Enjoying the outdoors is something every American should take full advantage of. We are all public landowners and have millions of acres to explore and enjoy. Hunting on public lands can be overwhelming at first glance but provides a sense of accomplishment unrivaled by guided hunts. A simple internet search looking for local wildlife management areas is a great place to start. Wildlife Management Areas (WMA) are open to hunting daily without a quota permit and the WMA brochure will provide you with the necessary information. Lotteries for WMA quotas and even special opportunity hunts come up every year and can be easily applied for. Knowing when these lotteries open is the critical first step. Even if you are unsuccessful, know that you are building “preference points” which increases your odds of success in future lotteries.
The Scout Mission
Once you have located a property, it is time to plan a scouting mission. I always start with a google map search or use my OnX app to help locate main roads, access points, and interesting topography that I want to explore. I always think back to my first successful Osceola Turkey public land hunt 20 minutes from my home in Central Florida. During the scout mission, I walked approximately 25 miles over 3 days. Over that time, I was able to reference my OnX app and view the map while I was in the woods which helped me be able to determine what type of trees and terrain I was seeing while looking at the map. Cypress heads, pines, oaks, and palm trees all have a unique appearance from a satellite view. The night before my hunt, I found some beautiful roosting oak trees with fresh droppings on the forest floor and s a fresh burn that was still smoldering. I let out a few soft yelps as the sun was setting and had gobblers sound off immediately within 100 yards of my location. I was able to stay hidden and sneak out of the area under the cover of the night knowing that they wouldn’t be roosted far from where I last heard them.
The next morning, I made it to my spot which was a clearing in the dense woods that was freshly burned about 75 yards from the roosting tree I had located the night before. The birds were very vocal that morning but there was a dense fog which made it difficult to see my decoy even 20 yards in front of me. I let out a few more soft yelps and the gobblers fired off! Man is that an exciting sound to hear in the quiet woods before sunrise. The birds flew down a few minutes later and were hung up about 40 yards away, there were 6 birds and I could not take an ethical shot so I ended up holding on the shot. A few minutes later the birds worked their way out of sight and I thought the hunt was over. It was quiet for the next hour or so but right when I was planning on packing it in, I yelped a few times with my Woodhaven mouth call and had a gobbler within 100 yards that I could not see, calling back and forth a few more times he was closing the distance fast! I got tucked in, pulled up my Stoeger M2000 12 gauge shotgun, and pointed it in the direction of my decoy. The bird was a mature Tom and came out in full strut heading right for my Avian-X breeder hen decoy.
That morning the good Lord was shining down on me and I was able to harvest my first public land bird. I shared the experience with my good friend Tom who was the first person to take me turkey hunting about 5 years before. If you go out to property without scouting, you are doing yourself a major disservice. Mobile apps like Huntstand and OnX do help immensely but there is no substitute for boots on the ground. Anyone can get lucky and go shoot an animal without scouting the land, but without a doubt, your odds will increase with proper preparation.