Boating for Your Buck on Public Land

By Brodie SwisherAugust 12, 20193 Comments

There’s been an interesting shift in the mindset of public land hunters over the years. I remember the days when public land hunters would sing the blues about their misfortune and seemingly tuck their tail at the idea of being cursed with having to hunt on public land. Nowadays, public land hunting has become quite the fad. Hunters across the country set out each year in hopes of tagging a deer on public land, as if it will make them some type of super hero, while others simply tap into the abundance of access that public land hunting provides. Regardless of where you are on your reasons for hunting public land, there’s no denying that boating for your buck on public land can open the door to seemingly endless opportunities and help you reap the reward of more deer tags notched this season. Here’s how to make it happen this season…


Boating for your buck is one of the deadliest tactics you’ll use all season.

Study Maps

As with any hunting, studying maps is the key to familiarizing yourself with potential treestand locations for fall. However when it comes to boating for your buck on public land, you’ll be amazed at how well you can tighten up the opportunities in the areas you’re considering. Lakes, creeks and rivers naturally put the pinch on huntable ground, as well as the game that travels around them. I’ve always found funnels and travel routes to be easier to identify when water is in play. Learn to read the potential spots from your first glance at the popular mapping apps available, like onX, and you’ll be off to a great start when you’re ready to put boots on the ground. The beauty of hunting from the boat is that it allows you to slip in the back door on property that has limited road access. Boat in to an area that is several miles from the nearest road access and you’ll often find that you have the place to yourself.

onxMap view

Study maps for intel on how to approach potential hunting spots by boat this season.

What Boat Works Best?

The boat you’ll need largely depends on the water you’ll be traveling en route to your stand. I’ve used everything from a 20′ duck hunting boat to the smallest canoes and kayaks to access deer stands tucked away on public land. Unfortunately there’s not a one-size-fits-all boat for deer hunting on public land. The key is to keep it safe and hunt from the boat that helps you accomplish your mission the best. Kayaks are the lightest and easiest to maneuver in the tightest places, but they also limit you the most in what you can haul. I’ve made some pretty sketchy runs in a kayak with a treestand, bow and pack all tied on top. It worked alright, and I didn’t get soaked, but I swore I’d never do it again. I tend to stick with my canoe for the extra space it provides. It allows me to easily haul all my gear, as well as my deer when success comes my way. If I’m out on the lake or big river, I take an 18.5′ aluminum mod-v boat I use for hunting deer and turkey, as well as for bowfishing. It hauls everything I need and allows me to stay safe on choppy water.

boating for your buck on public land - Boat-Buck-feature

Does you boat have enough room to safely haul all your gear…and a dead buck?

BHOD prostaffer, Dan Richardson, used a small 2-man bass boat for accessing a public land hot spot in season 8 of the Bowhunt or Die web show. He’s learned how valuable a boat can be to his deer hunting success in recent years. “My boat is suited for a trolling motor,” says Richardson. “It’s a good setup for hauling gear and deer.”

Watch Dan’s hunt here:

Go Undetected

“Boating in allows you to go under the radar from both deer and other hunters,” says Richardson. “It can help you access places in minutes that might have taken you an hour to walk in from another direction, bumping and spooking deer as you go.” Boats allow you to slip in the back door on the edge of bedding areas and unpressured whitetail hangouts that few others will ever access. Deer are use to hearing the sound of boats running out on lakes and up and down rivers, so they’ll rarely give it a second thought when they hear your boat coming. And if you’re paddling in with a canoe or kayak, they’ll never hear you coming. It’s the ultimate ambush!

boating for your buck on public land boating-in-for-bucks

Richardson slipped in the back door by boat to take this hard-earned buck.

Best Gear for Deer Hunting from a Boat

The list below will share some of the tools of the trade when it comes to deer hunting from a boat. Some may seem obvious, while others are the ones that came through trial and error.

Headlamp – It’s one of the handiest tools a deer hunter can own, particularly when it comes to hunting from the boat. I use the Black Diamond Revolt. At 300 lumens, it’s super bright and works really well for everything from lighting things up on the river, to finding bloodtrails after the shot.

Rope/Cordage – Don’t forget to carry the rope you’ll need for strapping your gear down in your boat or kayak, as well as securing your deer for the haul out.

Trolling Motor – Depending on what boat you use, a good trolling motor can help you slip in super quiet and go undetected. Better trolling motors, like the Minn Kota Terrova, even have features like the iPilot GPS system that will automatically navigate the path to your stand location. It’s an incredibly handy tool when going in early before daylight.

onX Mapping – The onX phone app is a mapping program that hunters around the country have found to be one of the greatest tools for navigating your way to more deer hunting opportunities. It’s worth its weight in gold before, during and after the hunt.

Yeti Cooler – Whether I’m keeping cold drinks at the ready or hauling boned out meat on the way out, I always like to keep a Yeti cooler in my boat.

Trail Markers – Reflective trail markers make it easy to identify where you need to dock your boat on the approach. Everything tends to look the same in the darkness of early morning. Don’t make the job any tougher than necessary. Make sure your path is well marked and ready when you arrive. The guys at HME Products have a variety of trail marking supplies to keep you covered.

Spotlight – When I’m out on the big water, navigating lakes and rivers, I want a super bright spotlight. Headlamps are great, but I want something even bigger when on big water. I like the Cyclops Revo 1100 handheld for allowing me to maximize visibility on big water.

Life-Jacket – Be sure to keep it safe and follow all regulations for having your life-jacket/PFD with you at all times when boating in for your buck. If you’re hunting with a kayak, you can also throw in an extra PFD to help float your deer out when the hunt is over.

boating for your buck on public land - dan-boat-buck

Dan Richardson boated in to take this massive Indiana buck.

Boating for Your Buck – Conclusion

Boating for your buck on public land just might be one of the deadliest tactics you’ll employ all season long. It works really well, and you’ll have a ton of fun doing it. Just remember to keep it safe. We’ve all taken our fair share of risks while hunting. Heavy loads on a boat in cold water is not the time to push it. Keep it safe, enjoy the journey, and watch more action unfold as you boat in for your buck this season.

We want to hear from you! Have you ever used a boat for deer hunting? What type of boat do you use? Comment below and let us know about your experience with a boat for deer hunting.

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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