause and another three-note yelp. After calling, listen intently as toms may call back and give you a warning as to where they may approach from. If the decoy is on a main feeding field, is visible from a distance, and turkeys are in the area, they will likely make their way to the field anyway. As soon as they hear audible proof that a jake is standing there, they will often come running in on a string.
Time for a Thanksgiving Bird
This year, consider going fall turkey hunting to have a Thanksgiving you won’t forget. And if you’re looking to try an even more unusual tactic, try sitting in the deer stand to do it. It makes for a great story around the table!
The Ultimate Essential Gear and Hunting Accessories to Bring to the Tree
The topic of “essential hunting gear” is often pretty controversial. Everyone has their own opinion of what item deserves a spot in their hunting backpack, and as a result, the conversation can be hotly contested. The key is in knowing which hunting accessories and gear are truly essential and which are comfort items. The first category are things that you literally couldn’t hunt without, either because you didn’t have the necessary tools or couldn’t stay in the tree stand long enough to see a deer anyway. Then there are just “nice-to-have” items, which might keep you slightly more entertained or maybe offer a slightly more comfortable sit. Knowing the difference between the two is critical if you have to hike into your hunt (e.g., during a backcountry hunting trip) or simply don’t have much room in your tree stand. In these cases, you need to eliminate the unnecessary items as much as possible. We’ll only discuss the items that will offer a distinct advantage to you on your next hunt, and are therefore considered essential.
Naturally, the essential gear and hunting accessories you need will depend on what kind of hunt you’re doing and what season you’re in. An early September hunt for antelope on the Great Plains will require very different hunting equipment than a late December hunt for northern Wisconsin whitetails. The further north you go, the higher in elevation, or the later in the season you hunt, the more warm clothing options you’ll need. On the opposite side of the coin (e.g., southern regions or early season hunts), you’ll need lighter, sweat-wicking clothing to keep you cool and dry. For the purposes of this article, we’ll assume we’re hunting deer in the middle of the country in the early season to mid-season time frame of October (i.e., right now). Use this as a starting point and adapt your hunting gear list to your conditions and specific type of hunt.
Types of Essential Deer Hunting Equipment and Hunting Accessories
For easier reading and organization, we’ve divided the different pieces of hunting gear for whitetail deer into separate buckets, if you will. From clothing to weapons to other necessities, we’ve got you covered. Take a glance through the different categories and see how your deer hunting supplies list stacks up before it’s time to head to the woods.
Hunting Weapon-Related Gear
Depending on when the seasons open in different states, a mid-October time frame almost certainly includes bow hunting, but it may also include gun season. Either way, if you’re not bringing a bow, crossbow, rifle, or shotgun to the woods with you, you’re probably not going to fill your tag. But if you forget your corresponding ammunition at home, you’re also going to go nowhere fast. Almost every hunter has at one point forgotten their ammo in the garage and had a very uneventful day because of it. Always keep your arrows in your bow case or carry an extra box of ammunition in your backpack throughout the hunting season to ensure you’ll be able to keep hunting. And if you’re bow hunting, you might also want to keep an extra release in your coat pocket…don’t act like you haven’t forgotten it before!
- Bow, crossbow, rifle, or shotgun;
- Arrows, bolts, cartridges, or shells, respectively;
- Case to transport your weapon;
- Release (for bow hunting).
Hunting Clothing Items
As we mentioned, clothing requirements will vary across the country and between people. Some folks run hot and some run cold. But there are some basic types of clothing that you can scale up or down. What we mean is that you can add or subtract layers or use warmer or cooler versions to get you where you need to be. The pattern of your hunting clothes is also important, as some states and seasons require you to use blaze orange, while others approve of camouflage clothing. Make sure you know which one you need. When you’re deer hunting, you also need to pay attention to your scent; more specifically, you need to hunt without it. That makes scent elimination clothing so important. In no particular order:
- Hat (visor to keep the sun out of eyes or stocking cap to keep head warm);
- Base layers (to wick sweat away from skin);
- Insulating layers (adjust for your situation);
- Shell layer (water and wind resistant to keep your other layers dry and protected);
- Rain gear (for when the skies really open up);
- Socks (regardless of season or location, wool socks will be a valuable gear item);
- Hunting boots (appropriate to keep your feet warm and dry);
- Gloves (hunting with cold hands is miserable and dangerous).
