Routinely successful public-land deer hunters share a common attribute. Do you know it? Adaptability. Let’s face it, public lands open to other hunters and everyday recreational enthusiasts are unforgiving. They serve up dozens more variables to hunters than do managed private lands. In other words, you can plan for and find public-land deer hotspots, but ultimately, it only takes one other hunter (or trail-hiker) to upset your hunt.
That’s why adaptability is the key to consistent public-land success. When someone or something foils your initial plans—yes, I said when, not if—you’ll have to regroup and revisit the drawing board on the fly. If you don’t, you’ll be kicking the dirt in frustration.
I know of no better way to do this than to open my HuntStand Pro app. Whether I have two days left to hunt or 20, I know that I need to get serious. In addition, I have to be willing to outwork and outthink every other hunter to find the real hotspots. It all begins in the palm of my hand.
I’ll detail what I look for with help from HuntStand Pro, including the specific app features I use to unveil the hotspots.
Roadless Areas and Overlooked Easy Access
Hundreds of articles have outlined the importance of getting away from roads and parking areas when discussing public-land deer hotspots. But the topic is evergreen and must not be ignored. In general, most average hunters aren’t willing to hike more than half of a mile. So diving in deep can put you amongst unpressured deer. Anywhere that deer feel more comfortable is a hotspot in my book. My goal is to find a way to hunt such locales, be it from a stand, stationary ground ambush or via still-hunting.
How can you find those difficult-to-reach areas that most other hunters aren’t willing to access? HuntStand Pro. The app’s Public Lands map layer is a best bet. You can easily see roads and access points to public lands. Then, you can focus in on portions of a parcel that are free of roads and trails.
HuntStand Measure Tools Help
When you locate prospects, I suggest using the Measure Line tool to measure how far they are from roads and parking areas. If they’re at least three fourths of a mile, then I get excited. Also, you’ll note that some forest-service lands on the Public Lands base map will read “Inventoried Roadless Area.” Pay close attention to those.
Of course, folks have proven that big bucks can be killed short distances from roads and parking areas, too. The key to unveiling potential opportunities in this realm is studying the app and identifying motorized and hiking trails that lead into the property. It’s a given that most folks will use major thoroughfares, and then dive off 200 yards or less from the trail before climbing a tree.
Knowing this, you can predict pressure pretty accurately. I’d use the HuntStand Measure Shape tool to outline the entire trail, and a 200-yard buffer on either side of it. You can think of this as “pressure central.” Having that shape on the map helps you to see where you shouldn’t focus your attention. In addition, even if the habitat around the access trail looks great, the best hunting is usually had in other places with less foot traffic. Move on.
Using HuntStand Terrain and Tree Cover Layers
Instead, you can focus your attention on areas that will likely see far less pressure. I specifically study for land features where deer will likely cross a public roadway to get from private land to public, or vice versa. Let’s discuss an example.
Suppose that the parking area is in the wide open and that the trail heading into the parcel runs south toward some timber. It’s a given that most hunters will hike south to hunt that timber. However, there is a subtle tree-lined creek about 400 yards straight west of the parking area. Across the road on private land is a thick bedding area that you’ve identified using the Terrain and Tree Cover layers in HuntStand. These types of spots are almost always worth a look, as deer will travel back and forth across the road, especially during the rut. But, because there isn’t an easy trail heading to it, most hunters will overlook it. Plus, most hunters don’t want to hunt where they’re likely to see more vehicles than deer. So the competition usually isn’t terribly fierce.
Once you find either difficult access or overlooked easy access, home in on some specific land features. We’ll discuss those now, along with which HuntStand features are valuable in finding them.
Ridges can be hunting hotspots. First, winds are usually more consistent atop a ridge than anywhere below it. Also, many ridges across the whitetail’s range serve as natural thoroughfares. This is especially true if the ridge leads to a food source, or if the ridge itself holds grub in the form of hard mast.
As for mapping productive ridges, HuntStand Pro offers four different layers that can help. The 3D Map is unquestionably a killer option, and it will give you the most-commanding perspective of the ridge or ridge system. You’ll also be able to identify little benches and shelves where deer might bed on sidehills beneath the ridge.
HuntStand Map Layers to Tap
Next, you might want to utilize the Contour, Terrain and Quad Topo layers to get multiple perspectives of the ridge/ridge system in question. Alternate between the maps. I find the 3D Map most helpful, but you might find the other layers helpful, too. The best part is that all are at your fingertips in HuntStand Pro.
