There are only two problems you have to solve to take to find Deer on public-land. However, most hunters try to solve only one. 1) Where are the deer on that public land feeding, traveling and bedding, and 2) where are the hunters hunting on public land? Most public-land muzzleloader hunters won’t travel more than 1/2-mile from their vehicles or wooded roads. Perhaps they are afraid of getting lost or they want to make sure they can get back to their vehicles to meet their buddies for lunch. They may be concerned if they take a deer further than 1/2-mile away from the car that they won’t be able to drag them out. Last, they may want to make sure they can leave their tree stands late in the afternoon and reach their vehicles before dark. If you’re willing to walk further into the woods than most hunters, you increase your odds for seeing and taking more deer. These deep woods places of success can come from previous scouting trips where you have discovered things such as deer sign, bedding, feeding, or game trails.
The other most-obvious place that deer hunters usually don’t hunt on public lands is within 300 yards of a major road. Most hunters overlook these areas, because they realize the deer can hear and see all the vehicles on the road. We also make ourselves believe that hunting pressure begins at the road and moves away. The deer learn to read hunters just as the hunters themselves learn to pattern the deer. It is as though the deer realize that just after daylight until about 10:30 or 11:00 am, they’ll rarely see a hunter within 300 yards of the road. They also know that in the afternoon, say after 2:00 pm, until an hour before dark, there won’t be any hunting pressure within these first 300 yards. It is during these times when they most commonly move and feed in these regions, all during daylight hours. The deer become accustomed to seeing cars drive up and down the road and recognize that an automobile doesn’t pose any threat to them. Secondly most blackpowder hunters park their trucks in places that have paths going further back into the woods or where there are trails they can use to reach their stands. Because the deer’s nose is very keen, each night after the hunters have left the woods, the deer can use his nose to find where hunters have been during the daylight hours. They learn to avoid these places, and they can also develop a sense of what time of day the hunters are most likely to be in certain sections of the woods.
Don’t ever doubt that older-age-class bucks know more about you then you know about them. For this reason, try finding thick cover and a feeding site within the first 300 yards of the property, close to the road. Watch your wind pattern, make sure you are clear of shooting towards the road, and be mindful of property lines. You may just find you will have a productive place to take a deer where no other hunters are hunting.
By: John E. Phillips, outdoor writer and 50-year veteran of deer hunting