Whitetail blood trails are what we all are after this time of the year. There is not much room for mistakes when it comes to bow hunting whitetails on public land. Here are a few things you should consider when on the hunt, as well as some things you may be considering too much.
When it comes to scouting I believe the Pareto Principle goes into effect. This is the 80:20 rule, that states 80% of your work will produce 20% of the results, and 20% of your work will produce 80% of your results. If this principle is true, then less is more. To maximize your results, find areas that have produced successful hunts in the past and focus your future endeavors on those areas. For instance, if you have had luck with Streamside Management Zones (SMZs) around Pin Oaks, then you should scout all the SMZs in the area that you are hunting—particularly the ones with mast producing Pin Oaks in them.
Thanks to the latest mapping technology and smartphones, there is now the option to E-Scout. By utilizing these electronic tools, you can look ahead and mark potential bedding, SMZs, and bigger timber areas. The more you study maps and their topography, the easier you will be able to notate the areas you like to hunt. Start off by finding a place that you think will be of interest. Before visiting the area, take note of how you anticipate the land will look. Then, compare and contrast those notes with details of what the area actually looks like with boots on the ground. All of this will make your new spot that much easier to scout and hunt, via E-Scouting.
Once you have boots on the ground, it can be a daunting task to find the exact spot to hunt. This is especially true if you have numerous miles of large timber to choose from, like in Kisatchie National Forest or Wildlife Management Areas that span the state. Regardless of the countless acreage of resembling woods, you can train your eye to find “Flow Areas.” A Flow Area is a select 10-15 yards of wood that deer travel when moving from bedding to feeding. Typically, these areas contain some type of transition timber or vegetation. The changes associated with a Flow Area can be as drastic as a clear-cut piece of land, or as moderate as a patch of thicker growing grass than the surrounding area.
After finding a Flow Area, the last thing to do is set up. Find a pinch point, corner of timber, or a stream along the flow area, and then pay attention to the wind. Find the best place to approach a proper tree and try not to cross the path that the deer will follow. Climb up and wait for the right time. If you have done the work, then it will pay off.
Maybe your job is demanding and your time is limited. Work might prevent you from having the time to scout at all, much less taking the time to apply specific tactics and principles. Do not let that keep you from exploring that Untouched Area. With your stand on your back and your bow in hand, start walking with the wind in your face. Be vigilant. Do not rush. Your next kill spot may only be 100 yards from the trailhead. Many public land tracts have areas that are often overlooked by ATV hunters making their way to the back, “…where no one is.” Hunting these bypassed areas may be the ticket to bagging your next buck.
For the inexperienced public land hunters, as you venture into a new territory there are a few areas that are easier to start than others. Follow creeks, water edges, or even a ditch until you come across deer sign. You can either follow where the tracks are going or coming from but this will be a great place to start as well. The one thing I advise is not overthinking it. Find where the deer are. By that I mean right now where are they? Walk until you jump one, notate it and then build from there. If you plan to have success soon on public land you have to find the main population of deer and begin the learning process.
Lastly, I want to encourage the hunter who may not have the timber to climb, or even the climbing stand to use. Do not be deterred from bow hunting just because you do not have the “right equipment.” The Native Americans had sticks, string, rocks, and a loincloth, yet they managed to kill enough deer to provide for entire tribes. You can be successful with little-to-no equipment. Of course, the new technology and equipment that is available makes bowhunting much easier, but do not let a good hunt pass you by due to not having the “right gear.”
If you are without a stand, here is a tip to keep in mind as you approach your hunting zone. When approaching, look for the dark spot in the brush, a dip in the landscape, or the clay root on a tree that has been uprooted. Set up with that natural, dark area as your backdrop and stay still. Deer have eyes with a horizontally laid pupil that enables them to see the horizon and all that could be approaching them. They are designed to pick up any and all movement, including movement made by you. By choosing a natural, dark area to set up in, you will increase your chances of a successful hunt.
Public land bow hunting can be a challenge, yet it is extremely rewarding when success is earned. Remember that hunting tactics are generally transferable from public land to private land, if you have the opportunity to hunt both. Hunting is hunting no matter where you are. The only differences are the rules of the land. Whether you choose to hunt public or private, we hope to hear of your success this season.
-Austin M. Bradford, LABH Contributor