Deer Hunting: Go Deep for Public Land Bucks

If you’re a public-land hunter looking for deer that are slightly less educated than your average MIT doctoral candidate, you need to get away from the parking lots and off the roads and put some distance between you and the other hunters.

Okay, so the old “go where others won’t” mantra isn’t exactly fresh wisdom. What it lacks in originality, however, it makes up for in accuracy.

As a bowhunter, I prefer to hunt from a treestand. While a climbing stand is easy to haul to a remote area, many spots simply don’t offer the utility pole–like trees required to use one. So how do you get treestands, climbing sticks, and other required gear back to where unpressured deer live?

1. Mount Up
Western elk hunters routinely use horses to access backcountry areas where big elk live. So why not do the same for whitetails in the Midwest?

Many public areas in states like Michigan, Ohio, Wisconsin, and Illinois are “mixed use” areas and contain equestrian trails for horses. Some of those trails are closed to horses during hunting seasons. Others, however, remain open. Take advantage of the opportunity by using a horse to help haul your stands and gear deep into the area. You’ll still want to get a fair distance off the trail before setting up (other hunters may also use the bridal trails for access), but the horse can get you well away from the parking lot before you start your hike.

2. Pedal Power
Even in areas ****where horses aren't allowed, non-motorized access on designated trails often still is. A mountain bike will allow you to move away from the crowds and make hauling gear a whole lot easier—especially if you pair your bike with a well-built pull cart like the BOB Ibex ($439; rei.com). The Ibex will haul 70 pounds of gear and, with adjustable suspension, is built for off-road use.

3. Float It
I love to find public-hunting areas with water because I know that feature may offer a chance to get deep into country without breaking my back hauling gear.

Lakes and large rivers are an obvious means of toting equipment in (and big bucks out) with a boat, canoe, or raft. But even small streams and creeks can make hauling gear easier. If it’ll float a small raft loaded with a stand, climbing sticks, and gear, that’s a big benefit. I’ll gladly don a pair of waders and pull the raft along behind me.

4. Shank's Mare
Oftentimes, ****there are no horse trails. No bike trails. No rivers, lakes, or streams. And the only option is to get where you're going using nothing more than your own two legs. You're still going to want to get a good distance from the nearest trailhead or access point. The key here is to pack only what you need to save weight, and to employ a good pack frame for getting it there.

A simple aluminum pack frame, like the Stansport Deluxe Freighter ($73; stansport.com), will haul a treestand, climbing sticks, and your pack filled with the essentials. I'm not going to compete for a UFC title any time soon, but I can haul a properly loaded pack frame of about 70 pounds as far as I need to. The key is to make sure the load is properly balanced and strapped in tight. Then it's a simple matter of putting one foot in front of the other.

Photo by Donald M. Jones