I look for state DNR resources that list the areas where public access to hunting land is available. For instance in Minnesota I’ll go onto the site that list the State Wildlife Management Area.
One of the questions I get a lot, is how do you find places to hunt. While it’s true that in recent years I’ve been invited on a lot of hunts, it is equally true that I am always on the lookout for new opportunities. And I try to find opportunities that anyone can replicate with some effort and a bit of know how. To keep grounded in the real world, I make a point of hunting open access public land on a frequent basis. In many public hunting areas, there can be a lot of pressure on certain species, deer and turkey for instance. However these same areas can hold very good populations of small game that get little pressure. I moved to Minnesota about three years ago, and knew nobody that hunted when I arrived, so I had to start building up my hunting permissions all over again. I went to local farmers, hunting preserves, etc to see if I could hunt predators and most frequently was given a green light. I’d also ask if I could go after squirrels on these properties and was often given permission. Deer and turkey were almost always off the board, though a few offered me permission for big game once I’d taken off some coyotes and they got to know me. Ironically I haven’t taken any of these offers up as Minnesota doesn’t allow airguns for deer or turkey (yet), and that’s all I want to hunt with these days.
What I want to talk about in this post is a two fold subject, first is finding public small game hunting areas, and second is how I use car camping road trips to try out a lot of new areas. A resource that I have found in just about every state is a website with a list of Wildlife Management Areas, Walk-ins, State Forest, and National Forest, all of which allow some type of hunting. You can use many filters when sorting through this data, areas, type of game, type of hunting permitted and so forth.
In this example I localized an area close to a friends farm, and one with several other WMAs in proximity, figuring if one place didn’t pan out another might!
When I called up the site for the specific WMA, I found a lot of useful information; what type of game was present, the size, boundaries, and access points to the property. It told me the type of hunting I could do on the property, and what type of landscape and vegetation I could expect to find. I then went on line again and used Google Maps to get directions from my home, but then narrowed down to get a good look at the property.
The first view told me how to get to the WMA, where to park, and where to access the property.
In the next step I zoom in to get an impression of the trees, elevations, streams and creeks, marshes, etc… this will give a general feel for the property before you ever set eyes on it.
The level of detail can be quite surprising; when preparing for a squirrel hunt I have identified areas of mast producing trees and even den trees from google map, which panned out to be exactly what I was hoping for when I got feet on the ground. Using this method, I have found literally many dozens of small game hunting areas to try out within two hours of my home, and can say from the couple dozen I’ve tried out the success rate, at least for small game, is quite good!
OK, so now that I’ve located some potential spots where I know that I can legally hunt, what’s next? Here’s where I come to the second topic mentioned at the top of this post…. the hunting road trip. This is not a pleasure camping trip, my intention is to stay out for 2-3 days scouting, hunting, and familiarizing myself with the public lands. A method I often make use of is to car camp, and I do this rather than setting up a normal camp for two reasons; mobility and to save time.
For my road trips I carry extra pellets, tools, parts, cameras and anything else I might need, knowing that opportunities to buy supplies will be limited.
I also carry extra air, my regular hunting gear, and ice chest with food for a cold camp, again everything is selected with an eye to being self sufficient and mobile!
I drive an outback, and with an inflatable mattress in the back I have room to sack out comfortably with no setup or breakdown time required.
On a recent outing, I located an area with four different hunting areas within a half hour of one another, and using the methods above hit all four in three days and two nights; I took squirrel at all four spots, rabbits on two of the four, and a coyote and a raccoon on another while hunting at night. One night I parked at a state campground to sleep and one afternoon (I’d been predator hunting all night) I slept in a pull out at one of the WMA. I also fished a small lake adjacent to one of the properties for a couple hours and caught a couple bass and a bunch of panfish….. and saw a good number of deer and turkey as a bonus!
I am going to try this approach across several states in the next few months. I figure I’ll fly in and rent an SUV, and then spend 3-4 days on the road hunting as many spots as possible; I’ll try to hit California, Nevada, Arizona, Utah, South Dakota, Florida, Michigan, Indiana, and Kentucky. I choose these places for a number of reasons, and have already started my research!
My GEAR: mattress, sleeping bag, ice chest, propane stove and pot (for coffee), extra battery packs for phone and ipad, 2-3 rifles, air tank, tools, pellets, shooting sticks, range finder, day pack, binoculars (always in my car), extra cloths, and all my camera gear. Depending on where I go, a fishing pole and my tackle pack.
If you give this approach a try, you may find that the two pictures above will often go hand in hand. I have found and tested a lot of public hunting grounds this way, and besides being productive it is fun, changing a hunting trip into a mini adventure! You can see a video of one of my airgun roadtrips by clicking here!