Editors Blog

Public Land Hunting in the Big Woods

Tips for hunting big woods public land areas.

Want to experience the best deer hunting? Explore big woods areas and national forests. (shutterstock.com)

If you want to have some real fun this fall, check out the next big thing. It’s interactive, downloadable and filled with apps. Unfortunately, it’s not available on iPad, Nook or Kindle Fire.

It’s the big woods, of course, and it’s a lot more entertaining than all of those modern gadgets combined. But be warned: Just like technology, the big woods comes with a sharp learning curve. Sure, you could just plunge right in and try to learn on the fly, but that approach will invariably result in a lot of hours of aimless wandering.

I love the big woods, especially our national forests, probably because I spent my first 20 deer seasons learning in these vast environments. Big woods offer solitude, enchantment and opportunities to hunt deer in as close to a wilderness setting that you will find.

That being said, the big woods are lightly hunted for a reason: this environment typically consists of thousands, if not millions, of acres of unproductive deer land.

If you want to see more deer this fall, here’s a tip: Don’t waste time hunting large tracts of mature sections of big woods. Instead, hunt areas where young and old growth meet, and scout from your truck whenever possible. Use a county plat book, and begin by marking an “X” at your camp. From there, break down the map into sections and continue by investigating each section in a 10-mile radius.

Drive each road and logging trail, looking for deer habitat. Deer trails that cross roads are good starting places, but it’s even wiser to note areas that include young aspen clearcuts, pine plantations, cedar swamps or any amount of red or black oaks. In wilderness areas, note streams, rivers, ponds and hiking/snowmobile trails.

Combine road-scouting efforts with summer fishing trips, when lush foliage helps contrast well-worn deer trails that zigzag from fresh understory to river bottoms and swamp edges. Big-woods deer don’t miss the opportunity to dine on acorns and clear-cut browse.

In areas where young growth isn’t abundant, look for natural runways near creeks, lakes, beaver dams and rock formations. Some of the best hunting can be found in remote funnels. A topographical map is critical to pinpointing these areas. Unfortunately, finding one or two such areas isn’t enough. Success hinges on flexibility.

Use your imagination when formulating hunting plans, but remember that success is secondary to the overall experience. The big woods is big-time entertainment that’s upgraded with every passing day.

•Need help getting all of your stand locations read? Make sure all of your gear is safe.

•But you don’t need to hunt from a stand to experience success. Learn how to track big-woods whitetails with tips from a still-hunter.

•After the shot, learn how to track and trail whitetails in big woods environments.

2 thoughts on “Public Land Hunting in the Big Woods

  1. aerie

    It’s a great thing to see whenever a noted whitetail expert gives some attention to hunting on public land. Growing up, I learned to hunt whitetails on private land with all the prime food sources, which made the hunting “just a matter of time”. Like so many fellow hunters, there came a time when access to the private land was lost. We all know how tough it is for the average whitetail hunter to gain access to prime private hunting real estate. Suffice to say, the transition from hunting private land to the alternative: vast forests set aside for public access, was not an easy one. As alluded to here, you can spend literally an entire hunting season without an opportunity to draw your bow or raise your rifle.

    Eventually, though, a little success here and there only made me want to learn more and try harder. There are quite a few non-conventional tactics that at first I resisted, not wanting to break with my traditional farmland hunting background. I soon came to understand that adapting meant more and more success. Along the way, particularly over the last 5 – 7 years, I have seen for myself that the rut predictions done by Charles Alsheimer for my geographical location were on the money. I am by no means a trophy hunter, but application of unorthodox strategy and his rut calendars have allowed me to consistently be in the presence of rutting whitetail bucks on public land.

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