Tree Stand-Related Gear
Given the title of this article, we’re assuming you are indeed going to end up in a tree stand at some point. You’ll obviously need to bring that with you, as well as any miscellaneous straps, ropes, chains, locks, or ladder sections to actually hang it and climb into it. Depending on what kind of hunting you’ll be doing, you may want a slightly different type of tree stand. Climbing tree stands and hang-on tree stands are great for staying mobile and keeping the deer guessing. But ladder stands and box blinds are reliable stands that you can return to with no work involved. If your feet will be leaving the ground, you really should also be using a safety harness to ensure that an unexpected departure from the stand doesn’t end up badly for you. Always stay connected to the tree using a harness and safety line. Safety equipment should never be considered as hunting accessories.
- Tree stand (ladder stand, climbing stand, hang on stands, etc.);
- Quick-Stick ladder sections (if a hang on stand);
- Miscellaneous straps (for attaching your tree stand);
- Chains, cables, and locks (to secure your stand from would-be thieves);
- Safety harness with a safety
- Tree hooks for bow, gear, and backpacks
Other Necessary Hunting Accessories
After all of the gear above, it might seem like you’re fairly covered and couldn’t carry anything else into the woods with you anyway. But there are a few other hunting accessories you really need to make your hunt more productive. Assuming you actually get a deer, you’re absolutely going to need a knife to field dress it. It’s also just useful to have in the woods to help with cutting rope or cord or marking your license. A set of high-quality optics is also critical for noticing deer before they notice you. Depending on the area you’re hunting in, you might not have a good spot to really glass a long distance (e.g., dense conifer forest, etc.). But it is really handy to assess a buck from a distance to see if he’s a shooter or not before he gets close enough to see you moving. A range finder is also critical for laser-accurate bow shots. Unless you are committed to getting in and out of the woods quickly during the day, you should carry a flashlight or headlamp with you. If you’ve ever been in the woods once darkness falls, you know it’s a completely different world. Even if you’ve been hunting the same area for years and spent all day studying every single trail and tree from your stand, you can lose your way in a split second once you’re on the ground. Carry a light with you. You can partially eliminate the issue of getting lost by marking your trail using reflective tacks or markers too.
When it comes to getting closer to deer (or bringing them closer to you, more accurately), you need to pull out all the hunting accessories. Using whitetail deer calls and convincing scents will drastically increase your chance at encountering a nice buck. When used in combination, they can fool a buck into thinking there is a doe in heat hanging around, which is almost guaranteed to interest him. This is especially useful in mid-October, which is typically the pre-rut period. No matter what clothing you’re wearing, you can still pick up scents from your truck or ATV, so always spray everything with a scent elimination product before you head into the woods and when you get to your tree stand.
Then there are all the other necessary items that make your life easier. A 20-foot length of rope or paracord is really helpful for many things in the woods, from hauling deer, hanging a tarp, or pulling your hunting accessories up into your tree stand with you. However, it’s more convenient to use a Magna Lift for hoisting gear up into your stand. Many hunters often forget (or willingly neglect) to drink enough water while sitting in a tree stand all day, but it’s critical to bring a water bottle or canteen with to stay hydrated. Since many people start their mornings with the aid of coffee, you’ll find that you’re suddenly very dehydrated in the middle of the day. And you can’t think clearly when you’re dehydrated. The same thing goes for food. If you don’t snack throughout the day, your blood sugar will plummet and so will your reasoning, patience, and strength. You should always have a folding saw in your hunting pack because a near-perfect tree for a climbing tree stand could be made perfect by just trimming a few branches. Finally, keep some toilet paper in a plastic bag in your pack. Don’t learn the hard way. Enough said.
