Tips for Hunting Public Land Whitetail With Success
January 06, 2015
Finding and tagging a monster buck on public land truly requires the hunter to be extremely lucky or work really hard. In many cases, it takes some of each.
One bowhunter who's extremely hard working and has luck on his side is Chris Parrish. This Missouri resident has killed several world-class whitetails over the years, and he has a knack for finding that needle in the haystack. In large part, his repeated success is due to the fact he spends a lot of time scouting, hanging stands and hunting.
If the name sounds familiar, perhaps it's because Chris is well known for being a topnotch turkey caller. In fact, he's won numerous national and world championships over the years. He makes his living overseeing the production of turkey calls for Knight & Hale.
"I spend a lot of time in the woods as a result of what I do for a living, and that does give me some flexibility to hunt hard and take the time needed to locate and hunt monster bucks," Chris notes.
But working in the industry isn't always such a huge advantage. Especially when you do as this expert sometimes does and hunt land open to everyone.
This past fall, Chris arrowed a spectacular Boone & Crockett buck in Kansas. The monster rack grossed 189 1/8 inches and netted 183 5/8 — and it looks even bigger than those impressive totals. Amazingly, Chris shot this giant on land anyone with that Kansas tag could have hunted.
"Over the years, I have really started to focus my hunting efforts on finding mature bucks on public land," the bowhunter says. "Finding old bucks can be difficult when hunting public land, because it is really difficult for deer to reach maturity when there is a lot of hunting pressure.
"In order for them to do it, in most cases they must be living in areas that are very remote, where most hunters are unwilling to travel," Chris continues. "So when I start scouting for deer season, I get aerial photographs and spent a lot of time looking for remote areas that are incredibly difficult to access. I'm looking for hunting locations that are 1 1/2 to 2 miles off the road, where I believe most hunters won't go. As a result, the bucks grow old. And because they don't get hunted hard, they actually move around in daylight."
Chris also sets up scouting cameras late in deer season, hoping to start narrowing down his search for the next one. "If I start seeing big bucks on my cameras, I will know where to hunt the next year," he says. "This past fall I had a couple shooter bucks showing up on camera where I shot the big 8-point. Once I get a few nice bucks on camera I spent a lot of time on foot looking for old sign, scrapes, runways, bedding areas, feeding areas and pinch points between feeding and bedding areas.
"I try and figure out where I want my stands months in advance," Chris continues. "But sometimes you don't get pictures of all the big bucks in the area. The funny thing is, I never got a picture of the buck I shot this past season. When I shot him, it was only the second time that I'd ever actually seen him."
Going in Deep
Where Chris killed this monster was almost two miles off the road in a very remote area of Kansas. He knew the spot's potential was sufficient to offset the time and effort involved in hunting it.
"I had two stands hung in the area where I killed the buck," he explains. "One of them was extremely hard to access. But I liked having two stands hung, because it gave me a couple options. If the wind wasn't right for one location, hopefully it would be for the other."
The first time Chris laid eyes on the great buck was from an observation stand. But it occurred under extremely low-light conditions, so the bowhunter didn't know the deer's true size. "I knew he was a big buck, but I didn't really know how big," Chris notes.
Based on that sighting, he decided to hang another stand in a pinch point near an oxbow lake where two drainages came together.
"I was right on the edge of a lot of sign," Chris explains. "I wasn't in the middle of the bedding area, but it was nearby, and there were scrapes and a lot of deer activity in the area. And where I hung my stand was one of the only areas for the deer to travel, because the creeks had really steep banks on them."
It All Comes Together
Nov. 10 didn't begin as anything special. "The morning started out pretty slow, really. I saw a few deer and a bunch of turkeys, but there wasn't a lot of action," Chris says.
Like many of the rest of us, when deer movement is slow this avid hunter often passes time by texting. On that particular morning, the texting partner was another friend sitting elsewhere in the woods.
"He asked me if I had seen anything," Chris remembers. "I told him, 'Not much,' and we were chatting about when to come out of the woods. I'd decided I would get down and head for the truck about 10:30 in the morning.
