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Friday, July 12, 2024
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Public Land Hunting

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Weekend number two of our muzzleloader season here in Zone C is coming up and it’s looking really good for any of you headed to the woods. The acorns are dropping, but not in huge amounts like the previous two years, causing the whitetail herds to move about with extended feeding times to fill their bellies. Get in tight on the oaks and wait ‘em out. With the moon growing towards full, count on increased evening activity; be there or miss out.

Last weekend’s black-powder opener was great. Lots of big booms and even bigger smoke clouds filled the oak flats and some mighty fine freezer-filling took place. I took a drive by the check station in the Croom Wildlife Management Area and was plum-tickled to see the skinning racks full and some mighty big grins. I tell ya, the quality of them big Hernando County bucks rivals any found on public land anywhere in the state. Even my old and good friend David Criswell blew a smoke-fueled invitation to supper toward a beautiful eight-pointer that any hunter would be proud to put in their cooler.

Funny though, by Monday, the social media group pages were full of discussions about how hard it is to hunt public land around here. In recent years, we’ve experienced an enormous number of hunters fleeing them northern states and joining us down here in our little slice of heaven. Glad to have ‘em, so far as I’m concerned, but it really puts a strain on our already crowded public hunting lands.

Folks were complaining about settling into their stand only to have other hunters nearby. Many of them stated that they just went home in disgust. I feel sorry for them. Not because other hunters moved in on them, but because they clearly don’t know how to hunt public lands themselves.

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First off, if you know that you are going to hunt public land while scouting, locate more than one good spot. Have a fallback plan. Or, second choice, stay put. If it’s a good spot, hunt it. Sure, the guy nearby might get a shot opportunity before you, but you’ve got at least a fifty/fifty chance of taking a shot before him. And if the new guy does take the shot, climb down with him, introduce yourself, and offer to help drag it out. Make a friend; I don’t know anybody who has too many of those.

I spent nearly forty years hunting public lands and have learned a thing or two about how to avoid other hunters – to find deer in the overlooked areas. The biggest tip I can offer you is go to the edges. Use aerial maps to identify the oak hammocks bordering agricultural lands; walk the fence lines to identify the crossings; and hunt there. Once the pressure is on in the middle grounds of the WMA, the deer will move out to the edges and the private lands along the border. Try that, and let me know how you do.

Any questions or comments on this week’s column, reach out to me at [email protected]. God Bless, and good hunting!

Toby Benoit
Toby Benoit
Toby Benoit is a best selling novelist and professional outdoorsman with thirty-five years of experience guiding and outfitting for big game all across America. Toby is a renowned archer and turkey hunting expert who manufactures custom game calls and is a regular judge at NWTF sanctioned turkey calling events across the Southeast.
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