Finding consistent deer patterns on public land isn’t always easy, but if you print off an aerial map you can make less of a job out of it. Drive around the property, as well as neighboring farms, and mark down what’s been planted so you can understand where and when deer will be moving. Next, draw a red arrow in the direction of the prevailing winds and be sure to account for early-fall through late-winter wind directions. Also, be sure to highlight water sources.
A tip for any public-land hunter is to use your maps to your advantage. I will often place my detailed aerial map over a topographical map just so I can find different features. If I didn’t use a topographical map last year I would have never thought that a sharp bluff ran for about two miles halfway down a ridge. This kept me from walking around looking for a sign in all the wrong places. Also, wind directions are altered by the topography so when you draw your wind arrows on a map be sure to account for how it will follow a drawl or be deflected by a ridge.
Now you will have a big picture when looking at a map of public land. It’s just a matter of getting out of the truck to find seasoned game trails leading to bedding areas. However, instead of walking all over the property looking for trails, you can start by looking in the right areas off the bat and you will understand what is driving deer to travel specific patterns. Food, water, shelter and protection always determine deer behavior.
The last step in finding more deer on public land is to mark trails and beds on your map. Be sure to investigate your findings such as noticing whether a deer trail runs both ways or only in one direction, or if the trail was used while morning dew was still present (from 1-2 hours before sunrise to 1-2 hours after).
Overall, to kill big bucks on public land you have to not only understand deer patterns to outsmart the old, wise buck, but you also have to consider human pressure. Lady luck will be more on your side if you do your homework.