Size: Bigger is generally better, because it's much easier to out-hike the competition on 1,000 acres than it is on 100. One exception is a cluster of smaller parcels, where the hunting pressure may be spread out.
Access: The other exception is smaller tracts with difficult access. These spots can be gold mines if you're willing to, say, climb a riverside bluff to reach an underutilized ridgetop. On the other hand, if the biggest, best-looking public ground is laced with walking trails, forget it. The magic number necessary for whitetail hunters to leave the competition behind is about 1 mile, but only if that distance is covered by bushwhacking it on foot.
Habitat: Food is a limiting factor on most public ground. There's usually plenty of browse, but deer are drawn to destination food sources. Ag fields, specifically. Favor public-access areas with row crops—such as many walk-in areas or state land with leasing programs—or ground that closely borders agriculture. In the big woods, look for recent cuts.
Stats: Research state game-agency sites to compare estimated population and harvest numbers.
Small ultralight hang-on stands are a must. These days I lean heavily on the 8 1⁄2-pound Millennium M7 Microlite.
Several sets of lightweight climbing sticks, like those from Lone Wolf, are ideal. Remember, you probably won't be able to legally use screw-in steps.
A full-body harness like the Hunter Safety System Ultralite Flex, which is quiet and weighs just 2 pounds. Don't forget a lifeline and lineman's belt.
Western duds. Why is it that outdoor clothing designers seem to think that only elk hunters need the best layering systems? I wear mountain duds for early-season whitetail hunts because they're lightweight, breathable, packable, and perfect for on-the-move hunts.
A blood-trailing box. I keep extra LED flashlights, headlamps, biodegradable flagging tape, and batteries in a plastic tote that lives behind the driver's seat of my truck, always ready.
Game cart, gamebags, and a quality pack. A lightweight cart is great if the terrain allows it, but otherwise be ready to pack out the meat (check regs).