- Fixed blade or folding knife (field dressing, general purpose, etc.);
- Headlamp or flashlight;
- Reflective tacks and markers;
- Doe can call and buck grunt call;
- Doe in estrous scent and buck urine scent;
- Scent eliminating spray;
- Rope/cord/Magna Lift (for hauling deer or hoisting gear);
- Water bottle and snacks;
- Folding hand saw
- Toilet paper.
It might seem crazy once you lay all of these items out that you could possibly bring them all into the woods with you. But these hunting accessories and gear items are important to help you stay comfortable all day and improve your hunting success. If you’re comfortable and content, you’ll be more likely to stay in the woods for the long haul until you can put a deer down. Will you need every one of these items on every single hunt? Maybe not. But when you do need them, you’ll need them in a bad way. It’s better to be safe than sorry.
Steps You Can Take to Make Private Land Hunting More Productive
If you’re fortunate enough to own some private land hunting ground, you should be very thankful. Whether it’s a small hunting shack situated on 40 acres “up north” in the woods or simply the family farm you grew up on, private land is a real blessing. You have so many possibilities before you. These endless possibilities include shaping the land the way you would like it to look. Not only do you have the ability to keep a property in your family’s heritage, but you can help mold it into whatever you want. Some landowners scoff at this, realizing they may not personally ever see the fruits of their labor. But this is sadly short-sighted, particularly if they have family members who will one day inherit it. Owning private hunting land allows you to create a real and lasting legacy on your property for generations after you. Even if you only intend on selling it instead of keeping it in the family, managing your property for timber, wildlife, or other purposes often adds value to it, which you can recoup upon sale. In short, a little work now is worth the end result.
For those who can only hunt on public land or private hunting land for lease, it’s inconceivable that anyone would even question this. Public land hunters have many possibilities open to them, but very few of the ones this article will discuss. They can’t alter the land they hunt or improve it in any real way, and they have to share it with everyone else who decides they would like to try hunting there. Private land hunting doesn’t have these issues. Aldo Leopold once famously said in A Sand County Almanac, “A conservationist is one who is humbly aware that with each stroke [of the axe] he is writing his signature on the face of the land.” It doesn’t matter if you like whitetail archery hunting, or prefer a firearm either. These techniques will work in either situation. Without further ado, let’s discuss the tactics you can use to make your property more attractive to wildlife, which effectively makes it more attractive to you as well.
Have no fear if you often wonder, “What do whitetail deer eat on my property?” Deer are well-equipped from getting everything they need from nature. So instead of fighting this or trying to outdo nature, sometimes the best course of action is to manage the natural habitat first. Smart management practices help improve the diversity of age classes, structure, and species in a forest or prairie. Management activities could include timber harvest, hinge-cutting trees, burning, or planting, to name a few. Let’s look at each one of these.
If your property consists of a lot of mature forest, you may want to consider a timber harvest. While mature forest is nice for bow hunting deer, it doesn’t offer deer very much in the way of food or cover. Consult a state or private forester to come tour your property so they can advise you on the best harvest practice. This is a long-lasting decision that could affect resale value if you’re going to take that route, so please consult with a professional before having a contractor cut anything. With some species and stands, a clear-cut is the best option (e.g., aspen trees), while for others it might be better to do a shelter wood cut (e.g. oak trees). The aftermath might look devastating, but it’s actually a fresh start for nature. The disturbance resembles a natural blow-down or fire event, and the sudden amount of sunlight to hit the forest floor will sprout up all kinds of herbaceous and woody plants, called early successional species. This young forest opening is perfect feeding and bedding habitat for deer, turkeys, grouse, and all kinds of other animals, which makes public land hunting even better. These areas are often the best for box stands for deer hunting, since you can hunt them stealthily all day while deer wander through a combined bedding/feeding area.
