Uncle Sam’s Bucks (Part One)

Scott Bestul |

At no time in modern deer hunting history has there been more interest in “managing” for mature bucks. And, of course most of the habitat work, food plotting, and selective harvest that produces those deer occurs on private land. Entire real estate companies have been created with the sole purpose of selling a hunter his own slice of heaven, where he can—with work and time—enjoy the kind of hunting we all dream about.

But here’s the thing: Some of us (me included) will never be able to afford that fantasy. When I hunt private property, it’s because I have friends and neighbors gracious enough to grant me access. And the rest of my whitetail hunting—about 50%, most years—is done on public land, owned by the county, state, or federal government. I collectively call these land holdings “Uncle Sam’s property”.

I have also learned that whitetail hunting on public ground is not only not bad…It can be very, very good.

Before you start questioning what planet I call home, let me say this. I’ve hunted the stereotypical public spots we all envision; the ones with the shot-up road signs, the littered-and-crowded parking lots, and the throngs of hunters. Back in my teens, I hunted a public area where duck hunters sky-busted waterfowl buzzing at tree-top level over my deer stand. And pheasant hunters routinely clamored through bedding areas of the bucks I was chasing. So I know all about Uncle Sam’s dark side.

Yet I continue to hunt public ground, and consider doing so a kind of merit badge. One part, of course, is that it takes me back to my roots as a high school kid who had no other options. But I also realize that public land can still offer good—and sometimes great—hunting, provided I’m willing to do a little extra work and research. Finally, I’ve discovered after over four decades of hunting, that these days I’m seeking a challenge as much as I’m searching for a buck when I roam the deer woods. Public land can offer challenge in a big way, and since I live in a neighborhood where state wildlife areas are abundant, I find myself scouting and hunting them often.

The buck in the photo above is a fine whitetail my trail camera captured on public land near my home. He’s no world-beater, but he’s an awfully pretty buck; one that I’d be proud to tag. If, like me, you’re not the owner of a whitetail paradise and are looking for a reasonable opportunity at a good buck on land you can hunt for free…Well, tune in for my next blog, where I’ll offer some tips on making that very dream happen.


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