Few people begin hunting planning to hunt public land. It doesn’t make a lot of sense to spend $500-$600 on gear and hours scouting all summer when you have to worry about someone being in your spot on November 10th. Instead, most hunters have access to private land and become tied to the land they know well. As a result, Iowa’s public access land is often underutilized. Here are some tips for taking advantage of these areas.
Where to Start
If you are trying to locate public hunting land near you the Iowa DNR website is a great place to start. The hunting atlas shows both DNR managed and non-DNR public hunting areas in the state. You can also find locations listed by county. When scouting public land keep an eye out for animals on the surrounding private land. Personally, I use Beacon to determine the landowners and gain access. The value of Beacon skyrockets after pheasant and shotgun deer season begin as the deer have been pushed around and may find a sanctuary on nearby private land. Check out these posts on how to get permission for more tips.
In the early season deer love public land areas. Often the areas have significant food plots and CRP. Think creatively when hunting the land. Midwest Whitetail uses a canoe to get deep into public hunting land and away from other hunters. Maybe a farmer will let you walk across his field in October in order to set up the perfect stand. I will take a doe off of public land in order to keep more deer on our land for next year and to pack the freezer.
I ran my pup daily on public land last fall to get her on birds. When pheasant season came the area was slammed by locals, and the population collapsed. Pheasant hunting is a game of driving to multiple locations over the course of the day. As a result, many local hunters will work through the public access areas. If you can get out early on in the season it gives you the best chance at success. Consider hunting your public land first, then heading to your private areas later in the day. Also, it is a great spot to get your dog working on birds in the weeks leading up to the season and to run drills later in the year.
Waterfowl hunting public land brings a mixed bag. I have had luck hunting areas such as Lake Icaria near Corning, Riverton in the southwest and Rock Creek near Grinnell. However, the locations are a bit of a drive and you may show up at 4 am to find your spot claimed by other hunters. In the last couple years I have avoided this by hunting on weekdays and the Thanksgiving weekend. If you do locate geese feeding on public land, be sure to capitalize before somebody else does. Here is an article by Game and Fish breaking down two of the top areas in the state. I hope this article provided you with some insights on public land. Thank you and good luck. Stu.