If you’re not quite ready to conduct a full clear-cut, but still want to improve your habitat and even add some variety to it, a hinge-cut could be a good idea. This practice involves only cutting non-desirable trees (from a timber or mast perspective) to release desirable ones, opening up the canopy, and adding horizontal structure at ground level. It can be done on a large or micro scale, and can easily be done yourself if you’re comfortable with a chainsaw. These DIY management activities are what make private land hunting so great. For larger canopy trees, many people fully cut them down and use the trunk as firewood instead of letting it rot. The hinge-cutting is best done on smaller trees, roughly less than 6 inches in diameter at breast height (dbh), for safety reasons anyway. To do one properly, slowly cut halfway through the tree on the opposite side you would like it to fall. Once halfway through, start slowly pushing the top until it leans over and falls. Cut a little more if you need to until it slowly falls over. You need to leave enough tree material connected so the roots can still keep the top section alive. This will extend the useful life of your hinge-cutting and allows the tops to produce tender growth at deer level, which they will browse heavily. This practice will also look very messy when you’re done, especially compared to surrounding mature forests with wide-open views. But that structure provides great bedding for deer, which can be great for bow hunting deer stands.
If your private property has a lot of old fields or native prairie remnants, burning is a very good practice. Many prairie communities evolved with natural fires, so they actually require an occasional fire to recycle nutrients, reduce the mass of organic material, remove woody species from taking over, and encourage tender new growth to sprout. Again, this is another practice you should do only with professional help unless you’re experienced in doing it, as it can quickly get out of hand and do a lot of damage. Prescribed burns, no matter how small, can do a lot of good at regenerating native species and providing lush new food for animals.
Finally, you could also plant native or beneficial tree, shrub, or herbaceous species on your private hunting land. Any wildlife planting you do should either provide hard or soft mast, or provide a good source of cover. For example, oaks and apple trees provide consistent food either now or in a few decades, depending on what you plant. Cedars provide a dense thermal cover for deer to escape from harsh conditions. A hedgerow of wild plum or crabapple through a field provides both food and cover. If you’re going to plant something, do it right by protecting your investment with necessary cages or tubes, and maintain it so that other species don’t immediately overwhelm it. In a few years, you should have a fairly self-sustaining landscape that provides much more than it once did.
Food Plots for Private Land Hunting
Earlier we said that most deer populations don’t strictly need food plots to survive, but almost any population could benefit from them. A well-managed food plot can produce a tremendous amount of highly digestible and nutritious food that helps deer to reach their full genetic potential. And they are certainly nice when you plan on bow hunting deer. Food plots are probably the number one reason people would like to own their own hunting land. It’s no wonder, as planting food plots can be an extremely addicting hobby.
While you can divide up food plot types in several ways, we’ll classify them as either feeding or hunting food plots in this article because they have very different outcomes. A strictly feeding food plot is meant to provide calories to the deer herd in an unpressured environment. Corn/bean fields and hay fields act as feeding plots from spring through summer. Private landowners often plant clover as a perennial food plot, which help nursing does and antler-growing bucks during the summer. Some people even plant fall food plots strictly to help deer through the winter and never hunt them. These plots are useful for building the resident deer herd on your property, and are amazing when used in or near a deer sanctuary area.
Hunting plots, on the other hand, are the secret weapon of private land hunting. They are generally much smaller than larger, destination feeding areas. Because of their size, they physically cannot support very many deer in them at any one time and are easier to hunt without educating the deer herd to your intentions. Bow hunting for whitetail deer is especially useful in these plots, since a hunter can shoot almost all the way across them in any direction. Additionally, deer are far more likely to use these hunting plots during daylight hours since they are so secluded and surrounded by cover. Hunting plots are usually planted with a highly attractive fall annual species, such as brassicas, cereal grains, or winter peas. When these species really start growing, you should have your best bow hunting stands hung nearby. By planting these plots on your hunting properties, you can strategically pull deer onto your land in the fall. Luckily, this is exactly the time you want them to hang out on your turf, so neighboring landowners can’t shoot them.
Private Land Hunting Strategies
This is the fun part, when you can pull all the pieces of the puzzle together. It’s the time that makes private land hunting so much more effective than public lands in many cases. One of the curses of public land hunting is that you could let a deer pass by, and they might get shot within a few hundred yards by another hunter, giving you no incentive to let bucks mature into older age classes. You can’t completely remove this problem on private land, since deer can easily wander to a neighboring property, particularly if you own a few hundred acres or less. But you can mitigate it a little using the hunting strategies below.
