Taking to public land has become trendy over the last few years, with some bowhunters proudly tagging #publiclandhunter on every post. But is bowhunting ground open to all really worth the time and effort?

It can be.

The quality, acreage, and pressure of public land greatly depends on where you live and hunt. In western states with lots of public land such as Wyoming or Colorado, getting into true wilderness away from the crowd is relatively easy. But in some eastern states such as Pennsylvania where hunter density is the highest, it can be more challenging to hunt without bumping into others trying to do the same.

The species you’re after and the tactics you employ can also factor into how good the hunting will be. Spotting and stalking elk is a far cry from lugging a climber into the woods for whitetail.

But even in the toughest states, you can still have success on public land.

  • Do your homework. Scout out new areas with mapping apps such as onX but also put boots on the ground in search of deer sign and potential ambush sites. Look out for hunter sign as well — treestands, trail markers, and trail cams. And be sure you know where boundary lines are to avoid trespassing onto private land.
  • Manage expectations. Just because influencers make it look easy doesn’t mean hunting public land will be a breeze. Don’t expect to tag out on the first day. You might get lucky, but most bowhunters will log lots of hours before even getting a single opportunity at a shooter. 
  • Hunt smarter. Hunting on public land means not just considering your quarry but also other hunters who could easily move in on your honey hole or spook wary deer. Do your best to avoid high-pressure areas and put in the miles to get where other hunters won’t. And always practice extra caution to stay safe on public land.

If you don’t have any private land available to you for whatever reason, don’t be afraid to take advantage of this valuable resource.