Public Land Offers Ample Opportunity For Trophy Deer
By: Pat Kalmerton
The phrase “there is nowhere to hunt” is nonsense – yet it rings out all over the United States from hunters of all ages and genders. Investing time to research and discover public areas to pursue hunting adventures yields pleasant surprises! There are acres of opportunities that lie behind open gates.
Take Wisconsin for example:
Did you know that according to Back Country Chronicles (backcountrychronicles.com) there are 34,661,000 acres of land in Wisconsin? Of that, the United States Forest Service has 1,521,000 acres and the state of Wisconsin has 3,646,000 acres. So, in Wisconsin alone you can choose your spot on 5,167,000 acres without having to ask anyone for permission to hunt their land! That is nearly 15% of the total land mass of Wisconsin, leaving 3.1 acres to every person who lives in Wisconsin to hunt freely on public land…but you are in luck, not everyone in Wisconsin hunts.
Actually, Wisconsin had 5,743,000 residents in a 2013 survey, and in 2013 only 633,602 resident and non-resident deer licenses were sold to those hoping to harvest a deer during the Wisconsin deer hunting seasons. Those numbers are astonishing! Given that some of those licenses are non-resident, we know that less than 11% of Wisconsinites are deer hunters. If every person who purchased a license in 2013 were to hunt public land, each person would have their own 8.15-acre hunting parcel. However, we know that every hunter is not hunting public land.
The bottom line: There is plenty of room for anyone who would like to hunt and is not fortunate enough to have private land.
Of course, this goes beyond deer hunting. There are ample opportunities throughout the seasons to pursue the quarry of your choice: birds, bear, small game, or anything that interests you. For now, let’s talk about deer.
Here are a few tips to get you started and to be successful:
First, spend some time online and search public lands in Wisconsin. Do your diligent research on where you would like to hunt. There are a lot of useful websites out there, and you will likely find some public land nearby that you will want to explore. After finding an area of interest, go to the local courthouse and purchase an up-to-date plat book showing the boundaries of the properties. This is VERY important so you do not find yourself trespassing. It is unethical and against the law.
After you find the property you like and have a plat book in hand, you are far from done. Spend some time on Google Earth – look at aerial photos and print out maps of the property. This will give you a better idea of how the land lies and where the property boundaries are in relation to real-life obstacles. It could be a trail in the woods, or a creek, or any landmark that helps you navigate to accessible areas that you are allowed to be on.
Once finding all the boundaries and access points the real work begins. Drive all around the property and go down every road to find all the access points and how to begin your patterns of scouting. This is important because if you find a spot you would like to hunt and you have the wrong wind, you may want to have a different path into your spot so you don’t chase up the deer you are pursuing.
Always carry a map on you with the boundaries clearly marked and have a compass and handheld GPS. This will serve two purposes: to mark your trails and spots and to help if you get turned around while scouting. Even if you think you know where you are, always have it on you because the woods are unforgiving. I always have my Tenzing pack with survival gear just in case I do get lost. Pack light but have your essentials while scouting and always have a light and whistle for instances when cell coverage is not available in tree cover.
While scouting be aware of the food sources. Where are the oak trees that will provide the deer with acorns? Are there apple trees on the property? What do the bordering properties have planted? Are there bean fields and corn fields in the area? These are all very important things to take into consideration while scouting, as well as knowing where the water source and bedding areas are.
You want to be on a trail that is commonly used connecting the important areas you scouted. If you find a trail that connects all of these together, walk that trail and search for scrapes, rubs, and heavily traveled areas. When I find a trail I like and think the deer are moving on, I lock on a Wild Game Innovations camera and find out exactly what is on that trail and when. You may find that you will need to be deeper or closer to the bedding areas than you’d prefer in order to intersect the deer travel during legal shooting times. Are those deer using these trails both morning and afternoon or do they have different travel paths for different times of the day? All worth noting!
Now that I found the trail I like, and the area I want to hunt to harvest my trophy, I begin doing a search of the area. Are there signs of other hunters that have been in the area scouting as well? Are there ribbons hanging on branches? Are there tacks in trees? Are there make shift ground blinds made out of dead sticks and logs or shooting paths cut through the branches? Pay attention to tree trunks for scratching from hunters using climbing tree stands within 20-30 yards from the heaviest worn trails. After all of your scouting efforts, you do not want to walk in to your spot only to find that another hunter has beat you there. If this does happen, have a plan B in place so you are far enough away and hunting different deer. Be an ethical hunter and respect the other person who has put in the same amount of work as you have.
Setting stands overnight is not allowed on public land, so I use my Ameristep climbing stands or popup blinds to hunt off the ground. If there are raised areas providing a lookout point I hunt this location with my Barnett crossbow while sitting in my Tenzing TZTP14 turkey pack. This pack also works great for hunting in locations where there is not a lot of good cover or good trees for me to shimmy up in my climber.
Plan your hunt and hunt your plan! On any hunt, especially public land that many people are not familiar with, leave a map of a few different locations that you plan on hunting – and then hunt that area. Do not, for any reason, change your mind and go somewhere else. There are a lot of things that can happen accidently, so it’s important that people know where you are. I always leave a planned out map and how to get there with someone just in case they don’t hear from me within an hour after dark. This could be beneficial in two ways – If I did hurt myself by slipping or falling on something they know where I am; If I was lucky enough to harvest my trophy, well now I have dragging help!
Good luck hunting and be safe!