July 28, 2021
Months were spent analyzing digital maps, and since the public property was close to my home, hours of hands-on recon were invested. I had a good feel for the open-to-anyone dirt. Walks through the woods revealed old rubs and scrapes, and multiple bedding areas were found.
Two weeks before the October 1 opener, three lock-on sets went up. Two were observation stands—sites that would allow me to watch deer use the property.
The third was in a funnel near a known bedding area. Its location was flirting with being too close to napping deer, but if the conditions were right, I figured I might slip in.
I spent most of early and mid-October in my surveillance stands. There was zero hunt pressure and I hadn’t spied a buck I wanted to hang my tag on. On the evening of October 19, I plopped my butt in the observation stand overlooking the bedding area funnel. As the sun sank below the western horizon, a tank walked right past my funnel set.
The conditions the next morning and evening were perfect to make a move on the bedding area. I didn’t. Why? I was terrified of bumping the buck. Stupid. I talked my brain into setting the observation stand one more evening. I got in early.
Minutes after getting set, I spied another hunter slipping through the woods. He was walking right toward the funnel that lead to the bedding area. He had a stand on his back, and it didn’t take him long to be 18 feet up. He didn’t kill the buck from the night before, but he did arrow a gorgeous 145-inch 9-point. Good on him.
I spent my evening helping him pack the buck to his truck. As it turned out, he’d never been to the property before. He was on a three-state public-land whitetail tour, and this was his first stop. I explained I’d been hunting the property all month and showed him my stand sites on onX. He’d seen my funnel stand while hanging his set.
"Why hunt that perimeter sign?" he asked. "You don’t have that luxury when hunting public ground. I stay extremely mobile. I blow right past perimeter sign, the areas deer are using under the cover of darkness. Sure, I blow spots up this way, but many times it works out just like it did tonight."
A New Mindset … Sort Of
Work obligations kept me out of the woods for the next week. On the Friday before the first rifle season, I walked in midday and removed all of my stands. Why? I didn’t want them to disappear, and come November, I had new plan in mind.
I drove by the parking areas a few times during rifle season. They were always full. I spent my nights studying maps. I looked for areas where pressured deer would likely move to. One stood out: a dense area of thick tamarisk near a creek crossing that lead to a private-land food source.
On the afternoon of November 6, I strapped my stand on my back and dove in. The creek crossing was pounded. I was nervous to cross. There was a good tree for a stand, and I figured I’d likely see a buck cruising the other side. If he wasn’t going to use the crossing, I could call to him. Yep, it should work.
When I got settled, I could see numerous trails and a massive rub line along the tamarisk. For the next two hours, it was a deer parade. With an hour of light left, a shooter emerged from the bedding area and nosed his way along the rub line. I grunted. He looked. I grunted again, and he walked away. The next buck, even more of a gagger, followed suit. I grunted. He moved away. I snort-wheezed. He moved farther away. It was obvious both deer had been pressured. I had let my fear of bumping deer prevent me from punching a tag.
I stayed in my stand until it was pitch dark. Then, I moved across the creek and hung my set right in their bedroom. The following morning, I arrowed a respectable 9-point as he worked along the bedding area scent-checking for does.
The Mobile Approach
Hunting perimeter areas is fine if you have private-property permission or own whitetail dirt. You can hunt food sources, small pinches and funnels. The deer aren’t pressured, and they will respond to calls and move through these areas on a more regular basis. Public-land hunting is different. You can’t be afraid to bump deer. You’re competing against other hunters, and often, a go-for-broke approach is the right one.
Do some careful digital scouting and find off-the-beaten path locales that require a jaunt. Focus on difficult-to-access bedding areas where does will likely congregate. Bucks will be scent-checking these areas throughout the day. During the early-season, bucks will seek solitude in these dense bedrooms. Put a lightweight stand and sticks on your back, and go after them.
What Is Perimeter Sign, Exactly?
