Each year there are debates on how good hunting land on public land is vs. hunting on private land. Both can be good, and both can be lousy depending on where and how you hunt. I hunt both.
I have numerous properties where generous landowners let me hunt their land. I have never had a lease of any kind. I also hunt several good chunks of property owned by 'We the people.' And when you do it right, things can be pretty good in either location.
Sure, every season has its ups and downs. Today's column will offer insight on the differences in public vs. private land, and will feature what has personally worked for me over the years in each.
Let's start with the private land hunting shall we?
Private land hunting can be tricky. Parcels are often divided into small areas (at least where I live) and you need to know your boundaries. Not every neighbor wants you on their land. That being said, when you get permission to hunt a property and if a bordering landowner doesn't want you there, simply ask if you can retrieve a shot animal. I have yet to find someone who has denied me that. No landowner wants a wounded or dead deer on their land.
And if you respect that, you never know. A year or two down the road, permission may be granted to you. A good idea would be to not only thank your landowner with a gift, but to thank the owner who denied you access to hunt, but allowed you to recover your deer.
Private land often has a limited number of people on it. The hunting pressure isn't nearly as high as on public land and you don't have to worry about setting up too close to another hunter. Thefts are usually rare, though stands and trail cameras do get swiped occasionally. Hunters have better control on access to private land. Hunters can go to private land and not worry about leaving as much scent around.
Private land deer usually are more relaxed than public land deer, due to the lack of pressure. There are a lot of advantages for hunters using private land.
But private land isn't always easy to get.
I go around every year and try to get permission at least get a new spot or two for a number of reasons.
1. Sometimes, ownership changes hands and you are the odd one out. You will need a new spot.
2. Sometimes your welcome simply wears out. Several years ago, I had a problem with a landowner's adult son. He didn't like us hunting in this spot and made life tough for us for a few years. Eventually, I had a blow out with the guy and rather than deal with it anymore, I left. I didn't want the hassle any more.
3. Sometimes areas dry up. The deer aren't there like they were a few seasons ago. Perhaps crops have changed or maybe deer were killed excessively or some other circumstance.
4. Perhaps a landowner passed away and the land was sold off or surviving family simply decides to shut it down.
5. I've also seen logging companies wipe out properties as well.
And most importantly, keep in mind that landowners are taking a chance on you.
All of the landowners where I hunt on private land, didn't know me whatsoever. You can't let them down and it's important to keep good relations with them, so not only can you keep coming back each year, but often they will tip you off as to where they see animals. Private land hunting is better for most people, but it is work.
Public land is an entirely different game, in my opinion.
First, the number of people, depending on where you hunt, can be staggering. I have seen people sitting within 100 yards of each other during the gun season. I have seen shouting matches between people who 'infringe' on each other's area. I have even known people who have shot deer, had it run off and then have had someone else tag it. There is nothing legally you can do about it.
At this time, you can't leave a treestand on public land overnight or for extended periods. You can't use screw in tree steps and if you use portable ground blinds during the gun deer season, you have to have blaze orange on it. Remember, you aren't the only one using that land.
But if you hunt public land right, you can have great success. Often I hear of monster bucks seen on public land and I have seen them first hand. But you have to play your cards right and if are willing to work for it, public land can be your friend.
When I've hunted on public land, I've noticed often that most hunters don't want to get into the thick stuff or do any long walking to get a deer. Maybe they are lazy, unsure of an area or maybe they not physically capable. Many won't go in very far.
Sure, some deer will get taken, but once the shooting starts, the deer will go to the nastiest, safest place they can find. If you go in, away from the crowds, and do your scouting ahead of time, it can pay dividends. I hunt a few places like this and if you get in far enough you won't see or hear another person or vehicle passing by. I really like that.
Another thing I like to do on public land is to let the other people do the work for me, but it takes patience. And what I mean, is I get in a lot earlier than most people.
Opening day of the gun season is a classic example. Most guys won't bother getting out of their cars and head in until 15- to 20-minutes before daybreak. By then, I'm already in the stand and by the time anyone gets in that far, the deer get smart to the extra traffic and push them right to me, just after legal shooting time. This has worked for me a number of times.
Or, if nothing is happening, I will sit all day, and in the later morning hours when guys are walking out for lunch, they'll inadvertently push a deer right to me and never know it until they hear me shoot.
As you can see there are some stark differences to public land vs. private land hunting. There are plenty of both of these options to hunt and each requires some work. Do what you have to do and you will have much more success anywhere you hunt.