It’s risky to leave ladder stands or lock on stands on public lands, and impractical/illegal to set up a box blind. But there are no such restrictions on your own property. While not completely devoid of theft risks, private land hunting offers a much better place to leave your tree stands in the woods or set up box blinds in a perfect location. With more permanent stand locations, you can also manage the habitat or plant additional screening cover to hide your entry and exit route. That way, you should be able to sneak in and out of a hunting situation without alerting deer to your presence. Box blinds offer high concealment value and are useful near food sources or bedding areas alike. They are particularly nice when the weather takes a down turn or you want to bring younger kids hunting with you. Big Game Tree Stands has a Trophy Box kit with wide window openings and a flip-up trap door opening.
Speaking of tree stands, they’ll only be useful if you hang them in the right locations. Expert deer hunting stand locations are critical as you chase older and more experienced deer. As we said, hunting on large destination fields is a risky move. It might pay off, but you could also alert a dozen deer to your tree stand location in the process, making them very wary of it or anything like it again. You’re better off sitting over a hunting food plot. If you plant feeding food plots near the center of your property with quality bedding cover on the perimeter of your land (which you can establish with the habitat work from above), deer have fewer reason to leave the area. Then you can strategically plant a few small hunting plots between the bedding and feeding areas, which will intercept deer in the mornings and evenings. By having a few well-spaced hunting plots that are different shapes, you can hang several deer stands to hunt different wind directions. Simply having multiple options for different conditions can be enough to fill your buck tag.
On this topic, you can find and kill a deer in most places without too much work. But if you’re after a specific mature whitetail deer, you need to always pay attention to the hunting conditions. The smaller your property, the stricter you need to be. Bow hunting whitetail deer in a tree stand with the wind blowing right into a food plot or bedding area isn’t going to do you any favors. To get a truly old monarch buck, you should wait for the perfect conditions before hunting a stand, which can be really hard to do if you’re getting daytime pictures of one. But hunting in anything less could jeopardize future encounters with him.
Whether you plan on bow hunting deer in the early season or firearm hunting in the cold fall, improving your property is a great way to invest your time and resources. With more homesteads and farms being sold to developers every year, private land hunting is disappearing in some places. But if you develop a lasting legacy on your property, it will be enjoyed for years to come.
Cutting Shooting Lanes While Hanging Tree Stands
If you’re used to hanging tree stands in thick woods, you know the value of shooting lanes. Without them, you might be able to see a mature whitetail buck moving below you, but you could not ethically take a shot at it; this is especially true if you’re bow hunting. While natural openings work well enough in some forested settings, some are not well-suited for this. Some examples could include young aspen or conifer forests, which grow too densely together or have too many lower branches to effectively take a shot through them.
Conventional wisdom is to wait until the week before deer season opens before hanging tree stands and clearing new shooting lanes or cleaning up existing ones. This can be a problematic situation. Deer are far more familiar with their environment than many realize. Imagine if someone knocked down one of the walls in your house or cut down one of the trees in your yard. You’d realize it pretty quickly, right? Deer know their surroundings very well and can notice when something looks different. They can also smell the freshly-cut trees lying around with whatever other scent you leave behind. Depending on where you live, this might not bother them all that much or it might put them on high alert. For example, suburban deer might not hesitate to move through a disturbed area like this, but big woods bucks would certainly be suspicious of the area for several days, if not longer.
A better strategy is to go out in the mid-summer months to cut new shooting lanes and clean up old ones. If you hunt on private land, this is also a good time for hanging tree stands. Then, a week or two before the season opens, you can simply go check everything to make sure the lanes are still open and in good condition. Unless a tree falls within them, they should only require minimum work (and thus disturbance) to finish them. But first, let’s take a step back.
