Planning Guide: 7 Tips for Hunting Public-Land Deer
If looking to chase deer on public ground in the seasons to come, plan now with these tips from 'Hunting the Country' show host Ronnie 'Cuz' Strickland to help you fill a public-land whitetail tag
While it's sometimes harder to take mature bucks on pressured public ground, for some hunters it's the most satisfying whitetail hunt of all. (Lynn Burkhead photo)
While it might seem strange to some, as one whitetail season winds down, many deer hunters are already thinking of next season.
Because for the best hunters out there, the season never really ends, especially when you embrace the challenge of targeting deer on pressured public ground.
Believe it or not, that's something near and dear to the heart of Outdoor Channel television show host Ronnie "Cuz" Strickland.
In his role as Senior Vice President for Mossy Oak and as host of Mossy Oak's Hunting the Country TV show, such hunting is very close to the roots of Strickland's Mississippi upbringing.
"For us, public-land hunting is a big deal," said Strickland. "It scares some people, I understand that.
"But there is a lot of such hunting available across the country. Mississippi has tons of public land and even a state like Texas has some. Ultimately, it's a mind set (of wanting to embrace the challenge of hunting on public land)."
In addition to being close to his southern heart, Strickland feels such hunting – especially for whitetail – is something most Hunting the Country show viewers can identify with.
"I want to make sure as a television show host that what I do is relatable to the people watching our program," said Strickland. "Too often, there's too much focus on how big a buck is and what's the score of that deer.
"I just think about the average hunter hunting around a gravel pit or on a small farm, the one that watches TV and thinks 'My gosh, I'll never be able to do that.'
"We want to produce shows that they can relate to."
In doing so, Strickland wants to show it is possible to chase whitetail on public ground and succeed.
When chasing public-land deer, key in on spots they will be feeding at and travel routes that such deer will be utilizing. (Lynn Burkhead photo)
"This past year, we filmed a show from North Dakota, all on public ground," said Strickland. "I've always been attracted to hunting public land and we had a great hunt up there."
How can you live your own deer hunting dreams on public land? Strickland offers several pieces of advice including carefully choosing your time to hunt.
"From the start, you've got to understand that you're going to be around other people," said Strickland. "So to combat that, you might want to set aside time to hunt in the middle of the week.
"In fact, I think that's a universal tip for public ground hunters. If you hunt Monday through Friday instead of Friday through Sunday, your odds of success will go way up. In fact, they might triple if you hunt during the week."
A second tip is to understand what your hunting goals are.
"You have to know the answer to the question 'Why am I here hunting this public land?’" said Strickland. "You need to know what you are holding out for. Is it a buck? A doe? A trophy whitetail? To me, any buck with a bow on public land is a trophy because it's a hard thing to do."
Third, do plenty of research into areas you might want to hunt. That can include looking at deer population and harvest data from state agencies, record-book information from the Pope & Young Club and/or the Boone and Crockett Club and conversations with those who are knowledgeable about public land.
"You want to talk with game wardens, park rangers, biologists and others that can help you gather information," said Strickland. "It's not enough to be out there on your own, you want to look for help."
Speaking of that, Strickland says not to forget looking to others for help. That can include everyone from a delivery truck driver to a clerk at the local sporting goods store to friends that you can network with.
"I've got a friend who lives in Minneapolis and he travels a lot and finds such (public) places to hunt (as he travels)," said Strickland. "He helps me out with some ideas and such. And while we were up in North Dakota, we made friends with a (local) farmer and he gave us some good help."
Once you gather some Intel, a fourth tip is to start checking out the targeted properties with high-tech scouting measures.
"You want to get a mapping program, something like Google Earth, where you can see the terrain and look for places where deer might bed, where they might feed, how they might travel and places that will bottleneck, or pinch down, their movements," said Strickland.
When planning to hunt public land for whitetail, look for spots where other hunters are not going to want to go. Keep in mind such spots may not be all that far away from parking areas and roads. (Bill Winke photo)
"When you get some of that desktop scouting done, mark down seven, eight, nine or even 10 spots to take a close look at when you actually get there and hit the ground."
Once you hit the ground, on a summertime scouting trip or just before a fall hunt begins, a fifth key to consider is putting your stand where others won't go.
Even if it's not all that far away from the parking lot.
"I've found that in deer hunting, just like in turkey hunting, people hunting on public land often think they've got to go back (into a property) really far," said Strickland. "Because of that, sometimes, the best spots are actually closer to the road and parking area."
At other times, Cuz notes a successful public-land hunt will in fact be a pretty good ways into an area, farther than most people are willing to hike.
"When we hunted up in North Dakota, we went pretty far in on that public land," said Strickland. "We had found some burr oaks back in there and that's what the deer were eating.”
Which leads to the Mossy Oak man's sixth tip here; find the food.
"In that situation (in North Dakota), there was some soybeans and some corn row crops not all that far away from the burr oaks and the acorns they were dropping," said Strickland. "That's a big key because food is a main drawing card on public ground."
"Now are you going to kill a Boone & Crockett buck in such spots? Probably not, but you're more likely to see deer."
Building upon the above thought, Strickland points out that in his mind, deer are fairly lazy critters that don't want to roam far and wide to find something to eat.
"That means that if it's the side of the road where the food is, then that's where they are going to be."
Another thought on food from Cuz: "I'm not going to be able to come into a piece of public ground that I don't know and quickly figure everything out, things like the deer's bedding areas, their escape routes, stuff like that. That's why I'm going to look for the food and where they are traveling and not getting a lot of pressure."
All of this being said, in giving his seventh tip for public-land hunters, Strickland admits public-land deer rely on the same primary defense mechanisms as their private land cousins do – their noses.
"One thing is for sure, you're never going to beat their noses," he said. "Keeping that wind in your face, that's the golden rule of deer hunting.
"No matter how good they look, I just leave places alone when the wind is wrong," he added.
"You just can't beat a whitetail's nose, something that's especially true with older deer. And that's really the case on pressured public ground where the last thing that you want to do is let the deer know that you're around."
Does Strickland's strategies for bowhunting deer on public land pay off?
He says yes and points to the successful television shows on public ground that have been recorded by the Mossy Oak cameras.
"When we went up to North Dakota last year, we saw (numerous) bucks while we were there," said Strickland.
"Now hunting in front of the camera, you sometimes see a lot of bucks and still never get that opportunity at tagging the buck that you want," he added.
"But we did shoot a giant doe on camera, one that weighed 166 pounds. We were pretty far in that area while making a television program and we had to pack that doe out (a pretty good ways)."
And while such an adventure might not have landed Strickland's name in the Boone & Crockett record books, it still produced a satisfied smile as he put venison in the freezer while hunting public ground out of state, filming a TV show no less.
"The folks that like that kind of thing, the ones that would rather be on public ground than hunting with an outfitter, it's a show that they'll really like," said Strickland.
"We like producing shows like that; we sure don't mind tackling public ground."
And with Cuz Strickland's public-land hunting tips in mind, neither should you.