October 17, 2008
BuckTracker: I'm Going Public
By Scott Bestul
I won’t blow smoke at you; I get to hunt some pretty cool whitetail property each fall. For starters, I’m a member of a club that leases about 1900 acres not far from my home. The habitat is marginal at best but hey, there are always good deer there. I’m also fortunate enough to know some kindly landowners who let me chase their deer for free, and some of these farms are outstanding. Then of course there’s the outdoor writer deal; on occasion I get invited on a freebie trip to hunt with an outfitter, usually one guiding in a place with a heady reputation. I’d be foolish to not partake in at least some of this rich opportunity…And I do.
That said, I still hunt public land. Yeah, the places we all love to hate. Full of weekend warriors, bordered by shot-up signs, and inhabited by bucks either too dumb to change addresses or too smart to get shot. I hunted a state tract yesterday afternoon, as a matter of fact. Got skunked, but had a great time. And I didn’t blame the state-owned parcel for the lack of deer movement.
I also didn’t kick myself for not choosing any of the private ground I could have easily visited. As a teenager, I earned my stripes hunting on public ground and I’ve continued the tradition for several reasons. First, public hunting areas don’t always deserve their bad reputation, and I’ve got the bucks—and memorable encounters—to prove it. Second, I was raised by Norwegian/German folks, so I am by nature uncomfortable with privilege…even if I pay for it (the lease thing) or its handed to me (the kindly-farmer-and-writer things). And, finally—and perhaps most important—I just adore a challenge, and killing a good buck on public land is about as good as that gets.
I’ve never completely ignored public ground in my 30-some years of bowhunting, but this fall I’ll be focusing my attention on state-, federal- and county-owned ground. I’m curious to know if there are any other public-land whitetail guys out there? What are your triumphs, your trials, your memorable stories? I’d like to swap stories this season from time to time. I’ll be poking around some small public tracts near my home, and visiting the Big Woods of northern Wisconsin in a couple weeks. Any one care to compare notes?