How to Find Private and Public Hunting Land Near You With 2 Simple Methods
Most new hunters can agree, that beginning can be extraordinarily daunting. For good reason as hunting has many moving parts in domains most of us don’t operate in everyday life.
One of the more daunting moving parts to new hunters is not how to shoot a gun, or even how to clean an animal, but finding the animals and the land to actually hunt.
Well, with everyday tools (think your iPhone not satellite phone), new hunters can become experts at finding land and animals to hunt anywhere in the U.S….
you just need reliable methods to find them.
And in this post, we’re going to show you our exact, step-by-step methods and I’ll walk you through the whole process of how to find the best nearby land…
so you can easily and confidently start hunting.
What are my Options?
One of the hardest things to learn as a new hunter is not how to shoot, or how to clean an animal, but rather, where do I find the animals?!
Finding the animals is a skill you spend your whole life perfecting…
…and even after a lifetime of finding animals, you will likely still feel like you are a novice.
By the way, you don’t need to be a Shadow Wolf or a Davy Crockett to find game. Most of what’s required is consistency.
Now: Let us start with the land. There are generally two types of land which hunters are concerned with: Public Land or Private Land.
Basically, private land generally means you cannot hunt there unless you own the land, or have been given permission to hunt the land by the owner.
Now: just because you own the land, does not mean you can hunt it indiscriminately.
Although you may own the land, you DO NOT own the wildlife which pass through the land.
This goes back to the case of Martin v Waddell in 1842, which established the Public Trust Doctrine (PTD) in the United States.
Here’s the big idea with PTD: This essentially established the Government’s title ownership of public resources…
and its responsibility to protect public resources for public use.
Protection of certain types of wildlife falls under this category.
Let’s assume an animal (public interest) trots on your private land and you want to shoot it, it’s not always the case that you can shoot it legally…
…because it might be protected or you need a tag to shoot it.
What it boils down to is if it’s protected, it’s because the state has the responsibility to ensure the animal maintains healthy populations in the interest of the public.
So what does this mean in practice? A couple things.
Some laws are created in order to govern what’s called “fair chase”. Fair chase is an ethical code of amongst hunters that addresses the spirit of how a hunter ought to conduct him or herself while hunting in North America.
As defined by the Boone and Crockett Club, fair chase is “the ethical, sportsmanlike, and lawful pursuit and taking of any free-ranging wild, native North American big game animal in a manner that does not give the hunter an improper advantage over such animals.”
Essentially, in order to qualify for a fair chase scenario it means that the animal needs ample opportunity to elude the hunter. If that is violated then it’s probably not fair chase. Examples include the following:
- Taking a deer stuck in snow,
- Taking a deer stuck in barbed wire,
- Taking turkeys roosting in a tree in the late afternoon,
- Spotlighting animals at night
- Using tranquilizers
The term “fair chase” was made popular by Teddy Roosevelt after his Teddy Bear story became popular and has been continued by the Boone and Crockett Club ever since.
Given that game numbers were dipping dramatically because of over hunting in the 19th and 20th centuries, fair chase doctrine was instrumental for re-establishing game populations in North America.
Fair chase is also why there are hunting seasons in the first place.
The whole point of having seasons is to help maintain the animal population so that we can continue to enjoy hunting them.
Bottom line: Don’t shoot animals out of season, and regulate yourself in the spirit of fair chase and you’ll be a better hunter for it.
Now: If you or your family owns land that you would like to hunt on, you still have to verify that it is in a legal spot to hunt…
…and you must get a hunting license and verify that there is a season and license or tags available for the animals you intend to hunt.
You might be thinking: “But Bobby I don’t own any private land!!”
Don’t worry. If you do not own land, you may still be able to hunt private property.
Check this out: There are many states which offer incentives to ranchers so that ranchers will encourage hunting, especially if there are critters that have grown too numerous. (We’re looking at you wild boars).
If you want to know if your state has private land that you can hunt on, you should check with your local Fish and Wildlife agency.
A good way to find this would be to Google “private land to hunt, STATE program” or “state hunting land near me”and find the local program for your state. I did that exact search for California and found this page as the first result:
BONUS Link: https://www.wildlife.ca.gov/hunting/plm
You should find something similar for your own state to see if it’s an option.
And one more thing, if you do not own land, there are many private properties that lease land for hunting.
These are often ranchers or farmers who are getting another income stream by subsidizing their property by leasing out hunting rights.
Many of these ranchers also act as “hunting guides” on the properties they lease.
Fact: If you are new to the game and money is not an issue, having a private hunting lease, or hiring a guide to show you land and teach you some field craft is a great place to start.
If you want to go with the guided hunt route, a good place to start is heading to our friendly Google search bar and type the following:
“Hunting guide, STATE”
You’ll find a mix of private guides and guides listed with the state, and it’s a great place to start.
Now for the rest of us who don’t have private property, its okay; there is still public land.
Depending on where you live or your political inclinations, you will hear people refer to public land as either “public land”, or by the haters you may hear it called “gubment land.” That’s “government land” for non-rednecks.
