But there is also a lot of deer hunting opportunities on public hunting areas -- state lands and federally owned national forests. Many areas feature plenty of deer, turkeys and bear, but the game animals do move over large areas every season. They key factors are available food supplies, the time of year, weather and people factors, such as hunting pressure.
In a perfect world, deer hunters base their hunting plans on natural factors, such as food sources and preferred bedding areas. In most areas, this can work in bow season, when hunting pressure is limited, and also in the early muzzleloader seasons. But during the general firearms seasons, normal deer movements are out. The deer movement is based on hunting pressure and avoiding people.
Over the years, I have met many expert hunters who have learned to take advantage of the opening day hunting pressure. The basic approach is to scout an area before the season, and then attempt to predict how the deer will react to hunting pressure.
In most cases, the deer movement is pretty predictable: They usually head for the thickest, nastiest cover available. When hunting on Maryland's Eastern Shore, we found that swampy areas are often good, as are thick stands of pine trees, or clearcuts that have grown back in scrub brush and briers.
In some of the more remote areas, like the national forests, deer can completely escape people by moving away from roads. Some of the national forest areas feature thousands of acres, and nearly all of the hunting pressure takes place within a half mile of the roads. Those willing to go farther into the bush can usually find little or no hunting pressure. You will also find undisturbed deer to hunt.
The downside to this approach is that you have to deal with the logistics of getting your deer back out to the road. On private lands you can often use 4-wheelers or farm tractors to fetch home your deer. On national forest lands, motorized vehicles are out so it usually means lots of work. As we get older, most of us find this more of an issue. But there is a lot of great hunting on the national forest lands in West Virginia, Virginia and Pennsylvania for those willing and able to do the work.
No matter when you hunt, you will greatly increase your chances if you scout out your hunting area well before the season, and try to predict how the deer will react to hunting pressure when the guys in orange arrive on opening day.