Editor’s Note: Longtime Hunter’s Specialties’ Pro Matt Morrett of Harrisburg, Pennsylvania, enjoys hunting deer and has learned plenty about hunting public lands.
One of the secrets for successfully hunting public lands is to not let any other hunters know where you’re hunting. Oftentimes public-land hunters are lazy. If you’ve spent the time to scout and have located a good place to hunt, some public-land hunters may try to hunt your site when you’re not there or get to your site and set up before you do, if they’ve identified where you’re hunting. Actually one of the most difficult parts of successful public-land hunting is to pinpoint a place to hunt where the likelihood of seeing another hunter is extremely low.
To find a place to hunt that no one else is hunting, first determine where most people hunt. In the mountainous area where I hunt, most deer hunters hunt in the bottoms or the ridges, because ridges and bottoms are the easy places to reach. You can walk out on a ridge or in a bottom, set up a tree stand and not expend much energy. I’ll head to the foothills and the sides of mountains where most hunters won’t hunt. I’ll look for benches, bedding areas and feeding regions – spots where hunters will have to exert a lot of energy to find them. Next, I’ll look for trees that most hunters won’t even consider as sites to hang their tree stands.
Sometimes I’ll use a light on the main road to at least know where I need to start from to go to my tree. But I don’t use a light the entire trail into the tree or put out flagging tape to show me the way to my site. If I do, I’m also showing every other hunter the way to that site I’ve worked so hard to find. If I know there are other hunters hunting in the same area, I may use flagging tape or Bright Eyes thumbtacks to create a trail away from my tree stand site for other hunters to use. That trail will go to a likely-looking spot, but not to my hot spot.
When I’m in my stand and hunting, I try to always remember what my dad has taught me. “If you don’t think there are any deer around, more than likely you won’t see any deer.” When I’m deer hunting, I’m enjoying myself, but I’m also focused. I’m searching for deer. I’m using my eyes and my ears to determine if a deer is coming. One of the advantages of scouting before the season is to locate a place where you can hunt with confidence.
When you hang a tree stand or use a climbing tree to go up to an elevated platform to hunt from, the reason you’ve chosen that site is because you expect to see a deer there. If you don’t expect to see a deer there, then why have you hung your tree stand in that place? If you do expect to see a deer there, you need to be looking and listening for him the entire time.
I’m listening for an antler to hit a tree 50-yards away from my stand or a twig breaking. I hope to see an ear twitch and know that that’s a deer coming or a deer behind a bush. Every time I hear something walking in the leaves, even if it’s a squirrel, I still get that spine-tingling sensation because something’s coming. Where is it? What is it? Can I see it? I try to keep myself constantly on the edge. I know that the buck of a lifetime may be within bow range and then be gone. If you’re going to spend the time, the money, and the energy required to be a bowhunter on the day of the hunt, you’ve got to have your game face on and be the best you can be.
Being the best I can be is not only being scent-free, but also invisible. I wear a mask and gloves anytime I’m in the woods and/or hunting, and this factor is especially important on public lands. I believe gloves are important, especially when you’re going to a stand. You may reach up and touch a branch by mistake, and you certainly don’t want your bare skin touching that branch and leaving that odor. The human body is constantly shedding dead skin cells and those can give you away. I personally feel naked any time I’m hunting without a headnet or not wearing camo paint because I know the sun will glare off of my face and reflect just as if my face is a mirror. With headnets and gloves, I’m trying to cover-up both my shine and my human profile. When you’re hunting public lands for deer, be sure you use every asset you have and everything you’ve learned to be successful.