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How to Hunt Common Ground
written by JT Uptegrove

If finding private land to hunt isn't an option and you can't afford to pay an outfitter, it's time to find your public hunting spot.
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 Private land becomes far less accessible to the average hunter every year.

With today's ever-popular sport of hunting rapidly growing, and diminishing stocks of private land at the disposal to the common hunter, how can you assure you will have a place to hunt in the near future? The answer may be closer than you think. State and federal agencies own millions of acres of public land that belongs to you and everyone else who pays taxes. After a little investigation, you may find public land closer than you think.  

The first step in locating land to hunt is getting information from your state game and fish agency. The quickest way is to visit their website and see if it supports searches for public lands. If you don't know the address of your state DNR, it can be found doing a simpe search on the internet. If the state website does not contain a database of lands, you must contact them directly. Either way, the same results can be achieved. Ask or look for lands near you or where you want to hunt. Upon finding the candidates that seem suitable to you, look at the factors involved in making the land a prime choice. If you are a deer hunter, is it legal to hunt deer in that area and is the population abundant enough to merit your time? The details of public land are most often gained by pamphlets from your state. Usually these are not readily available, and most of the time you'll need to call or write to have them sent to you. On many occasions the information is free and includes maps and regulations.  

Maps are crucial for finding good hunting. Public lands get a lot of pressure most of the time, so a good map can display the harder-to-reach areas most hunters aren't likely to be. Obtaining a map showing the detail you are looking for can be difficult. USGS maps are probably the best you can find. Aerial photos make a great addition to topographic maps because they can show details of the land that topo maps cannot. On the other hand, a topo map will give information such as elevations and points of importance. To have both maps is not necessary, but having at least one is of major importance.  

Finding a place and obtaining a map are prerequisites to anything else. Now the field research begins. Go to the place you've selected, and spend a considerable amount of time there familiarizing yourself with the land. Drive it, walk it and camp in it. Without spending time looking over public ground, your hunts won't be as successful as those who are accustomed to its characteristics. Also, part of the fun is scouting and research.  


 Public land is just that -- public.  Everyone has the right to be there, and tolerance is the best attitude.

The second best way to get detailed information about public land is word of mouth. Conservation agents know better than anyone the locations of animals and areas of interest. Initial contact with them is the hardest part. Normally they are in the field and hard to reach, but when you get a hold of them the information is invaluable.

Hunting public land isn't easy. You'll spend the majority of time in research. When you decide to hunt, you'll have to contend with other people. That isn't as bad as it sounds. There is plenty of room for everyone, and tolerance is the best policy. Even meeting and pairing up with other hunters is a good idea. Just keep in mind that the more effort you put into it, the more you'll get out of it.

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