Summer Deer Scouting on Public Land

Though there is oftentimes a lack of destination food sources on public land, we'll discuss ways you can still effectively scout summer bucks.

Summer Deer Scouting on Public Land
If you’re not able to hang your cameras on destination food sources because your chosen public land doesn’t have any, don’t fret. You can figure out movement patterns by monitoring trails that lead off the property to private land destination food sources, and then build a buck-killing plan that way.

The thing about agriculture and food plots on public land is that they are magnets for hunting pressure. I have killed a few deer over the years on opening weekend on these types of spots in various states, but this usually involved getting away from the crowds, or extremely hot weather that shut down most hunters.

A general rule I have is that if it looks too dreamy, it’s probably a lost cause. And then there is the issue of not having any of the typical destination food sources on your chosen chunk of ground. This is a big-woods hunter’s dilemma, but can also be found in ag-heavy states like Nebraska, where if the ground can be farmed, it will be — but it will also most likely be private.

This, as you can imagine, also changes the scouting game. Instead of sitting back with a spotting scope and watching bachelor groups, or hanging a few cameras on the edge of a beanfield, you’ve got to approach summer scouting differently. The first task is to take inventory of all the potential food sources that provide more than browse.

This might be the state-planted ag field on the public land, or more likely it will be the lush alfalfa field a half-mile away on land that is off limits. In the big woods, it might be the sole hayfield within three sections, or it might just be a fresh clearcut.


Aerial photography is the simplest way to narrow down the options for groceries. Look not only at the ground you hunt but the properties around it as well. Public land often lacks the calories deer are looking for, but it rarely lacks bedding areas. This means that they might call the public dirt home base while traveling to and from a distant (private) food source.


Walk, Look, Drive, Wonder

Just seeing the neighbor’s fields doesn’t do you much good until you get out in the summer and take a walk. You want to know not only what’s growing nearby but how deer will access those spots. That matters a lot, and it allows you the chance to piece together a plan.

For influential food sources that you can’t see from inside the public land you’re hunting, figure out if you can see them from a road. I’ve got a spot in northern Wisconsin that consists of hundreds of acres of timber, but in one spot it borders a small field. The back of the field, which is closest to the public, is a place I always make a point to look at a few times in the summer. I might see half of the bucks in a whole section there on any given night, just by creeping along a public road. It’s not my favorite way to scout, but it tells me an awful lot about what’s living there.

It also helps me build a plan for when I get out and burn some boot leather. If I know where the deer are likely to head to, I can figure out how to catch them staging in the morning or evening. This is a good strategy for private land, and an absolute killer strategy for heavily hunted public dirt.

The main goal of this type of scouting is to answer the simple question of where deer are likely to start from, where they’ll end up, and how they’ll travel between both spots. It really is that simple.


Camera Traps

Nothing has changed how we scout like trail cameras, but a lot of hunters use them to confirm what they already know. For the public-land hunter, trail cameras should be used to actually scout and answer some questions.

If you’ve got a few potential destination food sources figured out in the surrounding area, start trying to map out individual travel routes. Now, it’s obvious that in a lot of places, July bucks are not November bucks. When they are bachelored-up, they might be doing something different from what they will be doing come bow season — but not all of them.

Hanging cameras on trails in the cover to figure out what is walking where, is a good way to eliminate dead spots and hopefully key into the daily habits of a good buck. Even if I only get a picture every two weeks of a velvet buck heading to, or coming back from a food source, I feel like I’m ahead of the game. If he’s mature and uses a trail with any level of consistency, then you’re dialing ever so slightly into his preferences.


This strategy also works for big-woods deer that might not live within 20 miles of a field. Clearcut edges, swamp crossings, and other question-mark areas might clue you in to how a buck goes from his favorite bedding island to his favorite meadow, or maybe to a spot that offers up some seasonal mast. This kind of trail-camera work is boring and often unproductive as far as filling up SD cards with pictures of monster bucks, but it’s valuable.

And when combined with a strategy to identify all potential nearby food sources, it can allow you to get some real deer work done in the months when it might feel somewhat hopeless for the public-land hunter.

Scouting Essentials: Easy Camera Recon

Cellular trail cameras are insanely addictive and can prove to be a huge asset in certain areas. Unfortunately, they are generally pretty expensive as well.

Moultrie-XV-6000.jpg

Luckily for us, Moultrie has decided that it’s not only the caviar munchers and the one-percenters who should get deer images sent right to their phones. Their new XA and XV-6000 Cellular Game Cameras are $120, and allow you to access your photos, change camera settings, and monitor battery life all through the Moultrie Mobile App.

