“The average hunter needed more coverage.”
That was one of the first statements Aaron Warbritton responded with when I asked him about issues the hunting industry faced. “The deer camp mentality of hunting is getting lost in the shuffle. The social aspect of hunting is gone. We want to re-inspire that.”
The first time I watched The Hunting Public’s YouTube channel back in early fall 2017, I knew this group of mostly twenty-somethings had struck a chord. Their videos, and more importantly, their over-arching message of increasing hunter participation and awareness of public lands, were going to spread like wildfire.
The name “The Hunting Public” was intriguing enough to begin with, let alone Zach Ferenbaugh’s shoulder-length hair or Jake Heubschman’s cheesy mustache. This group is changing the game by showing us all how creativity, aggressive hunting tactics and budget-friendly hunting can result in whitetail success on public lands in various parts of North America.
WHO ARE THESE GUYS?
According to Aaron, the concept took root one day in southern Iowa, as they were working at the popular web show Midwest Whitetail.
“Zach Ferenbaugh and I were sitting in the office one day, and we scrolled through social media and saw a guy who claimed he’d shot a deer out of his bed,” Aaron explained. “It was so foreign to us, because of the media we’ve been exposed to. We have been told that bucks are nocturnal our whole lives. These guys, Greg Litzinger and Dan Infalt, were talking about getting on bucks in early season by hunting near bedding.
“Zach and I thought, ‘Let’s give it a try. What’s the worst that can happen?’” So not long afterwards, they set out to an area of Iowa public land they’d later refer to as the “Buck Nest.”
Aaron, Zach, Greg Clements and Jake are all former interns or producers for Midwest Whitetail. You could say the advent of The Hunting Public was an aligning of the stars.
“We all came from similar backgrounds: hunting on a budget, public-land type hunters,” Aaron pointed out. “When we started this thing, we did not want to betray that style.”
The guys certainly haven’t, and their following is growing daily.
CONTENT HUNTERS CAN RELATE TO
“We try to create content we would want to watch,” Jake told me. “There is no secret recipe, just average dudes who love to hunt. We want to get new people into hunting and help retain them.”
In my view, the hunting industry needed an injection of energy from a group who could accomplish things typically thought impossible. The Hunting Public is providing just that.
Take their Walmart challenge, for example. Jake went to one of those stores last fall and proved, through a 20-minute video, that beginner bowhunting doesn’t need to be daunting. He purchased around $500 worth of archery gear: a “ready-to-shoot” bow and other accessories. A few hunts later, he harvested a doe while seated on a 5-gallon bucket and self-filming the hunt.
“It can be really intimidating if you want to get into hunting,” Jake told me, “because you see people on TV with all this gear and huge properties. We wanted to show it can be done with basic gear.”
Zach has always enjoyed breaking the mold. “I don’t like doing what everyone else likes to do,” he said. “I felt like there was such a mold for how to do things, and there were too many rules.”
Greg, the video-editing guru, agrees. “Our hunting tactics are constantly evolving,” he told me. “Our aggressive hunting was a paradigm shift in how we thought about hunting.”
Hunting content certainly isn’t lacking in this digital age. The guys at The Hunting Public have companies they work with, but the message is loud and clear: They’re collaborating with honest, hard-working companies with a similar passion for growing participation and engaging the everyday hunter.
The hunting tactics these guys employ will have you second-guessing your favorite tree stand setup that hasn’t produced in the last half-decade. My interviews with them have been enough motivation for myself.
If you’re looking for short videos of highlight reel big bucks being shot from box blinds over food plots, this group isn’t for you. The Hunting Public members attack public ground with some of the most aggressive, well-thought-out tactics I’ve ever seen, and they create videos that tell the story. As mentioned, the now-famous Buck Nest hunt inspired much of what this group does today.
“Essentially, the Buck Nest was a huge bedding area on public ground, and we saw 15 bucks in one evening during early October,” Aaron explained. Hunting buck bedding areas is widely known as an aggressive tactic most hunters reserve for November. But not this group.
Zach said, “Sometimes we’re going right for the bedding areas. If we see a deer go back to his bed, we call that ‘roosting’ them. We can then decide if we should go after him now or wait after coming up with a plan.”
Aaron added, “It isn’t really that hard to hunt buck beds. It’s just getting the initial confidence to go in there. We basically had to go back to woodsmanship and finding where they live during daylight.”
