5 Keys To Killing Public Land Bucks

5 Keys To Killing Public Land Bucks

If you’re like the majority of whitetail hunters out there, then you don’t have access to hundreds of acres of prime hunting land or a deer herd with the ideal age-structure to foster trophy whitetails. Heck, a lot of public land locations do good to produce 4 yr. old bucks. However, all is not lost. You can still be successful on public land; on mature whitetails too! What’s the secret? Read on...

Post-Season Scouting

When it comes to bow hunting on public land, not only must you stay one step ahead of your quarry, but other bow hunters as well.  To kill both birds with one stone, you should conduct all of your scouting in the post-season.  This strategy holds two main advantages.

post season scouting using trail cameras
In addition to post-season scouting, don’t neglect the value of a scouting camera. Even if the season is over, you can still go back and investigate images for details you may have missed.  

First, you don’t have to worry about spooking deer because whatever disturbances you make will be forgotten long before the season starts.  Second, you can scout to your heart’s content and still go undetected by other bowhunters in the area, many of which are at home taking a lackadaisical approach to the off-season.  

Unlike misleading pre-season signs, I routinely find that post-season rubs and scrapes, bedding and feeding areas, transition routes, and security zones will likely be used the following year again.  Therefore, I build my fall hunting strategies around this reliable “game time” information.

Utilize Topographic Maps

When searching for a potential stand site on large chunks of public land, a good number of hunters will choose the first good spot they come across; or those easiest to reach---not necessarily the areas harboring the most deer.  This predictable behavior ultimately means that a good deal of real estate will go untouched.

Utilizing a topographic map for the initial “post-season” exploration of these unoccupied areas is an excellent way to make the most of your “in-field” scouting time.  A topo-map will tell you whether or not a certain location is worth a closer look; without spending an entire day walking the property to find out.

topography shown in the onx map app
Paper maps can easily be lost or destroyed by weather. If you regularly rely on topo maps for success, a service with GPS and mapping capabilities might be a good investment for you. In addition, you can use DeerLab as they include satellite and topographic maps for placing trail cameras.

This method saves time and energy and promotes a more thorough understanding of the surrounding terrain and how deer use it. Another technique I often use in conjunction with a topographic map is “plotting.” Aside from the revealing practice of charting bedding and feeding areas, rubs and scrapes, and deer travel routes on my map, I also like to record the whereabouts of other bowhunters in the area.

Understanding topographic maps, and how deer move, can be a great strategy for where you hang your trail cameras. Using topo features when planning out trail camera locations can dramatically help your efforts.

Go Where You Don’t Belong.

Yes, it is a popular campaign phrase for Under Armour, but it pertains directly to you if you’re a public land deer hunter. Study your map carefully, as if you were the buck you’re trying to kill.  Do your best to get inside his head.  Now, you’ve got to move safely from Point A to Point B.

Avoid Human Contact When Hunting
Most often, you have to move to stand sites to areas that other hunters won’t visit. This is a good thing, though, because that is exactly where you will find older, smarter, and larger bucks.

Of course, that means avoiding human contact at all costs. Luckily, since you already know the routine whereabouts of those out to harm you, your travel pattern shouldn’t be too hard to piece together.  Just avoid the plotted “ambush spots” marked earlier on the topo map.  

Now, that may sound like an odd way of choosing a stand site, but when you consider what other bowhunters in your area are doing and how their actions influence deer movement, I promise your success rate can only go up.

Tagged Out On Tuesday?

As hard as we attempt to pattern bucks, it seems rather unfair that they can so easily turn the tables on us.  The problem is that we are creatures of habit. We likely show up to hunt simultaneously, park our truck in the same spot, walk the same route through the timber, hunt the same stand on the same days of the week, and exit the woods at the same time... every time.

We’re not exactly talking “cloak and dagger” here, are we?  Well, if the goal is to keep the deer guessing long enough to fill our tag, we should be.  If you want to be more successful on public or private hunting land, you’ve got to change your “when and where” habits.

Not only is hunting on weekdays a smart tactic, so is hunting when others are at home, like when the weather is less than hospitable. I shot this buck when most guys would rather have been home enjoying a warm cup of soup.

Successful hunt on public land
If you can make it happen, opt to do most of your hunting in the middle of the week while the “weekend warriors” is busy working.

Deer that react negatively to the predictable “Saturday/Sunday” mayhem may very well let their guard down during the middle of the week when things are much quieter.

Keep Your Mouth Shut

If you decide to work hard enough to find regular success on public land (or anywhere for that matter) and wish to continue that success, it will behoove you to do one thing….keep your mouth shut.  Don’t say a word about where you hunt or what you’ve seen from the stand... Nothing.

Sound a little paranoid?  You bet! But, I guarantee after you put a nice buck or two on the ground, everybody will want to know where you’re hunting and what you’re doing to get so “lucky.”  The problem with that scenario is “luck” has little to do with it.  

Yeah, it plays a part, but you’ve worked hard to increase the odds that good fortune will find you, and now someone else wants to step in and reap the rewards.  Call it paranoia if you like.  I call it protecting what you’ve busted your “you know what” to achieve.


They say the definition of insanity is performing the same thing repeatedly and expecting a different result. If your current public land game-plan isn’t working, it might be time for a change. If so, give these 5 off-beat tactics a try. I think you will like the results.

Have additional advice you think would help others? We would love to hear your thoughts below.

Steve Flores
Steve Flores
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