Back when I began hunting deer, Northern Wisconsin’s herd was abundant. Central and southern Wisconsin didn’t offer the deer numbers that were found in the north. Most hunters headed north to hunt the vast tracts of Wisconsin public hunting land. I experienced the freedom of roaming miles and miles of public land, chasing deer that were always toying with me. I rarely saw another hunter. Getting on a track in fresh snow and attempting to slip up on deer taught me a lot about how deer react to being followed and pressured.
Tracking Deer On Wisconsin Public Hunting Land
One hunt in particular taught me a lesson that I cherish to this day. I cut a track in fresh snow and in my mind it was made by a buck. Never mind that it could have been a doe, I was fifteen years old with a lot of energy to spend, so I convinced myself it had to be a buck that was worth checking out. He led me through open woods and thick stuff staying just far enough ahead so I could not catch sight of him. He’d pause in the thick growth to watch for me or catch my scent, then take off again as I got near. By the time I figured out his pattern and made a plan to get one step ahead of him, he had enough of playing cat and mouse and took off for the hills. It was a lesson played out on Wisconsin public hunting land that made me aware I’d have to approach deer hunting differently if I was ever going to kill one. I could never have asked for better lessons than those I learned while gun hunting that public land.
Wisconsin Public Hunting Land Today
Fast forward to today and things have changed. Southern and central Wisconsin now hold greater numbers of deer than the north and a lot of hunters are now hunting here on the smaller tracts of land in farm country, much of it privately owned. This makes tracking a deer over a vast landscape difficult for a number of reasons, not the least of them having to do with trespass issues. Even most Wisconsin public hunting land tracts here are too small or heavily hunted to allow for the free-range tracking I used to do. It has changed how we hunt deer.
Now we rely more on tactics that won’t bump deer off of our forty acres onto the neighbors’, who is waiting on stand hoping for us to move something their way. In the lower half of the state I typically hunt from a stand waiting for deer to come to me. One thing has not changed, no matter what area of the state I’m hunting, Wisconsin public hunting land allows me to access some of the best deer habitat available.
To find public hunting land anywhere in Wisconsin, visit the Wisconsin DNR website and search for public hunting lands. There are a variety of lands open to the public and you’ll find most of them there. The key to being successful on any public land is scouting it ahead of time, before the hunting season is upon you, preferably in late winter or early spring before things green up. You’re not just looking for deer sign, but also how other hunters are using the property so that you can use them to push deer past you or get into a place that hunters are over-looking or avoiding, where deer go to escape the pressure. Some public hunting land is very good, some very bad, to distinguish the good from the bad you must scout it. Learn more about the “how to’s” of scouting public land in our NextBuk videos, which are available in our online store.