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School me on the ways of hunting public land

11/23/20 @ 7:25 PM
MEMBER since 6/13/06

I have been hunting private land for deer my entire life.  For those of you that hunt public, I have some questions.  I hear all the time to find a good spot on public land, prepare to walk a ways.  How far do you typically travel and how do you get your animal out if you are a good distance from your vehicle?  I assume atvs are not allowed?  It's my understanding that you are not allowed to alter trees.  So does this mean no cutting branches, limbs, etc?  Aren't you guys just a sweaty mess if you are hiking quite a distance?  Do you really limit what you take so you can be more mobile or do you pack everything because walking back to the truck is just a pain in the rear?  What about when it's really cold?  Do you pack your clothes in so you aren't sweating the entire walk in?  I give all you public hunters a lot of credit.  This seems like a heck of a lot of work.  I'm very curious to read your responses.  Thanks for your time.


12/13/20 @ 12:08 AM
User since 3/8/12

Sweaty, stinky, and water up to your butt are all experiences of hunting a lot of the land that I try to hunt in southern WI. The biggest thing that I have learned hunting public is wind, wind, wind. Changing cloths can help but you have stinky clothes in a bag next to your stand. Just like the private you have to learn the land you are hunting. As for brush and tree trimming most of the spots a person is interested in hunting the work of setting up the spot was done by someone else the year prior. How far do you go in anywhere from 100 yds to 4 miles northern WI. (thank goodness I did not shoot a deer that day.) My furthest drag so far has been 2 miles. Finally purchased a deer cart this year it was awesome, a lot better than the mile wheel barrow haul I also did this year. Depending what part of the state a person is in, the rules for the property is no wheeled transportation southern wi state lands. (foot access only). I prefer these limits the people.

      I have gone really light on my stand, weighs around 10 pounds, lets you bring an extra layer of warm cloths and the most important thing of the day. Water, may need it for the drag out and nothing keeps your warmer than staying hydrated. 

      If you live in southern WI give the public land around you a try it can be an interesting experience. There is a good chance you will see a deer if you put the time and miles in. If you want to experience hunting, head north of Hwy 29 and hunt some of the national forest. More area than you can cover in a day and fewer deer, which in turn means you have to hunt them to find them and then figure out where they are hanging out. Both options require time and patience. I have gotten deer in both areas.

       Just remember this if you shoot a deer, you have to get it back to the freezer. In my case what I shoot depends on how bad the drag is going to be, something I can get out by myself or use up my one friend drag. (a brusier, drag is hell, and friend will be busy next time)

12/11/20 @ 11:55 AM
Knot so hot
Knot so hot
User since 1/28/11

Lots of good advice on here. I have been hunting the same large piece of public land (4000+ acres) for the last 2 years. I like to do most of my scouting of land in the late winter or early spring. Its really easy to locate trails and bedding areas with a little snow left on the ground. I call it "shed hunting" but I am really scouting for the next year. Its also easy to see the old hang on stands left behind in the bare trees from the previous hunting season. I have found that most people would rather walk a mile or two vs. putting on some waders and walking a couple hundred yards. My 2 best spots are within 400 yds of my truck. One spot I wear waders to get in to and the other I have a cheap kayak stashed in the brush to cross a river. I pack in enough food, water and hand warmers to sit all day. I killed 2 8 pts and 2 doe in these spots this year. All deer recovery missions are at night so no one catches on to what I am doing to kill deer. I wont even hunt if I don't have the correct wind, as I like to check the wind every 30 minutes with my Marlboro. I don't practice scent control at all and still see deer nearly every sit. I love sneaking across the river and getting right in the deers living room well before sun up and waiting for them to return to the bedding. 