When scouting ridges on HuntStand, also scout for access. If you’ll be hunting the ridge in the morning, avoid any potential feeding areas as you hike in to hunt. Similarly, if hunting the ridge in the afternoon, avoid benches and thick areas along the sidehills, as deer usually bed in these. Deer like to take advantage of the wind, and also to escape the sunshine (early season when it’s hot) or to soak it up (during late season in cold temps). Well-planned access is as important as the tree you hang your stand in.
Sometimes hunting directly on a ridge is best, and sometimes it isn’t. Look for a “sag” in the ridge where deer might travel from one hillside to another, without exposing themselves on the ridge top. A saddle is easy to identify, both in person and on the app. I like to begin with either the Quad Topo map or the Terrain map layer. A continuous ridge on these layers appears as an undisrupted line, but when a saddle occurs, you’ll notice the low spot disrupts the otherwise continuous ridge line.
Once I identify a saddle, I switch to HuntStand Pro’s Property Info layer and then the 3D Map. I want to see what necessities—bedding cover, food sources, water sources, etc.—are nearest to the saddle. In addition, I want to know what’s on adjacent private lands. In other words, why would deer use the saddle? If I pin down enough info that I feel good about it, I like to physically visit it. Maybe I’ll just scout it, or maybe I’ll go ahead and hunt it immediately. I did this recently in Iowa, when I had a few does and a good-looking 3 1/2-year-old buck cruise by at 30 yards on my first outing.
Pinches and Funnels
Terrain features that funnel deer can be extremely productive hunting locations. However, I want to emphasize that most stand out like sore thumbs to anyone with a mapping app. I mean, a wagon-wheel series of draws with a common hub, or a classic “hourglass” (strip of trees connecting two large bedding areas) rarely go unnoticed. Especially, if they’re easily accessible from roads or parking areas. That’s why I prefaced this article with pegging roadless areas or overlooked easy access. Don’t always jump at the terrain funnels that immediately stand out on the map. Instead, look for obscure, overlooked or tough-to-reach funnels.
Now, funnels on flatter ground are typically visible with any of HuntStand’s satellite base maps. However, when the area has topography, don’t forget to reference the Quad Topo map. This layer can help you identify things unnoticeable on the satellite map. Examples include the top of a ditch, or a flat shelf between a steep hill and a river-bank drop-off.
Obscure Food Sources
On public lands with wildlife plantings, hunters flock to the plots and fields. Often, it’s because those areas have the most sign, which is a direct result of most deer in the area feeding there. However, in my experience, deer sightings are few, if any. Why? Those areas typically have upwards of 80 percent of the local hunting pressure—everyone wants to hunt over deer sign. In turn, that causes most deer, especially mature bucks—to feed there nocturnally. I’ve run trail cameras in such locations. Mature buck photos aren’t hard to come by, but they’re almost always nighttime photos.
“If you notice a swatch of missing timber when you switch from the regular satellite maps to the Monthly Satellite map, you’re probably looking at a fresh clearcut. And that is a potential hotspot, either now or in the near future.”
For that reason, you need to get more creative and identify other food sources that are less obvious to the general public. I’m talking about fruit trees, hard mast and regrowth from clearcuts. Unfortunately, there isn’t a way to peg fruit trees on the app. However, a good tip is comparing satellite views of known evergreens, and known hardwood timber. You should be able to tell the difference in most cases while satellite-scouting a public property. Where there’s hardwoods, there’s potential for oaks and, thus, acorns.
Clearcuts and Monthly Satellite Imagery
Clearcuts are blatantly obvious on HuntStand’s satellite base maps. Within several months and lasting for at least a few years afterwards, regrowth from clearcuts can be a wildlife magnet. Of course, it can be difficult to tell just how old a timber cut is. But, the key is to study the satellite map of the public property first, and then reference the Monthly Satellite Imagery map. The regular satellite maps are usually outdated, but the Monthly Satellite Imagery layer updates on the seventh of every month. So, if you notice a swatch of missing timber when you switch from the regular satellite maps to the Monthly Satellite map, you’re probably looking at a fresh clearcut. And that is a potential hotspot, either now or in the near future.
No, HuntStand Pro won’t put a screamer buck in your shooting lane 20 yards away. You’ll still have to work very hard and adapt to experience opportunities—as all regularly successful public-land hunters do. However, the tools at your fingertips will instantly simplify the scouting picture. And when your initial plans are upset by something unplanned (remember, it’s public land), you can hop on your smartphone and find some potential hotspots on the fly.
And after all of that, when it comes time to hop into your stand, don’t forget to harness the potential of HuntStand’s HuntZone. It gives you a 72-hour advance perspective of wind speed and direction, so you can plan the best locations to hunt on any specific day. After experiencing the power of HuntStand Pro while pinpointing and hunting public-land deer hotspots, I’m not willing to leave all of these advantages out of my hunting program. Are you?