Here’s the thing, regardless of how you feel about public land, as a hunter you are in a great position to benefit from it.
Think about this, the BLM alone manages over 278 million acres…
…and most of that land is available for hunting for you and me.
The simple truth is, it’d be silly to not use the land for what it was intended for: wildlife and outdoor enjoyment.
We discuss public land in more detail in our other article, but we’ll give a quick rundown here for context.
There are many kinds of public lands. They include, but are NOT limited to:
- Bureau of Land Management (BLM) Lands
- National Forests
- Wilderness Areas
- State Parks, etc.
They are all managed by a few different agencies:
- Bureau of Land Management
- U.S. Forest Service
- National Park Service
- U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service
- State’s of the Union
As hunters, we primarily hunt in BLM lands, forests, wilderness areas, and state parks.
So: If you are going to hunt public land, more likely than not you’re going to be hunting on one of these types of public lands that are managed by these agencies.
In any case, there is a ton more information about these lands, their history and how they’re funded…
…so for more in depth information on public lands read our article here, but for now think about your options.
Questions to ask yourself:
- Do you have private property (or know someone with private property) that you can hunt on?
- Is leasing private property an option, or are you a public land hunter?
Given that I have hunted both private and public land, I have found public land has the least amount of strings attached, but it may also have more competition.
The holy grail is private property where no one else is allowed to hunt and there is very little competition.
This is the part where you’re probably thinking: “Okay, okay okay enough blabbering! I want to know how to find the land!!”
Don’t worry! Just bear with me because I’m going to show you exactly how to find where to hunt…
…with three specific examples in the most difficult areas of the country.
The Methods and examples
Example 1 – San Francisco Bay Area:
Let’s say you’re one of the 7 million people who live in the Bay Area of California.
To begin with, you work 40-60 hours per week, and probably spend 20 hours each week dealing with traffic especially if you live in the South Bay.
What’s more you have no more than three days off each week, and don’t think it’s prudent to spend a significant amount of money on a private hunting club along Highway 1.
Moreover, you are new to the game and have not even decided how committed you are to the game yet, but as you eat the factory beef which you bought from the store you think to yourself:
“I know that I have purchased factory beef from big meat companies my entire life, but I have virtually no connection to the lives that were give and sustain me…
…I’m sick of not having a connection and I want to gather my own meat, so that I may truly appreciate it. But where do I start?”
Frankly, you’re sick of the status quo and want a change.
We’re going to lay out a step-by-step guide shortly, but before we go any further let’s explain the overall process.
So: In this scenario, we’re assuming you don’t own private land or know someone who has private land to let you hunt it. So we’re going to be looking for public land.
To get started we need to find the public land.
Remember: there are two primary types of public land, land owned by the state and land owned by the federal government.
These are not the same thing, although many states will manage the federal land so it can get a bit confusing.
However, the easiest way to find land is our two custom[ish] Google methods.
Keep this in mind: between these two methods, you will be able to find all the public land in your area which you can hunt.
Google Maps Method
Step 1 — Look at Google Maps.
Step 2 — Then zoom out from your location until you see green on the map.
Step 3 — Once you see green, click on it to determine if it is a National Forest, or a National Park. If it’s a National Forest then you’re most likely greenlighted to hunt, if it’s a National Park you’ll need to do some research to see if the park permits hunting.
BONUS: The general rule of thumb is that you can hunt in a National Forest, but not a National Park. However, there are a few National Parks that allow hunting for game management purposes, and you can read a bit more about them here at the DOI website or follow the link at the bottom of the article.
Step 4 — Write down all the areas that look suitable.
Step 5 — Check who manages all the lands you wrote down.
Step 6 — Contact BOTH your local Forest Service Office and State Fish and Game to see which tags permit you to hunt in the area.
Google Search method
Step 1 — Go to Google
Step 2 — Use the following searches:
“where to hunt, STATE”
“public lands, hunting, STATE”
Write down all the areas you find.
TIP: Many state websites have maps that outline areas of both state land and BLM land.
NOTE: Between any three of these searches, you will find all the resources on your particular state or region to hunt.
Step 3 — Check out the map below and find BLM Lands in your state you can hunt. BLM Lands are delineated by being yellow in both their pdf and virtual map.
FACT: BLM lands look like a checkerboard are rarely contiguous so you’ll want to contact the local BLM office to verify that the lands you’ve found are indeed BLM lands, and ask them if there are any areas you missed.
BONUS: Click Here to see the BLM Map Page.
Step 4 — Go to your state website and to see if you missed any land that is allowed for hunting.
Step 5 — Contact BOTH your local Forest Service Office and State Fish and Game to see which tags permit you to hunt in the area.
Step 6 — Enjoy!
Bay Area Example
Now: If you live in the Bay Area, and you used Google Maps should find Mendocino National Forest to the north, Los Padres National Forest to the south, and Stanislaus National Forest and Sierra National Forest to the east.
