I want to start off by saying that I have brought this challenge of public land hunting on myself. I currently have a very good private land spot that I usually take a couple deer off of every year. There is no guarantee that permission land will be there year to year, so it is always a good idea to have a back up plan. I have decided to challenge myself to the max by picking what is arguably the heaviest hunted public ground in the state of Michigan. I love this challenge. I think it will be fun and I think it will sharpen my skills as a deer hunter by leaps and bounds as the years go on. The good news is that this public ground has a healthy deer population with big bucks on it. Battling other hunters and their movements is a major factor and once I can master that, I think the pieces will fall in place for me. I look at this in a very methodical way. I have spent two years scouting, now I am ready to make my first real move. It might take me 4-5 years to get it figured out, maybe more but it will very rewarding when I do.
I have actually only hunted this public ground for a couple weeks two years ago because I made the mistake of hunting around a crop field and had other hunters show up for gun season preparation, the game was over and I just went back to private ground. While I have been scouting public ground off and on for the past two years, there are some valuable lessons and conclusions I have came to recently. One conclusion is, a person needs to be in decent shape physically to remain mobile during the season. I say this because to be successful you need to have a minimum of five or more trees to sit in for several reasons. The main one being, having other hunters move in and spoil your spot. Others include bad wind direction or plain and simple a spot that just didn’t pan out like you hoped. I personally do not have an interest in owning more than 3-5 tree stand set ups. I would much rather be in decent shape to the have the stamina and strength to take down a stand and just move. Its a lot of work but you need to be mobile on public ground. My goal by next year is to have at least 10 trees that I can just go to and hunt. The idea being, to have two or three stands in the most prime spots to kill a doe for the freezer or a prime rut spot that I wanna leave untouched until Halloween. Then, have that extra one to move around with. I really feel being mobile is a major factor on public ground if you want to hunt a lot and not just during the rut. So hit the treadmill, elliptical or trails and get that cardio in check!
Secondly, is going the extra distance to get at those hard too reach spots. I say that keeping in mind that if its too thick and nasty for a long way, you are going to ruin your hunt, I don’t care how early you get there. Remember its public ground and you cannot cut down or trim anything that is living. Some of the terrain here in Michigan is so thick and nasty its impossible to maintain any level of stealth but still hard to reach areas are the key. Boats, canoes and kayaks really come into play if water ways are around and accessible. A person can access hard to reach places with ease. I have a few of these spots that I’m excited to check out. Also, I know that don’t matter how far back I go, there is still a good chance that another tree stand or blind is close by even though I never seen it, or one will be popping up a week before the gun opener. Also, if a funnel or pinch point looks like the money spot on Google Earth, even if it is way way back there, there is a very good chance someone has claimed it. This has happened to me several times already. Learning how to react to this is something I’m still working on. My mind tells me to just leave the area totally and another part of me says if there is a good amount of sign around, roll the dice and set up an appropriate distance away and hunt it until the guy or gal starts showing up (why I want to have at least 10 trees to choose from). But I can for sure say that hunting the edges or the inside wood line of public land crop fields or wherever there is a public parking area or pull off spot is a complete waste of time. You might get lucky the first week but after that its all been ruined by careless hunters.
I also want to mention the overlooked land. The land that is right next to the road but has no public parking areas or pull off areas. A lot of these types of areas have very thick cover and are not easy to get at. With some natural browse around and in this area of Michigan a crop field or a white oak is never too far away, its a winning combo for deer. Right now, I have a huge chunk of public ground that runs parallel with a dirt road and sits between the road and some big power lines. It has crop fields within reach for the deer, that land right now has no other stands on it. Its loaded with deer sign. I could be missing one or two stands, but bottom line, compared to most other areas, its about as good as it gets for lack of human activity. I would just say that if you find an area that has a lot of sign and no other stands around, set up and hunt it! Don’t matter how close to the road it is. Then adjust to deer movement accordingly.
Right after gun season ends, the months of December and January are the best times to get out and scout for the next season. Rubs, scrapes and deer runs that were actually used in the fall will be very visible and easy to spot. Also, human activity will be easy to spot and can really give you big clue of what is gonna happen next season with other hunters. Plus, you never know, a great spot to set up real quick for muzzle loader or late bow season could be discovered. Until next time, shoot straight and tight lines!!