How to Use Water Access to Hunt Public Land

By Brodie SwisherNovember 10, 2023

With the best days of deer season finally here, many hunters go into scramble mode as their Plan A game plan turns out to be a bust. For many, water access is the key to accessing lands that few hunters have trampled across. But accessing public lands by boat can be a challenge. Fortunately, the crew at Old Town have figured out some killer strategies for success and they’re sharing a wealth of wisdom for anyone wanting  to give it a go. Check out the video below and read on for a look at how to use water access to hunt public land this season.  


There are a lot of great free resources available to you to identify hunting opportunities and public lands available near you, such as your state’s fish & game agency or popular GPS apps, such as Hunt Stand or onX Hunt.

Once you identify hunt opportunities near you, a great way to avoid crowds is to find water-access spots. Using a canoe or a kayak is a great, stealthy option to reach public land inaccessible by foot, truck, or ATV.

Start by scouting from your computer or smartphone. e-scouting is a simple and effective way to narrow down places of interest based on game-funneling terrain features and food sources. Next, look for water-access points nearby, like public boat ramps or unapproved hand-carry boat launches, that offer the chance to sneak into the hunt zone by water. 

How To Use Water Access To Hunt Public Land

With spots identified by e-scouting, it is time to put boots on the ground and boats in the water. First, scout the area ahead of your hunt during the daytime to better understand the zone. Scouting in-person helps identify and confirm actual game activity, something not possible with e-scouting. In addition, seeing a place first-hand helps identify water access, water characteristics, and potential hazards or obstacles (strainers, beaver dams, etc.). Next, utilize your GPS or GPS app to mark waypoints, which will help you navigate, especially when sneaking in before sunrise and out after sunset.

As you familiarize yourself with where you plan to hunt, keep an eye out for habitat and telltale terrain features that funnel game activity. Look for active game trails, especially trails that lead to water or food sources near water, signaling a good hunting spot. If possible, hang a few game cameras (check state and local regulations first). Cameras help you key in on the game animals in the area and their travel habits, which helps you inform your hunting strategy. 

How To Use Water Access To Hunt Public Land


Water-accessed hunts are effective, fun ways to chase game. However, it does take a bit more planning and consideration. No game animal is worth your life, so always remember the familiar proverb safety first. 

When paddling in for a hunt, always wear your life jacket. In most regions, fall weather and cold water is a factor that you should take seriously. Before a hunt:

  1. Check the weather and always inform family and friends of your float plan (where you’ll be and when they can expect to see or hear from you again)
  2. Adopt a scent-free hunting layer system to help control your body temperature while on the water and in the field
  3. Pack extra layers in a dry bag along with your other hunt and safety essentials

Since the best hunting tends to be the few hours after sunrise or before sunset, you’ll be on the water in the dark. So equip your craft with the proper lighting (according to USCG regulations) and bring along headlamps and extra flashlights. 

If hunting from an elevated stand, always wear a harness system. The leading cause of hunting-related injury is tree stand accidents. A lightweight tree saddle system is a great option, as it is comfortable and quiet to wear while paddling to your spot and keeps you connected to the tree from the ground to hunting height. 

Hunting is an excellent way to experience the outdoors. Pursuing game animals from a canoe or a kayak is unique, and an effective way to access public land where others can’t or won’t go. We hope you have a safe and successful hunting season! 

Brodie Swisher
Brodie Swisher is a world champion game caller, outdoor writer, seminar speaker and Editor for Bowhunting.com. Brodie and his family live in the Kentucky Lake area of west Tennessee.
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