Perimeter sign is easy to distinguish. It will be 300 to 500 yards off main bedding areas. Typically, you’ll find a few rubs and small scrapes. Trails will be pounded, but remember, most of this activity is happening while the stars are out.
This sign is important. It lets you know deer are in the area. Use perimeter sign along with your digital mapping system to locate areas where deer will be on their feet during daylight. Look for terrain features like funnels and ditches close to bedding cover. Bucks will use them as travel routes. Marshes surrounded by timber that pinches down in spots can be money. Waterways are also great. Deer need to drink during the early months as well as prime rut. Chasing does works up a thirst. Pinches along waterways surrounded by bedding cover are ideal stand locations.
Read the Trails
As you push into known bedding areas, pay attention to trails. Pounded runways are great, but most of the time these trails are made by does, fawns and lesser bucks. Keep a keen eye peeled for faint trails. These are often used by mature bucks.
Bucks will use these paths to cross main trails as they search for does. This holds true during the early season as well. If you find a pounded creek crossing, walk up or down from the crossing until you find a passage that is less defined but sports larger tracks.
Even if you’ve pushed in close—are right on the believed-to-be-X—don’t stop being observant. You might find that you need to make a slight change. If there is a location big bucks are using, get on it. That might mean climbing down at noon and moving your stand a mere 30 yards. Stay mobile and stay aggressive. Move to deer activity; don’t wait for it to come to you.
Calling Public-Land Bucks
I’ve yet to call a shooter buck bowhunting-close on public land. Sure, it could be I’m a terrible caller or haven’t found myself in the right situation, but it just doesn’t work for me. You can experiment for yourself, but I highly recommend moving past call-stand trees. You know, those trees that allow you to see a good swath of ground and call to passing deer. Get in tight and get up a tree.
I used to be terrified of hunting from the ground. Not anymore. If you poke around on public dirt long enough, you’re going to find that money spot, and there won’t be a stand tree within 100 yards. If this is the case, use ground debris and wear a ghillie jacket. Tuck into some good cover, place some sticks and the like in front of you, and stay still. Ideally, I like a spot that allows me to see deer coming. This way I can pick draw-my-bow moments as the buck approaches. This is a great technique for the mobile hunter.
Another great ground game is to use a bow-mounted decoy like the Stalker Decoy from Ultimate Predator Gear, or the Whitetail Buck or Doe decoy from Heads Up. Using these decoys provides cover in another sense, because you are the decoy. When hunting with decoys I like to find an open area where deer can see the decoy from a distance.
My favorite tactic is to use a bow-mounted doe decoy along with a 3-D buck decoy. I place the 3-D buck in an opening and then back myself up into nearby cover. To a buck that’s passing by, this setup gives the illusion that another buck is tending a doe. It drives cruising bucks wild, and they often wander really, really close. It’s an ultra-exciting way to hunt and one that allows you to stay incredibly mobile. (Exercise caution when using decoys on public land, especially during firearm seasons.)
However you decide to hunt this season, stay mobile. Don’t be timid or scared. Move in close on known big-buck haunts and make it happen. You’ll be surprised how fun and productive this style of hunting can be.
How Close Should You Get?
Have a plan to access bedding areas.
In the past, pressing in on big bucks caused a level of paranoia that triggered body shakes. Today, I don’t think twice about it.
If you’ve pinpointed a bedding area, plan an entrance that is favorable for the wind and quiet. Use every terrain feature to your advantage. Set your app’s map mode to topo or hybrid to check elevation contour lines. If you can walk in a waterway, all the better. The sound of water will disguise your approach, and the banks will keep you hidden. Sometimes, the best approach may be one that is longest, but remember, if you can get in quiet, you may be in for a stellar hunt.
Develop a system for hanging your set. Know how to use your stand, sticks, climbing strap and lifeline. I practice often. Pick a tree in your yard or in a location you can access and rehearse the process. The more you do it, the more proficient you’ll get at it. I’ve hung sets and an hour later had a buck stand up out of his bed less than 100 yards away.