PROJECT PUBLIC: 2018 IN REVIEW: Last fall, we focused on hunting lands open to all. Here's what happened.
When North American Whitetail Associate Publisher Laden Force and I came up with the idea for Project Public last year, we didn't really know what we were getting into. Each of us had been on many hunts for common-ground whitetails, but we'd always tempered our time on public land with numerous sits on private property, too.
This past fall we did still hunt some private land, but not nearly to the extent we had. Project Public wouldn't work if we didn't devote most of our time to... well, public. So we did.
And it was an amazing fall.
The goal at the outset was to showcase opportunities available to anyone willing to work for their deer, which is a must on public land. No matter how you try to slice it, if you're not going to devote hours to scouting and then lace up your boots and cover some miles, you're not going to have consistent whitetail encounters on public land. But if you do, you will.
We knew that going in, but the season solidified it for us. We individually hunted public lands in Wisconsin, North Dakota, South Dakota, Nebraska, Illinois, Oklahoma, Kansas and Montana. Each of us encountered mature deer during our hunts, and each of us managed to get shots at bucks that would make any private-land hunter's heart race.
All told, we traveled roughly 9000 miles to hunt these states, and from September to November we checked into and out of a number of motels scattered throughout middle America. We also spent 20-plus days in tents in various states, camping in conditions that ranged from miserably hot to white-out blizzards. Plus, we burned through an alarming amount of lunchmeat and gallons of coffee.
In the end, the tally was a couple of does and three bucks: all taken 100 percent DIY on public ground.
That in itself made Project Public worth it, but the body count isn't what made it special for us. It was instead the reminder that, despite how it can seem in today's whitetail world, there are still amazing opportunities out there. You won't see Booners on every sit, but you can hunt. And that matters. Plus, if you hunt hard and smart, you can have private-land-level enjoyment on parcels open to anyone.
Project Public was also a great reminder of how the white-tail remains accessible to anyone with an adventurous spirit, a little extra vacation time and the willingness to travel. Sadly, that isn't the case with several species of Western game the way it was even a decade ago, due to tough-to-draw tags. That sad trend is unlikely to change. Fortunately, though, the whitetail is still available to you--and if you go into a trip with realistic standards, a fair amount of research and a willingness to hunt a little harder than the next guy, you can have a great hunt in places conventional wisdom says won't be any good.
To Laden and me, and we hope you as well. Project Public was a success. We managed to work with some killer partners, including Sitka Gear, onX Hunt, Scentcrusher and YETI, to make it all happen. And now we're working hard to figure out how to turn 2019 into something even more special. So stay tuned, because we aren't done with those public-land whitetails yet.
You shouldn't be, either.
BY TONY J. PETERSON