Rut Reporter Will Brantley of Murray, Kentucky, knows the region well. He spends 40 to 50 days each season in the Mid-South whitetail woods. Brantley shot his first deer at age 10 with a sidelock muzzleloader. States covered: KY, TN, WV, VA, NC.
Many deer hunters in the Mid-South are in a situation similar to mine when it comes to hunting spots. They have access to one or two fairly small, private farms, and that’s where they spend most of their season. It may be a piece of family ground, a lease, or just land belonging to a generous farmer.
In my case, it’s a family farm just over 100 acres in size and two other small farms where I have permission to bowhunt–and bowhunt only. They’re good spots, and I’m lucky to have them. They’re also like any other small piece of whitetail ground in that they’re quickly affected by hunting pressure. Squeeze too hard at the wrong time, and the odds of killing a decent buck can virtually disappear.
I generally hunt hard for a buck during the early season, and then focus on killing does from Mid-September till about Halloween. If a good buck walks by during that time, great– but filling the freezer is my goal right now. That said, the last thing I want to do is burn out my favorite rut spots while hunting for does. For that reason, I often turn to public land this time of year.
Public hunting gets a bad rap for a reason. It’s universally tougher. But I’ve grown up hunting several public areas around here, and I’ve learned that bowhunters, especially, can have it pretty good on public land, particularly this time of year. The excitement of opening day has faded, but the promise of the rut is still weeks away. Sometimes, you have the woods all to yourself.
Conditions are in place this season for particularly good public opportunities in the Mid-South. Most public areas are heavily forested. With a spotty mast crop in the region this season, hunting the oaks is at its best. In the past week, I’ve watched deer flocking to even black oaks that are dropping acorns. A ripe white oak is like a winning lottery ticket.
My hunt the other day at Land Between the Lakes, a massive piece of public ground on the Kentucky/Tennessee line, is a case in point. I was in an area of LBL I’d never hunted, but one scouting trip before season–and then 30 minutes of speed-scouting before I climbed my tree–helped me choose a spot. I settled into a pignut tree 20 yards from a black oak that was raining acorns. A couple hours before dark, I heard a crunching sound, and looked toward the black oak to see this fat young doe gobbling down the acorns underneath it. When she gave me a good shot, I took it.
You may not kill a big buck on public land, or even see a deer the first time or two out. You may have hikers wander underneath your stand. But don’t be too quick to give up on it–and certainly don’t avoid it just because it’s public. Put in some scouting effort, learn some new territory, and give it a few days. You might be surprised at what you see. And you may find yourself smiling just a little more in the event you fill a tag.