Find Private Land Bucks on Public Land

Find Private Land Bucks on Public Land

Let’s be honest. Harvesting a mature buck on private land is easier than doing so on public land. I don’t think that should come as a shock to anyone. I’m just stating the obvious that has been stated by many others before me. And I’m not saying that killing a mature buck on private land is easy. I’m just saying it’s easier. Hunting mature bucks is one thing, but killing one is a completely different story, even on private land where the pressure is well-managed. It still takes a lot of skill, a lot of effort, and a little bit of luck. But why is it easier on private land? I mean, private land deer are still just deer, right?

The Life of a Private Land Buck

For the sake of this topic, let’s say that we’re talking about a 300-acre tract of private land. This land has one owner who sometimes allows a buddy or two to join him. However, those buddies know that the owner is extremely particular about how he enters his stands, he never hunts the same stand more than three times a month, he washes his clothes in Dead Down Wind, and he never hunts a bad wind. In other words, he’s extremely intentional about how he interacts with the deer on his property. Because of that, his bucks get out of their beds long before dark, browsing in the timber before walking out into planted soybeans 30 minutes before sunset. This kind of thing happens all over the country every year on properties similar to the one I’ve outlined. I get pictures on a daily basis of great bucks doing this very same thing on a 500-acre lease. “Daggers” is in front of the same camera every day an hour before sunset, along with several other bucks. I’ve seen this kind of thing happen for years. Of course, things are different when you don’t hunt and scout as cautiously as the hunter I previously described. But in general, good hunting behavior on private land results in bucks having more clock-like patterns that have them stepping out of their bedding areas earlier in the day on a routine basis. As indicated by their actions, the bucks living on the property I described don’t feel much pressure.

The Life of a Public Land Buck

Now, let’s take a look at the life of a public land buck. There are some states that absolutely get hammered with orange bodies every fall, but even for those that see average hunting pressure, the bucks living on those public tracts seem like a totally different species altogether. When you’re hunting public, instead of having a few people who thoughtfully use a property, you may have 10-20 people who hunt it heavily throughout the fall. Some will hunt very cautiously, but many will go in with whatever time they have available – usually Saturdays – whether the wind is ideal or not, walk the easiest path back to their spot, and hope a deer strolls by while they’re on stand. If you’ve got a few years under your belt, you know as well as I do that you may only have one or two opportunities on a good buck before he’s on to you and changes his whole game. So, even with scouting carefully, taking the long, hard way in, playing the wind and thermals, and waiting until everything is just right, you still may never have a chance at the buck you found because even though you did everything right, the three guys that hunted there before you did too many things wrong. Or maybe they didn’t, but three days’ worth of ground scent leaves too big of an impression on deer, especially mature bucks. So, you end up carefully walking out after your hunt, scratching your head and rethinking your ability to get it done. The bucks on those kinds of properties pattern us much better than we pattern them. They know what the sound of diesel means, they bed only where it’s advantageous to them, and they adapt to human pressure better than we adapt to their changing behavior. So, how do we level the playing field on public land?

Get Away from The Pressure

This has all been leading up to this one point – get away from the pressure. The difference between private land bucks and public land bucks isn’t in their genes or the environments in which they live. It has everything to do with the level of security they feel, which is directly tied to the amount of pressure they see. And a buck doesn’t know whether you’re hunting or scouting. He just knows you’re there to kill him. One guy over-scouting a property the week before the opener can ruin that area for the other ten who strategized how to hunt it effectively. But we’re not privy to that kind of knowledge. We don’t know how many people are hunting the same property, and we don’t know how well they’re hunting it. We’re at the mercy of the unknown. So, instead of just rolling the dice and hoping that no one else is going to step foot in the first bottom closest to the parking area, just keep on walking right past it. Even if you find promising sign. I’ve been guilty of that too many times – getting all excited about a rub line running through a bottom that only took me about 20 minutes to find. The fact is if I came across it relatively easily, so did the other guys. Earlier this year, I had picture after picture of longbeards consistently strutting down a two-track next to recently burned timber a month before turkey season. But 4 or 5 other guys had the same intel because it was one of the easiest places to spot. 

The Greatest Benefit of E-Scouting

One of the greatest benefits of e-scouting is skipping past all the areas you don’t want to hunt. Using the Spartan Forge app (shameless plug), you can go straight to the areas that will require the kind of effort that only the die-hards are willing to put in. The further back you get, the more the bucks begin to resemble some of those private land deer we were talking about earlier. See a good spot only accessible by water? The bucks living there are more likely to act like unpressured private land bucks. Why? Because most hunters aren’t willing to put in the work to get there, so those bucks just feel more secure. Another way to find private land bucks on public land is by actually finding private land bucks. Hunting harder-to-reach areas of public land that border private ag fields gives you the opportunity to tag some great bucks that feed on private land, but bed on the adjacent public land. Please do not take this as permission to hunt right on a property line. Always respect property owners and their boundaries. I’m just saying that there’s an opportunity to find great bucks living close to food held on private land. The Hunting Public guys are great at this.


Truck Ready

It's All About the Pressure

Remember, mature bucks care as much about security as they do anything else. Sure, during the rut, you can get away with a little bit more than normal, but we’re kidding ourselves if we think a mature buck is going to put up with a lot of human pressure just because he’s lovestruck. If we put in a little more thought and effort to bypass the easy spots and locate bucks in areas that eliminate 90% of other hunters, we’ll be much more likely to encounter public land bucks with private land tendencies.

Written by Alex Killman at Southeastern Bowhunting