There was a time when public land hunting was somewhat frowned upon. Hunters would seemingly scoff at the idea of hunting public land as if it were shameful, or the leftovers for hunters that weren’t savvy enough to secure private land access. Anyone willing to hunt public land in those days often had the place to themselves.
Today’s public land hunting scene is a much different beast. Public land hunting has become somewhat of a badge of honor these days. Hunters are now even wearing t-shirts that declare their pride in public land hunting or being a “public land owner.”
The question is, what changed? Why are hunters now flocking to public land for hunting opportunities? And is it the new normal, or yet another fading trend among the hunting community?
There’s no doubt YouTube and other social media platforms have brought added exposure to the public land hunting routine, but are Youtubers really to blame for the public land boom?
It’s easy to cast blame on the man or woman in front of the camera for any issues that arise in the hunting community, right? Hunters seem to love to hate on other hunters that have opportunities beyond their own reach. We’ve been doing it for years. Back in the day, the platform was outdoor TV. Show hosts like Jackie Bushman and Bill Jordan got their fair share of jabs and jeers for how they handled things in front of the camera. Few deer hunters had ever heard of the Milk River back in the early ’80s. Today, the Milk River whitetail hunt is a bucket list hunt for most every deer hunter out there, largely due to the exposure these guys brought to that part of the country.
Outdoor TV was a big deal back in those days, despite being limited to networks like TNN and ESPN. There were only a few hunting shows at that time, and they were limited to what they could show on screen. Kill shots were a big no-no. It had to be very generic since it wasn’t being aired on an actual hunting network. Yet, hunters couldn’t get enough of it.
Then came a number of popular hunting series featured on VHS tape. Knight & Hale, Primos, Mossy Oak, and Realtree’s Monster Bucks were the standards that you didn’t go a season without. They changed the game. These guys were free to do what they wanted. For the first time, impact shots were front and center. It was the real deal. Or as Will Primos liked to say, “It’s the truth!”
These are the videos that lit a fire within countless hunters across the country. They taught many of us how to hunt. It was great exposure for the hunting lifestyle. But with the good, came the bad. For the first time ever, posted signs started popping up all across the landscape. The land where hunters once roamed free, soon became private hunting leases with exclusive membership. Hunters motivated by what they saw on outdoor TV, VHS tape, or DVD made the move to secure hunting land access for themselves. The game had changed. Private land hunting access dramatically tightened up.
Fast forward 20 years and you’ll find that, although the media delivery is different, hunters continue to follow the latest trends they are exposed to on the screen. However, the screens are different these days. Smartphones and iPads have replaced the big screen. Hunters can now consume hunting content most anywhere, from the comfort of their couch, bed, office chair, treestand, or toilet. Anything goes. And today’s latest trend is video content found on YouTube and other social media platforms.
Today’s popular YouTube channels have gained a following that rivals any network TV audience. YouTubers have found success largely due to their relatable content with the average hunter and the blue collar approach that often comes with many of these channels.
So it comes as no surprise that many of these channels are taking advantage of the abundance of opportunity that public land hunting affords. They present the unique challenge that comes with hunting deer or turkey on land that’s accessible to anybody. In doing so, public land hunting has become the cool thing to do. And whether you like it or not, more and more hunters are showing up on public lands to take advantage of the opportunities that lie within the public land gates.
One of the hottest YouTube hunting channels going these days is, The Hunting Public, with over 545K subscribers. Their name refers to the show’s niche of appealing to the general hunting public. Still, the majority of their content takes place on public land, leading some to believe such shows are responsible for the current public land hunting boom.
Aaron Warbritton - The Hunting Public
We reached out to Aaron Warbritton of The Hunting Public for a conversation to gather his thoughts on the current public land trend. You can hear the conversation in the podcast below.
“For us, 99% of the feedback we get is positive,” says Warbritton. “We do hear some negative comments from time to time, but it’s small. And I honestly think it comes down to perspective. Some guys are just pessimistic people, maybe they’re struggling with stuff going on in life, and they’re just negative about most everything. I’m the opposite. I try to be optimistic and figure out how to go and make things better. And that’s what we do as a team when we do hear negative feedback about what we’re doing. We (The Hunting Public Team) will get together and discuss the issue that fuels the complaint. We talk about whether it’s a legitimate issue and concern and what we need to do about it to address it.”
Warbritton says the positive feedback is what’s always fueled the fire for him. “More times than not, the comments we hear are the ones like, ‘Hey, I found you guys on YouTube and just went out and killed my first deer, and now I’m gonna take my brother hunting for his first time.’ Those are the comments we hear the most.”
