Tips for Hunting Public-Land Whitetails

posted on September 22, 2011

Many hunters dream of hunting expansive, private acreage where hunting pressure is low and big bucks are abundant and relatively uneducated. Most of us, though, pursue deer on relatively small parcels where hunting pressure is often intense and the deer are downright hard to hunt. Hunting small places can be a blessing in disguise, however, if you pay attention to details and use smart strategies tailored to such properties.

John Eberhart is one of the most skilled bowhunters out there. He has killed more record-book whitetails in his home state of Michigan with a bow than anyone else. He has also tagged a bunch of monster bucks in other states. What’s really amazing is that Eberhart has killed all his deer by gaining free permission to private property or by hunting on public lands.

Eberhart hunts in Michigan from the archery deer opener (Oct. 1) until the firearm deer season begins (Nov. 15). Since he strictly bowhunts, Eberhart travels to other states to bowhunt when Michigan’s legion of gun hunters hits the woods.

Lots of Cover is Best
Eberhart says it’s often easier to get permission to hunt smaller properties. Large parcels get more attention from hunters looking for leases, whereas small parcels often get ignored. For example, in 2004 he gained permission to hunt a 40-acre parcel in Kansas by asking around in a sporting goods store. The property consisted primarily of thick timber interspersed with brushy thickets—perfect whitetail habitat. Eberhart said, “I’d rather hunt a small, thick parcel compared to a more open larger chunk of land. I also prefer hunting several different small parcels rather than one big one. I’ve had better success hunting high-quality smaller acreages.”

Scouting and Re-Scouting
In areas where hunting pressure is intense, like in most of Michigan, Eberhart does his scouting post-season. If you try to scout those ultra-spooky deer just before the season, or during the season, you’ll likely just push them into a nocturnal movement pattern, he says. In areas where hunting pressure is low, like in much of Kansas or Iowa for instance, he typically does all his scouting just prior to hunting a spot.

On Eberhart’s first trip to Kansas in 2004, he took a nice buck off that 40-acre property. He returned the next year and to his dismay the deer had changed their movement patterns due to a major change in the local food source. The deer just weren’t using that property much anymore. As a result he abandoned that property and focused his hunts on other small properties that he had permission to hunt in that area. Eberhart said, “It often pays dividends to pull up aerial photos of surrounding lands (Google Maps is a good, free source). I like to study aerials to see how neighboring properties might impact the property I’m hunting.”

Over the next several years he continued to re-scout that 40-acre property but it wasn’t until 2010 that local food sources changed back to the way they were in 2004. The deer moved right back into the 40-acre parcel.

Hunt Whitetail Destinations
Eberhart has been bowhunting for over 40 years. In recent years he’s changed stand-location strategies from hunting transition areas and travel corridors to hunting destination spots almost exclusively. Prime destinations for deer are bedding areas and food sources. If you can find some primary scrapes in those areas, so much the better. Bedding areas are best hunted during the morning, whereas food sources make good evening stands and rutting spots are great all day long when bucks are actively working those locations.

On his 2010 hunt Eberhart brought along his adult son Jon. On their first day of hunting on the 40-acre parcel, both Eberharts saw several big bucks. Jon killed a dandy 10-pointer that first day and carefully extracted the deer from the property to minimize the disturbance.

The elder Eberhart said, “I passed up a bunch of 120- to 150-class bucks over the rest of the week trying to hold out for one of the Booners we saw in the area. On the seventh morning of my hunt, I spotted two does with a pair of fawns moving through. One of the does repeatedly looked over her shoulder, so I followed her gaze to a big 9-pointer.”

John is right-handed. The buck came in angling to his right and then veered behind him. Eberhart said, “I hunt almost exclusively from a Tree Saddle, which allows a hunter to easily pivot 360 degrees all the way around a tree for shots in any direction. I had to spin all the way around the tree as the buck passed by, and I was able to accomplish that feat with my Tree Saddle.”

The buck dashed off about 150 yards leaving an ample blood trail, which led him to his prize. The buck is a mainframe 8-point with a third beam sticking out of his skull plate between the pedicles of the otherwise typical antlers. Even with lots of deductions, that buck still scores 156 1/8, which wasn’t too shabby for a small parcel. 


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