Planning Your Shooting Lanes
Before the chainsaw or pole saw comes out into the woods with you, you need to do some quick thinking. For help visualizing how the shooting lanes will fit into the surrounding area, use some desktop scouting software to map it out before you cut anything. Ideally, you should also climb into your tree stand and picture the best direction for a shooting lane to go. Which way would be the most advantageous for a quick shot? Also, how many do you plan to cut? You want to walk the fine line between not seeing enough ground and having too many lanes. Though each tree stand location will vary in its shooting lane requirements, a good rule of thumb to start with would be at least 2 to 3 lanes per stand. This way, you can cover three different directions to accommodate different deer travel patterns. Be sure to remember this every time you are hanging tree stands.
The ultimate design or layout isn’t really important – it just depends on what you’re willing to do and how much the deer would be disturbed. If you’re going to cut a series of larger or longer shooting lanes, it’s best to do it now so whitetails have time to settle down and get used to the new openings. The simplest option is a basic V-shape extending out from your tree stands, so you can see in two different directions. Theoretically, if a deer walks in front of your stand, you should get one opportunity to spot the deer and one to shoot it with a quartering away shot. However, another popular option is the hub and spoke design, where there are several shooting lanes radiating out in every direction from the tree stand. This allows a hunter to intercept deer along any of these paths.
The ultimate length of each shooting lane will depend on your goals for that location too. For example, if you plan to only bow hunt from a given area, you really only need lanes that are at your maximum ethical shot distance. For most, that would be 40 to 50 yards in length. This helps you gauge distance without a range finger, and eliminates any temptation to take a longer shot. But if you plan on hunting with a rifle, you could easily have 200 yard lanes in front of you.
Trimming While Hanging Tree Stands
As we mentioned, the best time to cut these lanes with the least impact is when you’re hanging tree stands. It doesn’t really matter which type of hunting tree stands you’re setting up. But if you’re going to go through the effort of cutting shooting lanes, it goes without saying that you should probably hunt it more than just once or twice out of climbing deer stands. The best tree stands for these lanes would be something more permanent, such as ladder stands. The Venture ladder stand has a wide, curved platform with a matching seat so you can watch several shooting lanes around you.
First, climb into your deer stand and locate the direction you chose earlier. Now pick a landmark tree off in the distance along your intended path. Stay between your tree stand and that landmark as you cut, which should produce a straight shooting lane. You can use a chainsaw for larger trees, but a simple hand saw and pair of pruning shears/loppers is usually all that’s needed for saplings and brush. Inevitably, there will be branches from larger trees extending into your shooting lanes that would interfere with a shot from up in your lock on stands. An extendable pole saw is invaluable for these situations.
How to Enhance Your Shooting Lanes While Hanging Tree Stands
Instead of simply piling the cut branches and brush off to the sides of each lane, consider using them to enhance your tree stand concealment. Wary whitetails often look down each side of a shooting lane before entering it. Your tree stands will really stick out if you don’t use some natural camouflage. Use zip ties or twine to attach some of the branches to your tree stands, which will break up your outline in the tree. Bring along a portable tree saw when you hunt, just in case something shifts in your stand. You can also prop cut trees up against your tree and attach them to the base so your single tree looks like a clump.
Additionally, deer will sometimes use shooting lanes as short-distance travel routes since they offer the path of least resistance. But sometimes they will bolt right across them since they have no real reason to stay in the open. There are a few hunting methods to counter this tendency. The first would be hanging a scent wick where you want them to stop within the lane, and applying your favorite deer odor to it. Another, where legal, is to use a mineral block near the end of the lane to catch early season bucks.
Planting small food plot strips along your lanes is also great to hold them still long enough for a shot, this is something you should keep in mind when hanging tree stands and trimming shooting lanes. Provided your lanes get enough sunlight, simply use some herbicide on the existing vegetation, being sure to use one that will kill cut tree stumps (e.g., triclopyr) as well as the herbaceous growth (e.g., glyphosate). After letting the herbicide work for a few weeks, go back in and expose the soil using a hard-tined rake, roughing up the surface a little in the process. Broadcast seed that can handle your local soil, sunlight, and water conditions. Perennial clover varieties should work great on shaded trails with less-than-perfect soils. Remember, you’re not trying to make these shooting lane food plots into lush, ultra-attractive plots. Instead, you simply want deer to pause for an opportunistic snack while they’re walking through. Therefore, you don’t need to spend a lot of time and money making them look like one on TV.
