Ohio Public Land - 4 Steps to Making Your Own Luck

This year, I experienced the rut like I never have before. It was like watching a hunting TV show unfold in front of me every sit. Bucks grunting and squaring off to do battle; bucks chasing does and thrashing trees was a daily spectacle. I had several close encounters, complete with a blown opportunity with a shooter, the day before I cut my hunt short with a great Ohio public land 10 point I couldn't pass up. I was intending to grind it out for 10 days, but tagged out on day 4. The question I kept getting asked at camp was "how did you find unpressured deer in a known big buck county on Ohio public ground?" I'm no better a hunter than anyone reading this, however, I listened to the advice of a few guys who get it done annually on highly pressured public land and made a plan with this information. I began planning my hunt a year in advance, which some may find a little obsessive, but here’s how it came together.

Location Location Location

Location is key in real estate, and the same can be said for finding the location you plan to hunt—you can’t hunt deer if you can’t find them. With that said, I had performed a quick Google search for top areas in Ohio for public land deer hunting. After reading a few articles and studying public land mapping resources on the Ohio DNR website, I quickly settled on one of Ohio’s known big buck counties. It had plenty of public land to choose from, was a reasonable travel distance from my home, and I had a friend who had hunted in an area nearby, so I was able to gather some applicable second-hand intel.\

Qualify The Parcel

With the county determined, I began reviewing boundary maps of specific blocks within several thousand acres of public land that I found intriguing. Again, the Ohio DNR website was a great tool for finding these maps. The boundary maps helped me identify the land that was public versus private, and allowed me to eliminate areas that may be used by hikers, bikers, and campers by reading the key on each map. I wanted to get as far away from human activity as possible. The maps also provided descriptions of the habitat and type of wildlife the specific sections of public land is best suited to support. After surveying the boundary maps, I decided to focus on a parcel with a river bottom to the north and steep ridges to the south. I now turned my attention toward defining land features, topography and working toward identifying specific hunting locations.

Online Scouting

Considering I was viewing parcels of land that registered in the thousands of acres, and that I live about 7 hours away from where I’d be hunting, my only option was to do my initial scouting online to uncover potential hunting locations. Online scouting allowed me to do two things. First, it made my boots on the ground scout more efficient by reducing the acreage I had to scout to a few hundred once in Ohio. Secondly, it helped me pinpoint the land features I wanted to scout once I got to Ohio. One of my favorite scouting tools to use (regardless of my familiarity with a piece of land) is Google Earth. This is my go-to resource anytime I’m reviewing new possible hunting lands. However, there are a host of online and app-based digital tools to choose from. While reviewing aerial images, I was looking to identify land and habitat features that may attract and hold deer or encourage deer movement. I was looking specifically for elevation changes with varying terrain features (saddles, pinch points, and drainage cuts), possible food sources, and adequate cover. Ideally, I wanted to find a location that had any combination of these features in addition to habitat that was difficult to access. Difficult access would reduce the chance of running into other hunters. Areas that met this set of criteria found their way to the top of my list as potential hunting spots. After several hours of scouting using Google Earth, I found a handful of locations that I felt were worth exploring. I dropped a few pins on Google Earth and logged the GPS coordinates into my handheld GPS. Now it was time to put boots on the ground to confirm my online scouting assumptions.

Boots On The Ground

With my GPS coordinates logged, it was time to fire up the truck, make the 7-hour drive, and begin formulating my final plan. With only one day to scout, I had decided I’d only spend time scouting an area if I quickly found the sign from last year and would abort the mission if any sign of hunters was found. The food sources in this area were vast with acres of acres of corn and soybeans in every direction, however, I wasn't interested in hunting over ag fields. In fact, I’d go the opposite direction to move away from hunters likely looking for easy access. The timber was made up of a variety of hardwood with thick undergrowth ideal for whitetail habitat—this is where I’d concentrate my scouting efforts. The ridges were steep and the amount of green briar and brush made navigating the terrain difficult, even without carrying a stand and pack. I began working my way up a ridge and located a nice rub line that ran the length of the ridge. The rub line was a clear indicator that bucks had used this ridge the previous year. Once I made it to the top third of the leward ridge, there was a small clearing in the brush with a tree that seemed well suited for a climber. I also noticed this tree sat near the head of a drainage cut where the habitat changed to impassably thick brush which created a natural edge. It was clear deer were using the low-lying feature of the drainage cut, and the natural edge, as a travel route to navigate this ridge top. While scouting online, I also noticed the back side of this ridge had a small, depressed land feature. In general, I like terrain changes like this and in this steep country, the depression seemed like a low lying area deer may use as an easy path to travel the ridge top. I hiked out along the ridge and dropped down the south side and into the depression. There was buck sign everywhere, along with well-worn trails. This is one of those spots you get a feeling about. Something told me this ridge would be a great location and I was pumped to spend some time hunting this area during the rut.

Final Thought

In the end, I went to the leeward ridge top—a piece of goat rock that was as at times impassable with the brush, green briars, and downed trees. No sane person would climb through this terrain to hunt, as it initially presented as an area with low deer density. That is until you belly crawl through briars to get to the good deer sign and land features toward the top. During my summer scouting, I saw enough evidence of sign which solidified my resolve to make this my Ohio hunting spot. I had bucks within bow range every day. I even blew a chance at a great 8 point the afternoon of the third day of my hunt. As fate would have it, a stud 10 point Ohio bruiser responded to a grunt and met the tip of my arrow. Sure there was some luck involved, there always is in my opinion. However, I’m a firm believer that luck is ultimately preparation meeting opportunity. So make a plan and make your luck this fall.


For more great hunting stories head to Truth from The Stand Podcast, hosted by Clint Campbell. 

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