For years I have had the privilege of being able to hunt on private land. I guess that some would say that I was spoiled in the eyes of my fellow hunters! I didn’t have a large section of land but I was very familiar with it and knew my favorite places to sit for each species that I pursued. It was nice to be able to always have a place to go and never having to worry about people sitting in your spot, or even people sitting in your tree stand!
This last fall the property that I have hunted for the past seven years became unavailable. The gentleman that owned the property asked us to stay out for a few years, initially it upset me but out of respect for the landowner I agreed to stay off the land. It wasn’t the fact that I was not allowed to hunt it that aggravated me, it was that it was only two weeks until the bow opener here in Missouri which meant I was in a bit of a pickle.
First off I started calling all of my friends to see if they could squeeze me into their plans, and as I expected most of them couldn’t. But when I spoke to one of my friends up in northern Missouri he told me that he had thousands of public land acreage that I could come up and hunt with him on. I was uneasy about bow hunting on unfamiliar land because I had not scouted any land up there and I couldn’t see it paying off for me with stick and string, so I decided to head up for rifle season. I did not go with the intention of killing a trophy deer, I went with an open mind and a desire to fill the freezer.
As in most states, most people will say that the opening day of deer season should be a national holiday. I lost count of the number of vehicles that I saw pulling old campers and ATVs. And the farther north that I went the heavier the traffic became. I still told myself that there are millions of deer in Missouri and all I had to do was find one. As my buddy and I pulled down the gravel roads towards the public access areas, I was astonished with all of the vehicles that I was seeing. Matt told me that this was an every-season sight.
My guide and longtime friend Matt had always hunted public land, and has been rather successful in the many years that he has hunted them. We were hunting Truman Lake Reservoir around Clinton and Harrisonville, Missouri. He kept telling me to keep still and try not to walk the land too much, because in his experience after people sit for the first two hours they get restless and start walking, which in turn will push deer towards me.
The weather we had for opening weekend was horrible for deer hunting, 65 degrees and 15-20 mph hour winds just made it unbearable to sit and keep an open mind on seeing a deer. At first light the mayhem began with the first shot I could hear cracking off just 15 seconds after the legal shooting time. I was literally awe-struck about the number of shots that I was hearing. I could almost feel myself snuggling closer to my tree just for safety!
We sat until noon to no avail. I was not completely upset. Some tenderloin on the grill would have been great to have, but that is why they call it hunting and not killing. All in all I have a few new resources in my know-how book: my top four tips that I can give to a person that has never hunted public land and plans to hunt it in the upcoming year are as followed.
- You cannot be afraid to walk! We walked nearly five miles total just getting into lightly pressured areas, most people see a good patch of timber that is close and easy to get to and decide that place will be their stand spot, only to walk in in the morning and see blaze orange surrounding that very field.
- Pay close attention to boundary lines, many people own land that backs up to corp ground. Not many hunters want the title of a trespasser or poacher.
- Sit it out! I looked at hunting that weekend like hunting the peak of the rut. Even though the weather did not have the deer on their feet, the extreme hunting pressure did.
- Be sure to have plenty of blaze orange on! With so many people with high-powered rifles, you cannot be safe enough! I will not lie, this was a whole new ball game to me, I was not familiar with the land, and had no idea where food sources or water sources were. And sitting there just trying to figure out what I was going to do I couldn’t help but feel grateful for have my private ground back home.