Wildlife management areas, national forests or any other type of public land provide some of the best recreational opportunities for hunters, anglers and all-around outdoors enthusiasts, and that is why the NWTF is committed to opening as much public land across the U.S. as possible.
Hunting public lands, however, is a privilege we have, and in order to ensure public lands are increasingly accessible for generations to come, we must be responsible and considerate. We have a responsibility to keep ourselves safe, as well as others who are sharing public land, too. Below are some public hunting ground tips worth considering before venturing out.
While most public lands are open to hunting, there are often certain restrictions that may vary from the state rules. For instance, if the area where hunting is allowed is near a park or a hiking trail, then bow and shotgun hunting may only be legal. Also check to make sure what you are hunting is legal, too. It may be turkey season in your state, but public land hunting dates can differ from the general hunting season. Often times there is a lottery/quota or a first-come, first-served basis for certain game species.
Double check the state wildlife agency’s laws and regulations for specific public land you plan to hunt and review the agency’s public land maps online if possible. There may be additional rules regarding trail cameras, field dressing, permitted areas, hunter orange, etc. Always know 100% where you are and what you are doing is legal. Speaking with the management area’s wildlife technician about specifics is always advised.
Being aware of your surroundings when on public lands is one of the most important safety measures you can take. Keep your eyes and ears open, and if you come across other hunters in the woods, venture off in a different direction. Research shows the majority of hunters stay close to roads or trails. Fresh batteries and a GPS are your friends.
When you arrive at an access point and there are already numerous cars there, it might be time to find another spot.
NEVER take a shot at something you cannot identify 100%. This means refraining from taking those half-light shots.
Always travel with your firearm pointed in a safe direction, unloaded and on safety.
Regulations for using a fixed hunting stand on public land vary. Consult state regulations for details. Whether using a fixed or climbing stand, always fasten safely in a harness, and do not carry your firearm up; use a rope to pull it up with the barrel facing the ground, unloaded and on safety.
When hunting public land, be prepared for unwelcomed occurrences, including harsh weather conditions, getting lost, basic first aid and finding medical care.
Travis Sumner, NWTF Hunting Heritage Center and habitat manager, recommends having a Plan B for every occasion.
“Have a second and third spot planned in case someone is in your favorite spot,” Sumner explained.
Make sure you have proper gear and maps if you happen to get plagued with any unwelcomed conditions. Even if you are going with someone else, always make sure you let someone back at home know exactly where you are going and approximately what time they should expect to hear from you.
You are not only obligated to be respectful of others around you on public land, but you are obligated to be respectful to the natural resources and the land. Always discard field dressings in a proper manner, and clean up any trash or shells you may have left out. If you have to do your business in the woods, make sure you bury it, DEEP.
Let’s ensure that we leave the land better than the way we found it. If you see a branch in the middle of the trail, move it, or if you see a piece of trash, pick it up. Be safe, be aware, be respectful and have fun.