When deer hunting public land, it pays to know a few tricks, such as how to identify and find top deer food choices, such as persimmons. Photo by Rich Fuller/wildlifedepartment.com
Editor's Note: Believe us when we tell you this list of pro tips couldn't be any more "pro" if we tried, as they come straight from one of the top minds in Oklahoma game management! Jerry Shaw spent year's as the state's big game biologist for the Wildlife Department before advancing to the position of programs supervisor, where he oversees not only big game efforts but also a range of other game management initiatives. In this special blog, Shaw gives his favorite tips for hunting deer on public land (we call it his "top eight tips," but look closely and you'll find dozens of insights, applicaple to any of Oklahoma's WMAs or even private lands). The Wildlife Department has made efforts to increase antlerless deer hunting opportunities on both private and some public lands. Still antlerless deer and other season dates and regulations on public lands may vary from statewide seasons. Be sure to consult the current Oklahoma Hunting Guide for full complete information on public areas you plan to hunt for open dates, methods, and other opportunities such as small game hunting during the statewide deer gun season.
Bring the most important thing. To me, the most important thing I can possibly bring to the woods with me is a good attitude. I hunt for many reasons: food, spiritual connection, population management, and others. But to me the most important reason to hunt is to slow down and appreciate what I have. If I go to the woods with a bad attitude (or frustration that someone was parked in "my" spot), I might as well turn around and go answer email because my heart is not in it. However, if I am thankful for the opportunity to be outdoors and grateful that I still have the chance to provide for myself, to reconnect with a life lived by my family generations before me, then no matter if I drag home a deer, I feel the hunt was a success! When my attitude is good I can sit longer, stay more focused, move around less, and not be constantly second guessing my location or set up.
Go light. On public land, I will not pack in a big stand or bulky ground blind. If I do plan to hunt off of the ground, I will take a couple of climbing sticks, my safety harness/deer drag and a few different lengths of rope. I look for mature oaks that are dropping acorns, and I will find one with a suitable limb structure that I can make myself a makeshift stand. I have found that I don't need to be 15 feet off of the ground. In fact, that is impossible with the blackjack oaks where I hunt most often. I will get 6 to 10 feet off the ground, strap in securely with my safety harness, and start my hunt. It is quiet. It is portable. And it is effective! If I am not in a location that I feel will have suitable trees, I will take a few yards of camo netting and some paracord and make a quick blind. Usually it will be small enough to not gather any attention from the deer but big enough to shield the occasional nose scratching or opening a candy bar wrapper. But most often, especially with a muzzleloader or modern rifle, I hunt from the ground and rely on a knowledge of wind direction to keep me undetected.
Know the available resources. For continued success on public ground, you must have an understanding of deer foods. Many hunters are used to bringing the deer to them with feeders or food plots when they hunt on private property. That is not an option on our WMAs. You must learn what deer eat at different times of the year. You need to know how to identify the most preferred type of acorns, when the persimmons will be ripe, and where to find them. Does are desperately trying to put on body weight after a long summer of nursing fawns. They need reliable, nutritious foods in abundance, and they need it daily. Scout out those foods and you will likely find your deer.
Be prepared! It was good advice when I was in Boy Scouts, and it is good advice now. Have a plan for how you are going to recover your deer when you are successful. A deer cart, sled, or pack frame will be very appreciated when it comes time to bring your prize out of the woods. Make sure to have a couple of flashlights with fresh batteries. A headlight sure is helpful when gutting a deer taken right at dusk. Often when hunting a WMA you will be on unfamiliar ground. Do some homework ahead of the hunt and use the ODWC Digital Atlas to plan a couple of hunting areas, and be flexible should you find someone in the area you planned to hunt. Should you pull up to your desired spot and find another hunter, speak with them and see where they are planning to hunt. If you are not going to be headed the same direction, their presence might actually improve your hunt by moving deer towards you.
Be flexible. The great part about public hunting areas is that they are public! That means they are a shared resource. Have a few parking spots picked out in advance. Identify a few locations to hunt at each spot. Just because you have scouted a location or even set up a blind or tree stand does not mean that the spot is "yours.” Other hunters might have done the same thing you did, but not left a blind or stand behind as a place holder. Move on to the next spot you have picked out.
Stay put. Plan on staying in your location all day if possible. Many hunters get cold and hungry a few hours after sunrise, and they tend to move around and even head back to the truck for a snack, or head home for the day. Use their movement to your advantage. Let them push deer to you. Take in a lunch, a book, and plenty of water; and make a day of it. Besides, nothing beats a good nap in the woods!
Think outside of "the box.” And by "box,” I am talking about the box that the latest and greatest deer call, cover scent, scent control gizmo, or new camo pattern came in. While those things are neat and fun, if you think a public land deer has not heard the "Double Drop Tine-2000 snort/wheeze" you are blowing at least three times already this week, you don't understand public land. Get out of the mindset of pouring out a sack of corn and bringing the deer to your feet. Gadgets are great and I own my share of them, but so does everyone else. But public land deer are probably more up to date on the latest hunting products than the "pro-staff" hashtag army you see flooding social media. Get back to basics if you want success on a WMA. Scout. Learn to identify deer foods. Pay attention to the wind. Sit still. And stay focused. We are at all time highs for deer numbers in many areas. You will see a deer if you do your homework and put in the effort.
Get out and hunt! This is the biggest tip I can give. WMAs are some of the best managed deer ground in the state. It has professional wildlife managers who are dedicated to producing the finest quality habitat for the sole purpose of growing wildlife! Very, very few pieces of private property have that level of management or that goal in mind. Wildlife is often a second thought for cattle producers, farmers, or timber companies. But on a WMA, wildlife is the reason for that area's very existence and the area staff that manage it. You might have to share the general area with others, but there is plenty of ground where you can set up and not see another person for days. Your license dollars purchased the land and are paying for its management. Why not take advantage of these areas? Given the option of hunting a professionally managed wildlife area of several thousand acres that I might share with a handful of other hunters or sitting at home wishing I had some private land to hunt ... I can tell you what choice I will be making each and every time!
- Jerry Shaw is the programs supervisor for the Wildlife Department's Wildlife Division