One November I spent a week hunting on a private ranch out near Sheridan, Wyoming. Every day we sat on ridges, glassed the crops and creeks below, and spotted 30 to 50 whitetails. There were plenty of bucks, with racks ranging from 120 to 140 inches. What made the hunting totally cool as I waited for the buck I wanted to shoot was the fact that we were able to glass 20 to 30 muleys, 6 to 10 elk, and huge bands of pronghorns too.
One morning as we drove to our spot I spotted a pickup on the side of the road. “Who’s that?” I asked Herb, the landowner.
“There’s a small piece of state land in there that hardly anybody knows about,” my friend replied, waving to a small strip of timber across the ditch. “He won’t bother us.”
No, I thought, but he might ruin a big buck’s day. That hunter was smart. He had ferreted out a remote and non-descript 100 acres (I didn’t see a public access sign anywhere) out in the middle of nowhere and surrounded on all sides by private ranches that teemed with game. He hunted on Wednesday, just about guaranteeing he’d have the run of the place. His odds of tagging a public-land buck were as good as they get.
Here’s something to keep in mind for this fall. The smaller the public area, the more people will ignore it as they scrounge around for a larger property to hunt. That’s good for you. I’ve actually come to prefer a small to mid-size tract over a big public area. Anytime you hunt 500 or more public acres you’ll have to share it with some or an army of other hunters. Either way, the pressure will impact your methods, limit your stand locations, and reduce your odds of tagging a buck. You’ll get lucky every once in a while, but don’t count on it every season.
Start looking now for a nondescript, out-of-the-way property like that. It might be a small state forest or WMA in a remote corner of the county 40 or 50 miles from your house. Or 20 acres around a ramp where you launch your bass boat in the summer. I know a guy who bowhunts on a couple of acres adjacent to a municipal landfill, and he fills his tags.
There are plenty of overlooked spots like that across the country, and more coming into the public domain every once in a while. I read where the Pennsylvania Game Commission approved the donation of 60 acres in one county and 113 acres in another. Who knows when those spots will be opened to hunters? But it’s sure worth investigating. The best way to do it is to visit your state and county websites once a week. Check for new postings on public lands, and investigate any intriguing possibilities. Hunting access varies widely on these types of offbeat tracts, so check your state and local regs carefully.
Remember, think small this fall. It doesn’t take a lot of acres to shoot a big whitetail these days.