20 Great Public Hunting Lands In Top Whitetail States


Planning an out-of-state deer adventure this fall? Consider giving one of these prime destinations a try.

Public-land deer hunting is the new craze, and why not? It’s a fun adventure, and other than licenses, tags, and in some cases habitat or public-land stamps, it provides free access to hunting ground. Lots of it. This is especially true when compared to owning or leasing hunting lands.


Many of you are right now in the process of planning your 2021-22 deer season, and that might even include some out-of-state trips for whitetails. If that’s you, and you have no idea where to start your search, you’ll want to consider some of the options we’ve outlined below.UsingHuntStand1 900Become A Public-Land App Master. But before we get to learning about specific destinations, a quick gear check. Do you have the many-featured HuntStand app? Those who choose to hunt public lands will realize just how beneficial this ground-breaking app can be. After all, a subscription means you literally have a map of virtually every public hunting land in the country—right there on your phone. That’s powerful stuff, and of course, just the beginning.

There are many other HuntStand app features that will benefit the dedicated public-land hunter. For starters, the Property Info feature in the HuntStand Pro upgrade (highly recommended) will help you stay on the right side of boundaries, which is important regardless of where you hunt. No one wants to trespass, even accidentally, and with precise knowledge of all boundaries (and exactly where you are on the property at all times), you have an instant “leg up” on others when it comes to making the most of your scouting and hunting. And finding and evaluating things like the most-efficient parking and stand access, now becomes faster and easier.UsingHuntStand2 900Another huge benefit is the Offline Maps feature. Many public lands are in remote locations with poor (or no) cellular reception. Fortunately, HuntStand allows you to save a map of your hunting destination and use it, even when you don’t have service. Revolutionary? You bet.

Beyond that, public-land hunters can benefit from all of the many other app features that private-land hunters use. Tools, such as the Map Editor (complete with multi-color-coded icons to log most anything a hunter might want to know or find), accurate HuntZone wind and weather monitoring, Stand Reservations,

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Friend Locator, and more—all help solve problems hunters deal with regularly while managing their hunting properties. Highly detailed mapping layers, such as satellite, hybrid, property info, hunting lands, public lands, 3D, terrain, topo, and more, all help reveal very specific info about particular tracts of interest, allowing you to do much of your scouting from the comfort of your home. There are plenty of other benefits, too. You just have to download the app, and learn the easy-to-use interface, to take advantage of them.

Are you fired up about HuntStand’s capabilities? Then tap into HuntStand and check out these promising public whitetail hotspots:Public-Lands-10 900Spotlight On Wisconsin. The Badger State is one of the most-fabled states in the history of deer hunting. It has more records in the book than any other destination, and despite being ground zero for Chronic Wasting Disease (CWD) in the whitetail world, it continues to crank out incredible numbers each year. With stellar habitat, very huntable landscape designs, and a rich heritage, it’s hard to hate on Wisconsin.Public-Lands-12 900Most of Wisconsin’s biggest bucks come from counties such as Buffalo, Columbia, Dane, Polk, Sauk, Trempealeau, Waukesha, Waupaca, etc. Those looking for a relatively small place to get away from the larger crowds might consider Borst Valley Wildlife Area. Located in Trempealeau County, it’s 1,343 acres of very good habitat. It’s especially noted for its quality deer hunting.Public-Lands-13 900Another solid location is the Pine Island Wildlife Area. It’s a wonderful mix of 1,900 acres of wooded habitat, 1,500 acres of oak savannah, 1,200 acres of wetlands, and 1,000 acres of grasslands. Whitetails are edge animals, and this place has plenty of it.DeerVision6 900Spotlight On Kansas. The Land of Oz is certainly a top-five destination for whitetails. It isn’t quite what it was before it started receiving loads of press a couple of decades ago, but it’s still a prime place to tag a big buck. It boasts great deer populations, solid age structures, deceivingly good habitat, and just about everything else deer need to thrive.

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For those who choose to go with what’s popular, the south-central and southeastern regions are hard to beat. Perhaps consider the Marais Des Cygnes Wildlife Area. Its 7,654 acres are very diverse ground, creating plenty of edge habitat for deer to grow old in.Public-Lands-9 900While the eastern half of the state gets most of the accolades, the western counties are grossly overlooked. I’ve hunted there, and know well what these have to offer. Those who’d rather head further west and take advantage of less hunting pressure might consider some of the properties located in the southwestern region. Many of these are relatively small (under 1,000 acres), so we won’t highlight a specific destination. But just about any you come across has potential to hold big deer.Public-Lands-11 900Spotlight On Illinois. Some hunters aren’t happy with the way Illinois has been managed in recent years, but it’s still Illinois. The recordbooks show just how big deer can get here, and many of them still do today. If you can find an area with limited pressure, it’s probably going to be a fun hunt.

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Hunters looking to target really large public areas with the potential to get well away from other hunters might consider the Mississippi River Pool areas. While you will be dealing with water and flood plains, there are plenty pockets of dry land where wildlife flourishes. And yes, there’s plenty of good habitat for whitetails to thrive in.

