Trying to pattern a public land buck can be a lot trickier than their private land cousins. Sure, you can find sign of deer in an area and think you have them figured out, until opening day comes around and that great place you thought you found is quieter Rosie O’Donnell’s dietitian.
A lot of deer sign is commonly found along field edges and they can be awfully tempting to hunt over. Some of the longest rub lines I have seen have been down the side of a field, but most of these sign are made well after dark when the deer feed and congregate in the fields. On private lands, big bucks might venture out into the open in daylight hours, but with the hunting pressure commonly associated with public tracts, big bucks will almost exclusively wait until dark to come out into the open.
For this reason, you will need to locate their bedding areas and try to ambush them way before they get to the fields or in the A.M. when they are making their way back to bed. In the mornings I like to set up as close to the bedding area as I can and try to approach the stand from the back door. I try to get within 100 yards of their beds. This isn’t always easy and usually involves taking the long way around. I try to get into these stands as early as an hour before any hint of light. This way you can get into the stand as undetected as possible and when the other hunters come in from the fields and try to hunt the field edges, they will bump the deer up to you. In the evenings I try to find the staging areas before the fields. These areas are usually close to a thick area of cover, where the deer can quickly find safety and not all that far from the fields. A place with some acorns or apples were the deer can slowly move through and browse would be a perfect situation.
Every situation isn’t the same in the deer woods, but for a buck to get old on public land he has to do things different than the average deer and staying deeper in the wood might just be that key that brings the big boy within range at shooting light.