Another option is the Cuddelink Gen 2 from Cuddeback. Their daisy-chained camera system allows you to put out up to 24 cameras, all of which report back to a home camera with imagery.

Cuddeback-Gen-2.jpg

The Gen 2 can be accessed via smartphone, tablet, or computer, which then allows you to view and change camera settings.

Anyone who doesn’t want to deal with cell plans but wants the best quality pictures a camera can capture, should check out Browning Trail Camera’s latest — the Strike Force HD MAX ($150).

Browning-Strike-Force-HD-MAX.jpg

Adjustable trigger speeds, .6-second recovery time, and the ability to capture high-res images and video make this camera an easy choice for gathering public-land recon.

GET THE NEWSLETTER Join the List and Never Miss a Thing.

Recommended Articles

See More Recommendations

Popular Videos

Better Bow Practice: Pick a Spot When Aiming

Better Bow Practice: Pick a Spot When Aiming

On this edition of "Dead On," Hall-of-Fame bowhunter Randy Ulmer shares advice on picking a spot to aim at when practicing with your bow.

Better Bow Accuracy: Release Arm Alignment

Better Bow Accuracy: Release Arm Alignment

On this edition of "Dead On," pro archer Randy Ulmer shows you how to properly align your release arm for better accuracy and bowhunting practice.

Early Season Kentucky Whitetail Bowhunt

Early Season Kentucky Whitetail Bowhunt

Christian Berg begins the scouting process in Kentucky on his first whitetail hunt of the season.

Canyon Ranch Bowhunt

Canyon Ranch Bowhunt

Bowhunter Equipment Editor Tony Peterson sees plenty of action while hunting whitetails and hogs in Texas.

See More Popular Videos

Trending Articles

Go farther, hunt deeper, and trek lighter while enjoying all-day comfort. How-To

Tree Saddle Hunting — Demo Climb With Aider

Mike Carney - June 07, 2019

Go farther, hunt deeper, and trek lighter while enjoying all-day comfort.

A recent study examines what does look for when choosing a mate. Whitetail

Does Antler Size Really Matter To Does?

C.J. Winand

A recent study examines what does look for when choosing a mate.

The advantages to using a binocular bivy system are many, and they go well beyond providing full protection for your glass. Field Tools

Why You Should Use A Binocular Bivy System

Joe Bell

The advantages to using a binocular bivy system are many, and they go well beyond providing...

This venison kebabs recipe marinates for a full day to take the already flavorful Asian bulgogi sauce to the next level. Recipes

Grilled Korean Bulgogi Venison Kebabs Recipe

Jenny Nguyen-Wheatley

This venison kebabs recipe marinates for a full day to take the already flavorful Asian...

See More Trending Articles

More Scouting Tools

Scout in style with the best new trail cameras of ATA 2020.

New Trail Cameras for 2020

Brian K. Strickland - January 09, 2020

Scout in style with the best new trail cameras of ATA 2020.

Like it or not, technology is creeping its way into the outdoors. I'm of the opinion that some of Scouting Tools

Five High-Tech Whitetail Scouting Options

Tony J. Peterson - August 26, 2016

Like it or not, technology is creeping its way into the outdoors. I'm of the opinion that some...

Moultrie Mobile can provide a big scouting advantage in the whitetail woods. Scouting Tools

Moultrie Mobile: A Better Scouting Tool For Bowhunters

Bowhunter Digital Staff - July 22, 2019

Moultrie Mobile can provide a big scouting advantage in the whitetail woods.

Redfield's John Snodgrass gave us a look at the brand new Redfield Raider 600A rangefinder at the Scouting Tools

Introducing the Redfield Raider 600A Rangefinder

Bowhunter Online Staff - January 08, 2013

Redfield's John Snodgrass gave us a look at the brand new Redfield Raider 600A rangefinder at...

See More Scouting Tools

GET THE MAGAZINE Subscribe & Save

Digital Now Included!

SUBSCRIBE NOW

Give a Gift   |   Subscriber Services

PREVIEW THIS MONTH'S ISSUE

GET THE NEWSLETTER Join the List and Never Miss a Thing.

Get Digital Access.

All Bowhunter subscribers now have digital access to their magazine content. This means you have the option to read your magazine on most popular phones and tablets.

To get started, click the link below to visit mymagnow.com and learn how to access your digital magazine.

Get Digital Access

Not a Subscriber?
Subscribe Now