“It really comes down to realistic expectations for what hunters are trying to accomplish on public land. You got some hunters out there trying to kill their first animal and willing to shoot the first thing that walks by. While on the other side of the ridge is a veteran hunter that’s been hunting the same public land for 30 years, and he’s holding out for a big buck. Working together, not against each other, is the key.”
Warbritton and The Hunting Public crew believe in the message they’re putting out there. They are committed to helping others enjoy the hunting and outdoor lifestyle. There are plenty of hunters who say it, but these guys back it up. Like it or not, they are promoting a positive hunting message, and more people are hunting these days because of it. In our opinion, their efforts are admirable.
Kaitlyn Maus Outdoors
“YouTube and social media have probably played the largest role in the public land fad,” says Maus. “I say fad because I think it’s just the “cool” thing to do right now because people are realizing that they can just go do it. Unfortunately, I think most of them lack the time or experience to really hunt in a way that will lead to success. They will try it and realize it’s not as easy as YouTubers make it look. Paired with the pandemic, everyone had a lot of free time to go try it, so I think it really is a phase that will eventually die off, at least a little bit.”
When asked about other factors that come into play for the public land boom, Maus agrees our smartphones and technology have changed the game. “Hunting apps have for sure played a large role in getting people out on new spots,” she says. “People now have a plethora of access to things that they never knew they could access in the past. I, myself, began my public land journey in the midwest through the onX app. I didn’t know anyone out there, so I had to just figure it out, and that was how I did it. The thing is, it shouldn’t have to be a negative thing.”
“Public land is public for a reason. We all have to share it which means sharing the good and the bad. Everyone tends to find ‘their spot’ and be defensive about it when someone else moves in, but that’s the name of the game. You just have to be a better hunter. We just need to be respectful of each other and do our best to ensure success for everyone rather than being a jerk and ruining everyone’s hunt. Having a social platform is a bittersweet thing. I want to share my experiences with the world, but it comes with having more people out there that I have to navigate around. Again, I think the fad will go down once people realize how hard it can actually be.”
Parker McDonald - Southern Ground Hunting
Parker McDonald started a YouTube channel tailored to the southern hunter. It’s called Southern Ground Hunting, and it continues to grow in a tight niche designed for avid hunters that enjoy public land, often accessed by water, in the southern states. Parker chimed in on his thoughts on whether YouTube is the culprit in the growing trend on public land.
“I think all social media has had a negative impact on our quality of life, whether you’re a hunter or not,” says McDonald. “I think things like onX, HuntStand, and Google maps are more to blame though, and I don’t think much can be done about it. Having highlighted public land boundaries for every WMA in the country has brought more pressure than anything. I think YouTube hunting channels, for the most part, do everything they can not to expose where they’re at. Rarely do I see folks mention more than just the state they’re hunting.”
McDonald says it’s often the follow up conversations on social media that tend to fuel the exposure on a particular piece of public land, thus bringing on masses in search of an easy public land grab.
“I’ve read comment after comment from viewers saying, ‘Oh, I know where that’s at. That’s ______ WMA.’ So yeah, the YouTuber might have been the medium, but the viewer was the one who gave out the information. Same thing on Facebook groups. I personally think that’s the most detrimental thing to overcrowding WMAs. If you shoot a big buck on a WMA and post it to Alabama Deer Hunters Facebook group, I promise you there will be people who wouldn’t otherwise go to that WMA just because of your post. People are broadcasting their public land spots to tens of thousands of people who live in driving distance of the very spot they’re finding success. It seems harmless, but it has a huge impact.”
Clayton Holmes - Public Land Hunter
Good friend, and public land hunter, Clayton Holmes, shares a fresh look at the good and bad that comes with the boom in public land hunting in recent years. “There’s no doubt YouTubers are a major contributor to the increase in hunting pressure on public lands, along with access to great resources like onX and even the maps on state agency websites,” says Holmes. “But I also think some of the more prominent YouTubers do an incredible job of turning current and new hunters into great advocates for our public lands and wildlife conservation.”
“We may be dealing with more hunting pressure and competition for hunting tags, but the larger number of hunters and public land advocates has already helped us win several legislative battles that would’ve led to less access to huntable lands. At the moment, I still think the good far outweighs the bad.”
Public land hunting can be tough. But for the hunter willing to work harder than the rest, it can be the ground that pays off in the goodness we dream about all year long. Walk a little farther, dig a little deeper, and you’ll likely leave the crowds behind.
Public land hunting is nothing new. Sure, there are some that have made public land hunting appear simple, attractive, and even romantic in recent years. But at the end of the day, those hunters are good at killing stuff. They are better than the average hunter. And that’s what it takes to punch tags on public land. You have to be smart, tough, and work harder than the rest of the crowd. And if that’s not your style, that’s okay. You can always kick back at the house and watch it on YouTube.