Start the hunt for a suitable public-land option in your hunting location online. Hunting apps, like the popular HuntStand app, include property information portals that show ownership and boundary data. You will quickly discover the two big players in public land across the nation are the USDA National Forest Service and Bureau of Land Management.
The Forest Service has approximately 193 million acres of land under its management. The BLM has authority over 270 million acres. Granted, much of the BLM land is in the West and Alaska, but parcels can be found nationwide.
It just takes a bit of research to discover a Forest Service or BLM tract that may have hunting potential and be overlooked due to it not being connected to another major mass of public offerings. Focus on edge properties and parcels separated from the main holding for overlooked hunting options.
Other federal entities to consider include the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers and the lands they manage. These public lands are often associated with water projects, big and small. Along the water edge the Corps oversees the shoreline habitat. These long, meandering parcels of land create ideal habitat for all wildlife species. You can also hunt some Bureau of Reclamation lands on various water project sites, plus National Wildlife Refuges. Some of these may be application-only hunting, but that aids in limiting hunting pressure if you are the lucky one.
Speaking of application-only hunting, many military bases now hold hunts to help manage wildlife with public opportunities. My son was at the U.S. Military Academy at West Point, and it allowed hunting like other posts across the nation.
After your federal government search, move your attention to state lands. Individual states manage millions of acres of public land in America. From state wildlife areas, habitat areas, state parks, school trust lands and even state forests, states offer many opportunities for public-land hunting.
Take Tennessee as an example. It has 15 state forests for hunting small game, turkeys and deer. New York manages nearly 800,000 acres of state forest lands. You can find state forests in Wisconsin, Pennsylvania, Indiana and even Florida, among many others. Did you know that Florida has more than a million acres of state forest lands scattered within 37 forests? There is likely a state forest within driving distance for you to hunt. And like the Forest Service or BLM, search for small tracts not associated with the large masses of state land.
States own land, but they also have been savvy enough to lease land and open it to the hunting public in vast “walk-in” programs. States like South Dakota have more than one million acres enrolled, and similar programs are found nationwide. Montana’s Block Management program opens millions of acres. Some of these programs also require you to sign up in advance so do your research and do not miss deadlines.
The hunt for quality hunting ground never ends, but keep hunting. Look for the major players in the public land management scheme. Once you find a worthy offering, search for small or unconnected parcels others may overlook.