You probably didn’t think much about shooting lanes when hanging tree stands before, except that they might give you a better shot at a deer, if you were lucky. But if you use the tips above, you should be able to increase their effectiveness many times over to put luck on your side.
Spring Food Plots and Tree Stand Hunting | Planning Food Plots According To Your Hunting Blind and Tree Stand Placement
It Is March and once again the silence of winter slumber is broken by the sound of the tractor firing up. The feel, smell, and sight of dirty hands, diesel, and fresh dirt can be addicting to us, just as much if not more than turkey or deer hunting. It gets us excited and brings us satisfaction. There is nothing a hunter and manager would rather do more than climb up on the tractor, wipe the dust off the seat, and break open fresh ground, but is that really your smartest move? While it might feel like you are doing something positive you might want to think again, give it more time, more planning, and as a result, better execution. Don’t make the common mistake of creating a hunting strategy according to your food plots, when you should be planting spring food plots according to your hunting strategy! Implementing the latter of the two will create more opportunity, better hunting, and more success.
The first question to ask yourself is why are you planting the food plots? For nutritional purposes or for hunting in the situation of the “kill plot”? You can bet on the majority of hunters that plant food plots, are doing so to create hunting opportunities. So which of the following situations would make the most sense?
Option 1: Going to a chuck of timber or an old field and clearing it, breaking the ground, and planting beans or clover just to find out there isn’t a single place to put a box blind, tripod, or ground blind that a deer wouldn’t bust your wind or your entry in.
Option 2: Strategically mapping known deer movement, tree stand or blind sites, and previous observations, then taking that information to determine where, what type, and when a food plot would make sense in that area.
The choice is obvious, we understand that…and we know that if your planting a food plot you are already putting up stands or blinds in your mind. The problem lies in the fact that this thinking (not even enough to call it planning) happens when you are sitting on the tractor, or waiting for rain after planting. True, successful, well thought out plans for a food plot will only come from enough time being devoted to a map, scouting, past hunting observations, and more often than not, research on the subject. Here is some information that will help you out with your spring food plots, ensuring you are maximizing your efforts, time, and hard earned money.
Maps, Scouting, and Observations
Hopefully you took some time to shed hunt this winter, and took some notes down when you were out and about. Shed season was the perfect time to scout, you were not negatively impacting your deer season next year with the pressure, and deer sign was still fresh from November and December. Marking scrapes, rubs, funnels, highways, and bedding areas down on a map and coordinating that with hunting season observations give you a great idea of the daily movement that takes place on your property. When it comes to installing and planting food plots this spring, human pressure, staging areas and bedding areas are your biggest concern. Where are the deer, more importantly bucks bedding. Once a known bedding area is marked, next figure out when, where, and which type of food plot would make sense in the area. This is by far the most tedious part of effectively planning food plot strategy with your hunting strategy.
“Which type of food plot seed” depends on your “when”
The best advice in the situation, before diving into researching the when, where, and which type of food plot to plant, is to think about when you hunt, and what food sources are available during that time around the property. Are you a turkey hunter, a land manager, or a just a deer hunter? When you deer hunt do you hunt with a bow in the early season, or are you a gun hunter waiting on November and December? Each situation has its own, where, when, and which type of food plot you need.
If you’re the turkey hunter, the ideal food plot set up is creating a food source and strutting zone that you can effectively hunt with a ground blind. In these situation size isn’t as much an issue as what type of food there is. In the situation of turkey hunting in the spring, the best candidate for turkey hunting food plots in the spring is clover and alfalfa. Clover and alfalfa explode in spring, making not only valuable spring forage for deer, but dynamite feeding and strutting sites for turkeys.
