In most western states, there is a time of year later in the hunting seasons where it becomes difficult to hunt public land. This difficulty arises from the lack of animals on public land as a result of the weather and public land hunting pressure. The real issue is that animals have this internal sense of security when they are on private land and, as a result, will migrate to private land where they feel less pressured. I mean, if you were an elk or deer, wouldn’t you want the benefits of private land? Private land often is at a lower elevation with less snow, it usually has unfrozen water sources and, typically, there are some agricultural sources with prime food not to mention fewer hunters. Here are some important thoughts and techniques to chase late-season bucks and bulls when private land permission on that property is not an option.
When bucks and bulls are seen on private land, a hunter can easily get frustrated and move on to another area. There are some situations where this is the only option; however, before you dismiss the herd, look at GOHUNT’s 3D mapping feature for an opportunity. You are trying to examine the property and boundaries to see if there is nearby federal, state or walk-in access that the elk or deer may be traveling to or through. I have seen and experienced many times where elk or deer are feeding on private land throughout the day, but are crossing the boundary to bed just yards inside of public land day after day. I have also seen times where private land allows some paying hunters to come and shoot an elk or deer, which then pushes the herd off of the private land for a short period of time. Try to find places to hunt that look like travel corridors for daily movements to and from bedding or places that appear to be escape routes that may be used if the elk or deer feel private land pressure. If you find a good spot, you may have the hunt of your life — just yards off of a private land boundary.
In my experience, I have found that a lot of ranchers and landowners out West who have late-season herds who either do not allow hunting or have monetized access in order to make money off of the animals’ behavior. However, I have also found that neighboring landowners to those specific ranches and other private property parcels who do not have any agriculture and do not have a resident herd living on them will be more willing to let you hunt for a few days. This might be just the ticket you need to get in close to a herd and wait for them to make a mistake. It just goes to show you that it does not always have to be public land and, sometimes, you can get permission to cross or hunt on another private landowner’s property. If you ask, the worst thing that can happen is that they say no.
Though it may be mentally tough to see elk or deer inhabiting land you cannot hunt, you may have success if you have patience. Whether you are sitting on public land or another private property adjacent to the aforementioned property or even glassing it from afar, eventually, the animals will make a mistake and go onto public land. No matter how much it looks like they know where the private and public line is they definitely do not. All it takes is one hunter to walk in private, one doe in estrus on public or one bull to think that he wants to feed or bed on that open sage-covered nob. If you are there to capitalize on these mistakes, you will be going home with meat in the freezer. It is also important to remember that hunting seasons are long and the public land pressure will decrease. Bucks and bulls will want to seek the cover that is provided there. Be patient and play the long game on private land bucks and bulls; it will pay off.
Overall, it can be really frustrating to drive past private land and see wild animals that you cannot hunt. However, there are positives of having areas like this that provide a winter home for the animals you love to hunt. Private land is part of the reason that some animals survive all winter. They often have better food sources, water and less hunting pressure. If a buck or bull survives another year then he will most likely be even bigger and provide a better rack and more meat to take home. When you see late-season animals on private land, be patient and try to find a way — if there is one — to hunt the outskirts of the property and harvest a bull or buck. If there is not an opportunity available, then move on and let them live another day. Next fall, they will hopefully be back on public land where you can chase them from dusk to dawn.