Another proven destination is the Clinton Lake State Recreation Area. It isn’t as big, only offering about 3,600 acres for hunting. But a lot of that is seriously good deer hunting with plenty of opportunity.Public-Lands-8 900Spotlight On Nebraska. The Cornhusker state is one of the biggest sleepers in the country. Sure, people talk about it, but they haven’t started flocking there—yet. If you still want to take advantage of its mostly untapped potential, it’d be best to do so as soon as possible. Sooner or later, people will start heading to Nebraska to see what the fuss is all about.Public-Lands-14 900Located in southwestern Nebraska, the Red Willow State Recreation Area offers opportunities to deer hunters. Approximately 4,320 acres of land surround a 1,628-acre lake. Hunters will find a good bit of native grasses, shrubbery and even timber here. Whitetails love it all.

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In northeastern Nebraska, the Willow Creek State Recreation Area offers a unique advantage to bowhunters, as it isn’t open to those carrying firearms. The 1,633-acre area doesn’t permit gun hunting, which helps deer to reach older age classes. And yes, that means something.Public-Lands-2 900Spotlight On Iowa. You likely don’t have to be told Iowa is heralded as the premiere state for landowners. And most likely, it is. It’s limited on public land volume, but as for what is there, most of it is really good. It’s like anywhere, of course, and is subject to high levels of pressure. But it still takes three to four years for non-residents to draw a tag, which helps cut down on competition.

Approximately 15,800 acres, the Rathbun Wildlife Area is chock full of deer. With plenty of timber and grasslands, it offers myriad opportunities for a great hunting adventure. There are other public areas nearby, too.

The slightly-smaller Yellow River State Forest is another good choice. It’s approximately 8,900 acres and harbors a great deer population. There’s more than enough room to scout and find your own little honey hole.20statesADD1 900Spotlight On Indiana. While Nebraska qualifies as a sleeper, Indiana is the biggest one on this list. While it might not register on everyone’s radar, it certainly should. It receives little non-resident attention, except mostly for some neighboring transient hunters. That equates to less hunting pressure and competition for prime public spots.

A place to consider is the Clark State Forest. It comprises about 24,000 acres of great deer hunting. Being a state forest, it does draw more attention than other destinations that receive less press, but it’s still hard to ignore or overlook.

Another winner is the Sugar Ridge Fish and Wildlife Area, which is located in southern Indiana, too. It’s about 8,100 acres and a lot of deer roam around on it. It’s a prime public hunting area.Public-Lands-4 900Spotlight On Ohio. While some might consider Iowa, Illinois or even Kansas the premiere whitetail state, I personally believe the title belongs to Ohio. This is especially true for those who hunt solely on public land. The Buckeye State is full of it, and good land at that. Not to mention all the giant whitetails that are coming out of the state the past few years.

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The Shawnee State Forest is a surefire bet when it comes to chasing whitetails. It is about 60,000 acres, but hunts much bigger than that. There is a lot of edge cover, food sources, water and everything else a whitetail needs, all located within this hunting area.

The second pick is the Dillon Wildlife Area. It’s a very large spot with a whole lot of bedding, food sources, and water, which are the three basic needs of a whitetail. It also has pockets of thick cover that are hard to reach, which is where the older deer will most likely gravitate to.20StatesADD2 900Spotlight On Georgia. Not to overlook the Southeast, Georgia is a fine place to hunt deer. It’s not known for monsters, but some live here. Plus, there’s plenty of public land. And that’s what we’re looking for, after all.

Those looking for a good spot might consider the Altamaha WMA. It’s more than 20,000 acres, and much of that offers supreme habitat for the area. There are plenty of whitetails roaming it.

Also, don’t overlook the Cooper’s Creek Wildlife Management Area. It’s over 30,000 acres, and is full of thick, nasty habitat, which of course is what deer prefer. There’s plenty of high-quality mast trees, forbs, and browse, so it’s no wonder the deer numbers are generally pretty high.20statesADD3 900Spotlight On Arkansas. One of the most-overlooked states in the country—in practically every way—Arkansas has a chip on its shoulder. And while it’s no top-end state in terms of record-class deer, it definitely ranks higher on the public-land scale. There are some vast tracts that hold lots of deer—including a good many older bucks.

One popular destination is the Muddy Creek WMA. It’s about 150,000 acres of hunting land that’s open to all. That’s plenty of ground to get away from other hunters, and find your own little honey hole.Public-Lands-15 900Another hot spot is the Gene Rush WMA. It covers a total of 17,652 acres. But it’s fragmented, and that means there are plenty of small, overlooked parcels that other hunters might miss.20statesADD4 900Spotlight On Mississippi. Known primarily as a hot duck hunting destination, it has some quality whitetail hunting, too. There are a lot of deer here, and the hunter-to-whitetail ratio is much better than most other states in the country. Its age structure is excellent, too, which is the most-manageable factor in having top-end bucks.

One incredible destination is the Chickasawhay WMA. Approximately 30,000 acres, it’s a vast landscape of wild places. There’s more than enough room to find an old buck that’s spent its years hiding from regular hunter invasions.

And to round out our list of 20 public land hotspots, give the Sunflower WMA a strong look. It’s about 60,000 acres, and supports a great population of wildlife. There’s no shortage of whitetails here.

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Ethan Smith is a seasoned marine veteran, professional blogger, witty and edgy writer, and an avid hunter. He spent a great deal of his childhood years around the Apache-Sitgreaves National Forest in Arizona. Watching active hunters practise their craft initiated him into the world of hunting and rubrics of outdoor life. He also honed his writing skills by sharing his outdoor experiences with fellow schoolmates through their high school’s magazine. Further along the way, the US Marine Corps got wind of his excellent combination of skills and sought to put them into good use by employing him as a combat correspondent. He now shares his income from this prestigious job with his wife and one kid. Read more >>