11/29/20 @ 11:32 AM
User since 11/26/01

I hunt mostly public both gun and bow.  have for years.

good advice by many.  Find great spots that require waders or boat to access. Too many public hunters hunt by the truck for an easier drag.  I like to only wear a single long sleeve shirt to my spot, then strip top layer and dress warm.  Bottom layers don’t seem to sweat up as much.  Had a nice sit 1.5 miles in, biked with stand on bike.  
toughest thing I have found is during bow season, small game hunters actively hunt, can screw up a hunt.  Or, push deer to you.  Your choice.  

Deer cart helps a lot getting deer out.

11/27/20 @ 7:46 PM
User since 5/24/06

First year exclusively hunting public land within an hour of oshkosh.  I've been getting schooled for sure.  Other than a 30 pounder,I of course passed, no other shot opportunities.  Have seen fewer and fewer deer as the week goes on.  Running total for the week is now 3.  Hunted everyday except Thanksgiving. I usually hunt public up north and find that hunting to be much more enjoyable and what it is meant to be. And we see and shoot deer that dont bark.  So much trash around the public land here. Garbage and debris all over.  Every sign and snowmobile trail marker has bullet holes.  One spot had 3 dead coyotes and deer scraps right next to the parking area.  Some people have no shame...  smh ?? So looking forward to next season and being able to hunt the big woods again! Good luck everyone and stay safe!! Gonna be a long late season bow hunting for me. 

11/27/20 @ 6:35 PM
User since 2/13/12

I have been hunting public land for 45 years and wouldn't hunt any other way. I don't believe in sniper stands, bait or food plots. I learned from my dad how to read the woods and look for pinch points were the deer will travel and how they use the terrain. I have shot a lot of deer ,sometimes a buck and sometimes a doe and on good years one of each. I watch the weather every day and that determines how much to dress. I have been hunting the same tract of county forest for at least 25 years. I don't have any trouble with other hunters and would really welcome more so there would be more deer movement . Like other hunters have posted I have shot most of my deer between 10:00 and 2:00. It is a 15 minute drive off the nearest paved road and not meant for new trucks and then a slow 15 minute walk to my tree stand. I used to only hunt on the ground but after it was logged off it got real thick and you have to get above the brush to get a shot. I guess you could consider me a old school hunter I shoot what nature offers me.   

11/27/20 @ 2:59 PM
User since 10/11/15

I own 70 acres near a large piece (3500 acres) of public land in Portage County.  I can say without a doubt that there are places on that piece of public never gets hunted. And, there are places on that public land that are better to hunt on than the private land that I own. 

With that said, I would say that 80% of hunters never go in more that 3/4 mile. And for sure,  do not want to get their feet wet in any way. 

However, there are a few hunter/killer types that frequent this piece of Public land and do very well. I see the same Toyota pick-up in different parking areas and I know that guy is doing what it takes to come out with a buck year after year. On the opposite end of the spectrum you have hunters that run their hunting clothes though the washer and dryer fluffing and making them soft in the dryer with Mountain Fresh dryer sheets... and never go in more than 300 yards from the road.

Do your research, fine the proper lines, locate the thickest, darkest holes in the land and if it is a long way to get a deer out...  you fond a spot... then you have to find a spot in the spot and you will make your kill no problem. 

Don't be these guys....

11/26/20 @ 6:37 PM
MEMBER since 6/13/06

I really appreciate all the comments so far.  I have a ton of respect for all you public land hunters.  This has been a very interesting read.  Hope you all had a great Thanksgiving.  -Jess

11/26/20 @ 9:54 AM
MEMBER since 2/16/04

Scouting out the other hunters was mentioned. Find a likely spot driving your vehicle down a forest road, then keep driving to make sure three trucks aren't parked just around the corner. Then you turn back to that spot and hunt. It's normal for me and my friend to hunt different areas daily. If deer or sign aren't there ,try a different spot. No stands for me, just a small folding chair jammed by a fallen tree or a thick brushy spot to hide in. Try not to get sweaty, but that's harder than it sounds. Finally, be flexible with your plan because others are in the same boat as you. Wisconsin is blessed with a long history of creating public lands. Some of our largest states have very little public land so lucrative leasing for those with extra money is a norm. This year, walking in darkness, I could still see in the distance that a hunter had a stand set up a stand where I'd parked my chair a couple of times. The plan changed. I had to move away and find a different spot to set up. This also was mentioned earlier by another poster; Public land is not a private dumping ground. Be a good Scout and leave the woods the way you found them. Pic shows a bald eagle on a gut pile in Bayfeild Co., which boasts the most public land in Wisconsin.

