Is Public Land Worth the Hunt?

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.

6 thoughts on “Is Public Land Worth the Hunt?”

  1. I’ve been VERY lucky to have private land to hunt on for over 50 yrs. When I was just starting out, a couple of friends of the family had land adjacent to each other (2-300 acres each) that my father and brothers hunted each fall for rabbits,squirrel and deer.
    Then when I got married, my wifes parrents had 80 acres river bottom which I wonder around on now.
    Also I have a brother who ownes 300 acres of prime ground that I get to hunt on once or twice a year.

  2. The Bow Bully,
    Back in 1995, I tagged my first deer while hunting on public land, a state forest in Connecticut. At the time, that state had some strange seasons for deer hunting: first, archery, second, regular gun (shotgun slugs only on public land), and third was muzzleloader…which made little sense; it should have come between archery and regular gun season, but it was a last minute add-on. Fortunately for me, I had done my pre-season scouting, and, deeper in the forest than most hunters care to walk, I set up a ground stand 70 yards from the junction of two deer trails. My work paid off; and the deer, not knowing that another season had been tacked on, were out and about, thinking, “Gun season is over…yay!” Hence, I was able to get a nice doe with my muzzleloader, and still make it home in time for breakfast. The following year, I hunted that same patch of deep woods with my friend, Efrem, who’s a serious bow hunter. I set up a ground blind 20 yards from the same trail junction where I’d shot the doe the previous winter. Only this time, a small 4-point buck came in from another trail behind me. I slowly pivoted around, and thought to myself, “Yeah, that looks like 20 yards,” so I put the 20 yard pin behind his shoulder, then launched a broadhead beneath him that clattered onto the rocks behind him. That didn’t spook him; he just looked at where the arrow landed; but then I nocked another arrow, and THAT spooked him. When Efrem came by later, I told him about the missed shot, and he asked me to stand where the buck had been; standing where I’d been, he asked what pin I’d used. “The 20,” I said. He shook his head; “That’s 30, easily.” A range-finder proved him right.
    So, I harvested one deer from a nice remote spot in a deep forest on public land, and it would have been two from that same spot, if only my range estimation skills had been better. But, as you said, you can have success on public land, if you’re smart and do your homework. And that was a very heavily-hunted piece of land; but it only had one entry point; and most hunters didn’t want to walk a mile into the deep forest; they tended to hang out within a couple hundred yards of the entry point. 🙂
    Keep up the good work,

  3. Anyone

    For a bit under a hundred dollars one can pick up a rangefinder. From a ground or tree stand, you don’t have to,, and shouldn’t,, wait for a deer to come by before using it. Generally one will have limited shooting lanes and so can easily range a rock, tree or bush along each so that your estimates,, when the moment arises,, will be accurate. I do the same when rifle hunting, but at longer ranges.

    Taking the guess work out of the equation leads to more humane kills,, and less broken arrows.


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