Most of the group rarely use trail cameras for any extended period. Zach said his camera strategy is nearly non-existent.
“I almost never have any clue what I am hunting,” he says. “If the right buck comes in, I shoot and don’t regret it.”
You won’t see this group passing giant deer, leaving you annoyed and frustrated with what you just watched. Whichever deer gets them excited, they’re shooting. They haven’t become well known by shooting yearling bucks, but they certainly aren’t letting a big one walk because he’s “too young.” From states such as Kentucky, Iowa, Missouri and Nebraska, they’re searching for whitetails that get them fired up about the overall experience.
Ground-hunting and saddle-hunting have also opened new doors for the group as they explore areas open to all.
“Saddle-hunting eliminates weight and awkwardness when we’re trudging deep into public land,” Aaron pointed out. “Saddles are going to be a go-to for me moving forward.”
Zach, who prefers ground-hunting in a ghillie suit, said, “I think tree stands are something that hinders you from getting as close as you can. Ground-hunting and aggressive tactics come with understanding the moment.”
Whether the guys are hunting from tree saddles or tree stands or just sitting on the ground using makeshift blinds made of natural materials, the process of getting to where they want to go on a piece of public ground is what helps them escape other hunters on public land.
“We use kayaks, canoes or boats to access difficult spots,” Greg said. “Much of our effort has turned to hunting marshy areas with water.”
These guys just aren’t afraid to be aggressive, going to extremes to locate daytime buck movement. Escaping the crowds and scouting for human foot traffic can be just as critical as scouting for deer. I’ve seen the group use trail cameras at the entrance to a public land piece to find out how often the property is being used by other hunters. It might seem a waste of a camera, but if you really want an unpressured public-land experience, it could prove a smart tactic.
One of the most obvious challenges in hunting public land is getting away from other hunters. Locating promising sections of public land can be relatively easy when the effort is put forth. However, accessing areas to experience the most daylight buck movement is where the true challenge lies.
“We end up hunting around water a lot,” Aaron says. “Water also serves as a barrier for predators and keeps many people out. We look for areas that are challenging to access.”
Major food sources such as corn or soybeans are enticing places to hang a stand on public ground. But Greg and Zach mentioned that while they might scout those areas, typically bucks won’t reach a large destination food source in daylight.
“I gravitate to transition lines and mini habitat breaks with different cover and diversity,” Zach said. Whitetails deer are creatures of the edge, sosearching for staging area food sources such as browse between bedding and the main food source could be a killer strategy for pressured bucks.
One of their main tasks when hunting a new piece of land, especially far from home, is to eliminate as much unproductive ground as possible. Staring at a few thousand acres of public property can be intimidating.
“We need to be efficient,” Greg told me, “so we focus on overlooked habitat spots such as CRP fields, marshes and areas without mature trees.”
Because these guys do a lot of ground-hunting with makeshift blinds, they tend to find more possibilities than more traditional hunting styles might allow. Being efficient and making decisions quickly starts with the very beginning of their routine, from the moment they wake up.
“Just to speed up the process of getting ready in the morning, I’ll sleep in my base layers quite often,” Zach said. “The term ‘scent control’ has almost become a joke for me now. To me, it is 100 percent about playing the wind. Who wants to come home from a hunt and worry about storage and laundry?”
This might not be what you’d expect to hear from one who often hunts from the ground. But I think Zach’s point is well taken. Playing the wind and understanding the deer you’re hunting are still critical.
I asked a few of these guys their thoughts on strategies for public vs. private land. I was curious as to how their aggressive tactics would vary when having the ability to control more factors on private property.
“I am considerably less aggressive on my family’s private piece in Nebraska,” Aaron replied. “You cannot afford to blow out a 40- to 80-acre piece and expect success. I’d still be aggressive — I just wouldn’t hunt as often. Eventually deer are going to adjust and do something different.”
THE LEGACY IN PLACE
Members of The Hunting Public have received incredible feedback. They’re telling a story to which deer hunters of any level can relate. The team’s YouTube platform also allows for not-so-serious bonus footage to make the final cut.
America’s public lands have become a swarming political battleground. The Hunting Public is at the forefront of that battle, promoting and defending these prized public grounds and teaming up with hunters of a similar mindset. I believe we all need to take a page out of their book and re-invigorate the social aspect of hunting back into our families and deer camps. The hunting community and the perception of hunting will benefit.