11/25/20 @ 8:41 PM
User since 7/6/09

How far do you typically travel and how do you get your animal out if you are a good distance from your vehicle?  

Currently, the longest walk for our group is about 3/4 mile, but thankfully much of it is on a logging road.  We have a custom fab deer cart that we made in 1990 - that thing has hauled out dozens of deer over the years.  Through woods - team dragging is good.  Swamp - just be prepared to feel like you are dying, for a long time.  Sleds are good in cold weather, even over bare ground.

It's my understanding that you are not allowed to alter trees.  So does this mean no cutting branches, limbs, etc?

Almost everybody snaps off a twig or two.  Just don't go cutting lanes, etc.  No one should be able to tell you were there when you leave.

Aren't you guys just a sweaty mess if you are hiking quite a distance? 

Yes. Get used to it. :)

Do you really limit what you take so you can be more mobile or do you pack everything because walking back to the truck is just a pain in the rear? 

You really need to make a plan and stick with it.  If you're going to sit all day, you need some heavy duty clothes and food/drink to stay put. Once you do that, you can't change plans mid-day and haul all that stuff around.  You'll regret it.  Decide if you are going to sit or still hunt and stick to the plan.

 What about when it's really cold?  Do you pack your clothes in so you aren't sweating the entire walk in?

When it's really cold, you won't sweat as much/quickly.  Just take your time, and you can get there without overheating.  Make sure you leave early enough. We do often pack our bibs on the way out in the morning.

Some random thoughts:

Truth be told, I hate hunting public land, but it's all I have currently, so it's what we do.  When you get a deer, it feels really good, anyway.  Boot blankets really work.  We use them over a pair of Muck Arctic Sports when it is less than 25 degrees.  Clip them to your pack when walking.  I agree with those who say hunt the high ground, if you can get enough undisturbed space - it's often the only way to get shots longer than 30 yards or so.  Use a shotgun if you can - they put deer on the ground quickly, assuming good shooting.  You don't want to do long tracking jobs on public land. Shotguns also can bust a little brush, whereas most rifles really don't shoot well in brush.  Finally, you won't be tempted to take dangerous long shots, without knowing what is beyond.  Of course, this goes for smaller public land tracts in the southern half of the state.  I could go on for a long time, but those are just a few experiences.

11/25/20 @ 9:19 AM
User since 5/19/06

I started out on private land 30 some years ago. Saw and shot lots of deer. We lost access to that farm and made the move to public land in sawyer county about 20 years ago. I never learned how to hunt deer on private, it was more like waiting than hunting. Now I scout the people more than the deer. We have a handful of spots that we can go to that have produced in the past, some right by the road, others upwards of a two mile walk. My basic set up is a frame pack that I fill with a full days worth of food and drink and a complete change of base layers, a dry towel, pack boots, bibs and coat. I strap my climber to the frame pack (I used to use the stand as the frame but was killer on the shoulders) and dress light for the walk, not worrying about sweating too much. When I get to the stand site, I strip down literally naked and dry off with the towel and put my heavy base layers on and fully dress for the sit and climb up the tree.  At this point it becomes a battle of attrition. If you’re in a spot with good deer sign (2-3 year old cuts) you will see deer eventually, might be two hours or four days. We hunt wolf country and the deer are definitely more skiddish now and hang close to the thick stuff. Going back through our records, we’ve shot most deer between 10:00 and 2:00 (12:45 this year) The biggest take away is you just have to stick with it.

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