"I'd no sooner put my phone in my pocket and looked up than I saw a deer body standing about 80 yards away," Chris says. "The wind was quartering to his position, so he did get a little bit of a whiff of something he didn't like, but not enough to alarm him.
"At 10:05 he walked within 22 yards, and I was able to get a shot at him. When I took the shot, I thought I had a clear opening. Come to find out, there was a tiny little limb that I didn't see. As a result, the arrow hit that limb and hit the buck a little far back. It was basically a liver hit."
After the shot, Chris texted his buddy and told him he felt he'd just shot a 160-inch 4x4. While that turned out to be a major understatement, there's an easy explanation.
"When I shot him, I didn't really realize just how large he was," Chris points out. "I didn't want to focus on the antlers too much. Once I realized he was a shooter, I focused on the shot. It was probably a good thing I didn't know how big he was."
Eventually, after a tough tracking job and figuring out where the buck was headed, Chris and friends found the monster whitetail. Technology even lent a helping hand in that.
"The buck was a long way from my stand, but I was able to use my phone to look at aerial photos of the area and locate where last blood was and where he was headed and locate him," Chris says. "Today's technology really helped. I think because we left him alone and waited several hours before tracking him, he didn't go as far as he might have if we'd pushed him. We basically found him near water on his way back to where he lived. I've found that when a big buck is hit, he often heads for home."
Chris has killed numerous mature bucks all over the Midwest during the last decade, so obviously he's doing at least a few things right. One of these, in his view, is choosing to hunt dangerously close to bedding areas at a time most other folks avoid.
"A lot of hunters don't hunt during the lull in the middle of October," he notes. "I hunt during this time and have had a lot of success. I'll typically hunt practically in the bedding area. When the buck rises out of his bed, he's typically 100 yards away or less. This requires a lot of sneaking around, playing the wind just right and stand prep before the season, but it has paid off. I like hunting during October because there aren't as many hunters in the woods and I can pattern and figure out a buck before anyone else disturbs him and changes his pattern," the expert concludes.
Of course, things are quite different during the rut. Then, Chris likes to focus on very remote locations between doe bedding areas and similarly remote food sources.
"I really like finding funnels and travel corridors," he says. "It's often just a funnel between a large, steep bank along a waterway that butts up to a large ridgeline. Finding these locations isn't extremely difficult — it just takes a lot of time in the woods."
Chris is quick to point out hunting very remote locations can require plenty of patience. "In a lot of cases these backwoods hunting locations don't hold as many deer as farm ground that's easily accessible or the small patch of timber near a house," he notes. "So I don't always see a lot of deer. The hunting can sometimes be boring. But when I do see a buck in these remote areas, it's usually a big one. He's figured out that if he wants to grow old, he needs to get away from people."
During the rut, when the leaves are gone from the trees, Chris likes to hunt from the nosebleed section. And he has his reasons.
"I like hunting between 20-24 feet off the ground," he says. "It requires a little more work, but I feel like it's worth it. I can get away with a little more movement, and I can hunt even if the wind isn't perfect; I'm so high the thermals often carry a little of my odor away. It isn't foolproof, but I've seen time and time again where I get away with hunting in a not-so-favorable wind because I'm high in a tree. That was surely the case with this big 8-point."
Chris also put in plenty of time scouting from a distance. "Before the season starts I spend a lot of time scouting with binoculars, figuring out where the does like to bed," he explains. "I know if I can locate good doe bedding areas, eventually the bucks will be in them.
"I think my success comes from two things: I'm willing to spend a lot of time scouting, and I'm willing to walk a great distance to hunt."
Do you want to start killing monster bucks as regularly as this expert has over the years? Strap on your boots and get off the beaten path. Just as is true in many other parts of life, hard work plus preparation often equal success. Chris Parrish is a prime example of that.
For Your Information
On public land in particular, it's always smart to confirm local regulations regarding the use of tree stands and climbing gear. Some agencies allow the use of steps that penetrate a tree's bark; in other places the use of such equipment is forbidden. Same goes for leaving stands in the woods overnight. Check before your hunt.
For more information on public-land deer-hunting options in Kansas, visit the Kansas Department of Wildlife, Parks and Tourism.