What You Should Know When Hunting Public Land

A deer on public land

Most hunters covet private hunting grounds, but there’s tons of public land that’s perfect for getting that buck or picking off some small game. Don’t feel like you can’t hunt just because you haven’t found private land to use.

Hunting public land is a little different than hunting private land, and you need to make sure you know how and why it differs, and how to safely and successfully hunt the land. Otherwise, what’s the point in being out there in the first place?

Here’s what you need to know to get started hunting public land.

Why You Can Hunt Public Land

Hunter with hunting dogs

Hunting is what started many of our country’s conservation efforts and a lot of the money that hunters put into their sport goes towards those same ends. State wildlife agencies rely on hunters to buy and sell licenses and firearms and make other hunting-related purchases for much of their budgets. Without hunters, the public lands available wouldn’t be what they are today.

Because of the contributions to wildlife and habitat conservation, it only makes sense for public land to be made available to hunters. That’s why there are public hunting grounds spread out across each state of the country. You’ll find both state and federal land that’s available to hunters.

Where to Hunt

A tree trunk in a hunting area

Like we said above, you’ll find plenty of state and federally owned land that’s available to hunters.

According to the U.S. Department of the Interior, there are 76 National Park Service areas, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service oversees 336 national wildlife refuges and 36 wetland districts, most Bureau of Reclamation lands, and the Bureau of Land Management oversees 220 million acres of public land that allow hunting as long as it’s in accordance with the state and federal laws.

That’s a lot of space to hunt in. However, all of that space might not be close to where you live.

You can easily find out by going to your state’s Department of Natural Resources website, where you can download maps and see exactly where you can and can’t hunt. If you want an app for your smartphone, the OnXMaps Hunt is one of the most popular out there for finding the perfect hunting spot.

A few tips on finding the perfect public hunting land:

  • Find a large area because it offers more space for you hunt.
  • Get away from bigger cities because you’ll have fewer competing hunters.
  • Scout the location ahead of time so you know exactly where you’ll go.
  • Hunt during the week to avoid weekend warriors.

Don’t get discouraged if you have trouble finding a good spot. There’s plenty of land out there. It may take a little while to find somewhere you feel good about, but once you do, you’ll have an excellent and rewarding experience.

What Can You Hunt?

Whitetail Deer in a field

The type of game you can hunt specifically depends on the individual area. Most of the time, deer and small game are permitted about everywhere. However, it’s important to check.

The types of game hunted are often closely regulated to ensure there are the right populations of animals in a given area. That means you need to check before you go. Don’t make any assumptions, or you could get hit with a fine.

If you have a place in mind that you would like to hunt but are unsure of what you can hunt there, go to the website. There should be all the information you need to know. If you can’t find the information you need, there should at least be a number to call so you can know for sure.

How to Prepare for a Hunt on Public Land

A man's hand holding a hunting rifle

If you’ve never hunted on public land before, don’t worry. It’s not all that different from hunting anywhere else. Prepare for the weather, dress appropriately (this includes wearing plenty of blaze orange), take all the safety measures you usually would, and know and follow the rules for hunters in the area you’re in.

Scout before you go. This was mentioned above, but it can’t be emphasized enough. Don’t expect to just show up and have a great hunt. When hunting public land, you need to do your due diligence and scout ahead of time. Maps and GPS only take you so far. They give you possibilities. The only way to know those possibilities are any good is to get out there and see for yourself.

Pay special attention to the rules of that specific area. Some public lands do require additional permits and fees. Check to see if you need a permit or if you have to pay something. If so, these permits are easy to get and the fees relatively modest. Keep in mind, the money collected from these fees and permits basically goes to keeping the public lands open to hunters, so don’t feel slighted.

Last, but certainly not least, go into the hunt with the proper mindset. Hunting public land comes with more variables than with private land. You’ll run into other hunters or you’ll think one spot is a great place only to find out it isn’t. No matter what happens on your public land hunt, make sure to go in with the right attitude and you should have a good time.

What are your thoughts on hunting public land? Have any tips for first timers? Leave a comment below.

What you should know when hunting public land


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