Nutrition and Observation
Late spring and summer are months of nutrition and observation. Does drop fawns, and bucks are just starting to develop some substantial velvet growth. During the lactation and antler growth stages of the year for deer, protein is valuable. Both pastures, hay fields, and food plots with substantial alfalfa and clover and large bean fields provide the protein and attraction deer need and want. These food sources also give you a great opportunity to sit up in an elevated box blind, a ground blind, or tree stand some distance away from the food, to observe and scout the bachelor groups.
Early Bow Season Attractant
Planting food plots in spring, in order to hunt over them in September-October will either take place in the form of the two best attractants of the season, beans and clover. Sure their might be some room for opinions, but staging areas in the form of small clover ( white clover) plots, adjacent or on the way to a larger food source like standing beans are dynamite locations for an early season sit. Deer will still be or just coming out of their early season patterns during early bow season, meaning they are unpressured in those small clover “kill plots”, and on the edges of large bean ag fields, or food plots Planting clover by frost seeding or drilling, disking, or tilling, in early spring during decent rain, will work for small food plots. If you want beans for the early season you will need either at least 5 acres, or install a food plot electric fence to avoid deer over-browsing the plot.
The Opening Day and Late Gun Season Attractant
Opening day of gun season is a holiday (at least it should be). Nothing is better than lifting a buck onto the tailgate during that weekend, so which food plot will give you that, or any weekend after until the close of the season? Beans, corn, and brassicas are the favorited in the November-January time period. Brassicas are planted in the late summer/early fall period before the season opens, so you can delay planning and planting that food plot until later in the year. Planting beans and corn however takes more time and precision. Cut corn fields make for some of the best rut hunting in November in the Midwest, but standing corn and beans in late November-January can’t be beat for attraction.
Design and shape
Size is important when it comes to which type of food plot seed you select, depending on the browse resistance of the species, but the design and shape of the plot can really start honing in hunting strategy, and working together with your hunting blind and tree stand placement.
This is the most popular standard food plot shape and design, whether you are a firearms hunter or a bow hunter the rectangle is your friend. The length gives you the acreage and the long shot potential when hunting with a rifle or muzzleloader, but the width creates less pressure, stress, and creates more security for deer. It also happens to create a great location for a fixed position tree stand for close encounters for bow hunting.
The L shape puts a right angle in the rectangle this does three things better than the rectangle. It creates an elbow, a staging area, and creates more security. Creating essentially two different sections of the plot, while keeping the width relatively small creates the same acreage, but separates the field of view creating less stress for feeding deer, and more movement to see what’s on the other side. The bottom or smaller end of the plot basically serves as a staging area in this scenario. The smaller (potentially different food source) creates a smaller area for deer to stage in before entering the large feeding area. Both of these advantages gives rise to the third advantage, an elbow. The elbow is creates an ideal box blind, tripod, ground blind, or tree stand location, creating a funnel and views of both areas of the food plot.
Taking the idea of the Elbow to the next level is the crow’s foot. This obviously serves as an extreme advantage for firearms season. Strips of beans, cut corn, or strips of clover all sprawling out from a central location gives you three shooting lanes, and potentially different buffets for your deer herd.
Now knowing your “when” and “what”, you will know exactly where to put it. Obviously a larger bean, corn, or brassica field will go wherever the acreage is available, but the smaller clover/alfalfa plots can be strategically placed. Creating these small opening, “kill plots” n heavy timber, adjacent to thick cover and bedding areas, or as staging areas before a larger food source are successful food plot tactics.
The one thing above all else when creating a food plot is knowing how you will hunt it, and if it will work. A food plot that is not hunt able is not ideal, although it does have its place on some properties. A food plot that creates hunting opportunity is a key goal. Planning a food plot effectively means, safe non disturbance entry and exits, multiple tree stand, box blind, tripod, or ground blind locations for different winds, and a food source/hunting opportunity that is completely free of human pressure.
As you can see food plots aren’t a walk in the park, but neither is deer or turkey hunting. If it was easy, it wouldn’t be near as enjoyable. Studying, researching, learning, planning, and executing are all a part of the process…the resulting failure or success are both enjoyable, but success feels much better! Take these spring food plot and hunting strategy tips seriously over the next months, and hopefully you will reap the benefits of your hard work.