Find Success While Staying Safe on Public Land
I was a boy when it happened; no more than 11, 12 years old. The flash of brown appeared so quickly I didn’t have much time to think, just react. The rifle was off my shoulder and I quickly found the fork horn at the end of the barrel and pulled the trigger.
My father and I were hunting a piece of public ground down South and not having a terrible amount of luck. We were following an old logging road for what seemed like miles, heading to I don’t know where. Maybe a distant spot on a ridge where we’d sat before. No matter where we set up, I mostly whiled away the hours controlling my heart rate through every encounter with a squirrel romping through the dry leaves.
I was lugging an old hand-me-down .30-06 that my grandfather had given me a couple years before when I was still too little to shoot it. Thinking back, I was probably still too little even at 12 years old. But that was what you did as a boy; acted like a man even though you had nary a clue as to what that meant.
My father was slightly to my left and was so shocked at the rifle’s report that he had trouble getting his anger started. But when he did, he didn’t hold back in scolding me for doing something so dumb. Just off the logging road over a little rise the fork horn lay lifeless. I’d seen a deer, I argued, and wanted to shoot it; and did. That wasn’t the point, he said sternly.
Dad was nice enough to carry my rifle while I fought and struggled to drag the buck the half mile back to the truck. He didn’t let me know that we should have gutted it first; just stopped frequently to turn around and look back and make sure I hadn’t killed over myself. It was a small price to pay. For when we arrived at the truck he helped me load the deer into the bed before putting our rifles away into their respective cases. It was the last time I’d see my beloved ‘06 until the following season.
Thirty years later the reason for my father’s anger in my actions is clear as the writing on the wall. Hell, I knew right away why he was so mad, but sometimes the muddled brain of a pre-teen doesn’t comprehend things quickly, even the important things. The Good Lord made sure my bullet from such a risky shot found its intended mark.
On public land, you can never be too careful in watching out for others and protecting yourself. If you’re heading to one of the many parcels of public land this weekend, we can’t stress enough the importance of getting yourself away from the pack and exuding extreme caution before you pull the trigger. Because once you do pull that trigger, you’ll never be able to recall the bullet.
Get away from the masses. Obtain a map of the public ground if you don’t know it that well. Find a parking spot that will allow you to make the quickest beeline into the backcountry where others are unlikely to follow. If you are allowed to camp, then by all means stay out there. You’ll be surprised that 99% of the hunters on public land don’t get more than a mile off the road. Putting in that extra leg work will keep you safe and into wild game that are being pushed further into the property.
This goes without saying. A hat and a vest are sufficient. Never take them off, even when you’re stalking or sitting in a tree stand. You just never know.
Don’t Use Decoys
As tempting as it might be, never use decoys on public land. This is true whether you’re hunting deer or turkeys. Like the young boy who couldn’t control his urge to blast away at the first flash of brown, it’s likely to happen again with someone who simply doesn’t know better. Using a decoy on public will set you up for a better chance of disaster than success.
Make Sure it’s a a Deer
Remember this statement from the Hunter’s Safety education course? I wonder if they still ask it. Before you even consider shooting, check with your binocular, then check again to make absolute sure of what you’re seeing. Others may use decoys. Others may not wear orange. You’re the safe hunter who’d rather pass up on a Boone & Crockett buck if the smallest thing seems out of place. At the end of the day, what does passing up on even the biggest buck really mean? Compared to a lot of things, not much.
I’ll be hunting with a cousin and his young son on opening morning this coming Saturday. We’ve met several times over the last several weeks to sight in our rifles, preach safety, take long walks while scouting the piece of public ground we plan to hunt to make sure the youngin’ can manage, and preach safety some more. Staying alert and covering some ground is going to keep you safe and privy seeing more deer.