July 19, 2021
I’ve hunted places so close to civilization I could hear detailed conversations I had no place hearing. So, to you city slickers, keep those windows closed. No one wants to hear that.
I’ve also hunted areas so remote you couldn’t hear a car, person, train … or anything. It was nothing but eerie silence, which ironically and weirdly crescendos into a defining roar, if you focus on it. Still, I prefer it to hearing sweet nothings in the city.
Nonetheless, there are public lands all across this nation, and most of these offer pretty decent deer hunting. Some lands and programs are no longer secrets, but others are. Here’s a look at both.
Public-Land Programs That Are Common Knowledge
While there are hidden gems few people know about, most public-land programs are common knowledge. On the state level, wildlife management areas (WMAs) are very popular throughout the Northeast, Southeast and Midwest. Some state parks offer hunting opportunities, too.
On the national level, while National Parks are a no-go, some properties owned and managed by the National Forest Service (NFS) permit hunting. These are typically expansive tracts of land that encompass tens of thousands of acres, if not more. The same holds true for the U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service (FWS).
Then you have Army Corps of Engineers (ACOE), which often helps manage lakes and other waterways. In many cases, part of the lands surrounding such bodies of water are open to hunting. It’s different from property to property and state to state, but it’s worth checking into.
Finally, the Bureau of Land Management (BLM) program is a popular choice amongst big game hunters, especially in the West. It has hundreds of millions of acres under its umbrella, and many of these are open to access.
Military installations are also great places to hunt. Some of these are limited hunting only, and likely require getting drawn to access. Other bases mandate signing in and out while on the property. Nonetheless, these places offer great hunting, and giants are tagged on these lands every year.
Of course, the aforementioned opportunities aren’t secrets anymore. But there are some opportunities out there few hunters know about. These are some of those.
Public-Land Programs That Are Lesser Known
Believe it or not, there are other public lands that are lesser-known. Some of these receive very little press and hunting pressure. If you already hunt via one of these routes, I’m sorry. If you don’t, you’re welcome.
Some states have third-party land trusts that offer hunting to the public. Montana has a similar operation. In Alabama, the Forever Wild Trust does that, too. The Yellowhammer State also offers another unique program, which is the Physically Disabled Hunting Areas (PDHAs).
In rural areas with a lot of prairie, programs are in place to access these grasslands. South Dakota is a prime example of that. And don’t think there aren’t deer in these expansive stretches of prairie. There definitely are, especially in certain locations.
Further southward and eastward, it’s pretty common for states to have what’s called “county lands” or “county forests.” Oftentimes, these are areas owned by local governments. In some cases, they might have been forfeited by the original owners. In others, perhaps they were acquired for certain reasons. Either way, many of these are open to the public for hunting.
Controlled, draw and other limited-entry hunts are also overlooked. These exist throughout the country, and too few hunters take advantage of these. Usually, these are located on public lands that require hunters to be randomly selected for access. That leads to an abundance of older age-class bucks on the properties that are managed this way.
Private Lands Open to Public Access
While the deeds won’t show these properties as publicly owned, there are millions of acres that are both privately owned but also open to public hunting. These lands fall under different programs and names depending on the state, but many of them offer eye-opening opportunities.
Likely the most popular is the Walk-In Hunting Areas (WIHA) program. The wildlife agencies and DNRS work hard to generate relationships with private landowners to increase access. Numerous states are involved with this, and Washington is one such state. Kansas, Minnesota, Wyoming, and other states are leaders of the WIHA program, too.
In Indiana, it goes by the name of the Private Lands Access (IPLA). The Iowa Habitat and Access Program (IHAP) is another example. And so is Pennsylvania’s Hunter Access Program, Montana’s Block Management Program (BMP), Michigan’s Hunting Access Program (HAP), Nebraska’s Open Fields and Waters Program (OFW) and The Passing Along the Heritage Program (PATH), North Dakota’s PLOTS, Oklahoma’s Land Access Program (OLAP), Virginia’s Public Access (PALS), and more.
Similar programs exist in urban and suburban settings, too. For example, consider Minnesota’s Metro Bowhunters Resource Base and Indiana’s Community Hunting Access Program (CHAP). Both are designed to increase hunter access in areas with higher populations of people.
Some large tracts of lands owned by corporations — such as coal, electric, power, paper and timber companies — are open to public hunting as well. Paper and timber companies are common throughout the Southeast and Northeast. Coal, electric, and power companies are common throughout Appalachia, such as Ohio, Pennsylvania, West Virginia and Virginia. Mind you, not all of these lands are open to hunting. But some are.
Finally, in some states, all private lands that aren’t legally posted or painted with “no trespassing” signs or markers are technically open to public hunting. Even so, it’s best to knock on the door and gain permission. Obviously, check your state and local regulations to determine what the law is where you hunt or plan to hunt. And regardless of where you go, make sure you always stay on properties you have a right and permit to be on.
Homing in on a Hotspot
Whether you choose to hunt traditional public land, or private land open to the public, it’s important to know the property lines, and stay within them. Accidental trespassing is still trespassing. Innovative hunting apps, such as HuntStand, can help with that.
HuntStand now offers monthly updates to their aerial imagery, while most traditional satellite views are only updated every two to three years. This new feature means hunters will have access to some of the most recent imagery on the market. This helps to keep up with food plots, controlled burns, and more. It’s also the first consumer app in the world to offer imagery updated that quickly. That’s pretty cool.
Apps and maps also help with learning what properties have to offer. Use aerial-based layers to see what the terrain and foliage look like, such as whether or not timber is hardwoods, conifers, or some sort of mix. Gauge whether or not large fields are in crops, hay, pasture, or perhaps fallow. Use topography-based layers to pinpoint high ground, ridge lines, benches, saddles, pinch points, and more. You can even find water sources, big and small.
That’s not to mention the app layers specifically dedicated to showing nearby public lands. Select one of these options to reveal public lands you didn’t even know existed. In a nutshell, that’s incredible. The power of these tools grows every year, and isn’t slowing down anytime soon.
Other resources are available, too, such as map offerings by the agencies and organizations that run these public access programs. Reach out to these individuals to get detailed information related to specific properties. Oftentimes, they’re willing to help out.
All in all, don’t use access as an excuse to not go hunting. If we’ve done anything here, it’s that we’ve revealed just how many public-land deer hunting opportunities there are out there, and how many tools are in existence to help get you there. All you have to do is get up off the couch and go do it.
The Essentials Gear Box.
Our editors have hand-picked these essential pieces of gear to make you a more successful hunter when you hit the game trails this season.