Depending on where in the Bay Area you live, you may find each of these to be approximately a 4 hour drive.
Knowing that each location is a four hour drive, it is not likely you will drive there for an afternoon hunt, which means each hunt should be at least two days.
Now the next step is to contact the local Forest Service Offices and find out hunting is permitted both north and south of you for deer with an A zone tag, which is easily obtainable each year.
If you go east those zones are D5, D6, and D7. Some of those deer tags may be less obtainable depending on the draw (more on draws later). Then you check state lands.
You find out that California Department of Fish and Wildlife (CDFW) had a property called Cottonwood Creek Wildlife Area in Merced County, which is a two or three hour drive.
Through the CDFW website you can see there are hunting opportunities there.
Here’s the rub though: it is such a popular place to hunt that it requires putting your name into a raffle to be able to hunt it.
So you continue your search for hunt-able land near the Bay Area and find out about Grizzly Island Wildlife Area, near Fairfield.
Grizzly Island has rabbit, and Waterfowl, but also a special draw for hunting tule elk and wild pig (those tags are hard to get, but worth trying anyway).
If you want to get your feet wet with waterfowl or rabbit, Grizzly Island is a two hour drive from the Bay Area, and has easy access for duck hunting and rabbit.
Now that you know a few places you can hunt, you can start exploring them on your day off.
If I have two days off in a row, I like to go on day hikes or overnight backpacking trips in order to explore the area and search for game.
EXAMPLE: If you wanted to hunt the Mendocino National Forest, you could begin to drive out there on your weekends for an overnight camping trip…
…spend the weekend learning the forest and scouting for your game.
On another note, if you wanted to try your hand at duck hunting, you could go to Grizzly Island, take hikes there, learn to identify ducks, and practice calling duck.
Example 2 — Los Angeles:
Now you are probably thinking, “that’s great that you have explained how to hunt from the Bay Area, but…
…I live in Los Angeles in a sea of cars and desert.”
Don’t worry, we’ve got you covered.
Do the same thing: Pick either the Google Search method or the Google Map method of finding land, and see what you find.
NOTE: We recommend starting with the Google Map Method and then supplementing your findings with Search.
Remember: Forests and wilderness areas are usually fair game to hunt, so look out for them first.
If you did the Google Map Method, chances are you’ll first see the Angeles National Forest, San Bernardino National Forest, Los Padres National Forest, and San Gorgonio Wilderness Area.
The easiest thing at this point is to do a supplemental Google search of the land with hunting attached. Something like this:
Odds are that you’ll quickly find the resources that give you all the information you need on where you can hunt in Angeles National Forest.
We recommend going to the source first to see what they have to say, and in this case it’s the U.S. Forest Service.
To make things easier for you, here’s a link to the USFS home page, where they have all of their national forests. Check out your state and see which areas you get to enjoy.
SHORTCUT: United States Forest Service Website
However, the one drawback to the Google Map method is when some of the smaller wilderness areas don’t have their names show up on the map.
This is why we also recommend doing the Google Search Method as well to make sure you cover all your bases.
Once you’ve marked down all the areas that you can hunt, check with the local Fish and Game office to learn about special restrictions…
…and ask what type of tags you need to hunt there. Then explore.
Example 3 — New York City
You’re probably thinking, “well that’s great if you live in the wide open West, but I live in the urban jungle that is the NYC Tri-State area. What am I supposed to do?”
Disclaimer: We’re not New Yorkers, and we’ve never hunted on the East Coast…
…but we were still able to use the simple methods outlined above to easily find areas to hunt around NYC.
The main purpose of this exercise is to show you that finding public is definitely possible, regardless of where you live.
I started with the Google Map method and found that there wasn’t nearly as many pieces of green land on the map as there are in California.
Now: This shouldn’t come as a surprise if you read our article on public lands and public land availability in the West as opposed to the East.
As I zoomed out the first thing I could find was Harriman State Park. So I did quick Google Search:
The first link I found was “State Parks That Allow Hunting”. Seeing as I’m looking for places to hunt, this seemed like a good place to start and I clicked it to see what I could find.
But it doesn’t stop there. NY State has a whole list of parks on their site that you can hunt. NY State also has many helpful links on their site about where to find public land.
However, one of the first things you’ll notice is this quote from the NY State site:
“Eighty-five percent of the state is privately-owned and over 90 percent of all hunters will hunt on private lands during the hunting seasons.”
Sooo just keep in mind that you can find public land, but it might be competitive.
I zoom out again and find ‘Slide Mountain Wilderness’ just west of Woodstock, NY in the Catskills. I then put the following search in Google.
“Slide Mountain Wilderness, hunting”
The first link I find is from NY State. I click it to see what I find, and lo and behold, it has this graphic depicting a person with a rifle.
If you scroll down the page you’ll find more information about where to hunt, but I would contact the New Paltz office to verify the areas that can be hunted.
Upon further sleuthing, I clicked the ‘Forest Preserve Unit Descriptions’ in the breadcrumbs and they have an entire list of all the forest areas in NY State.
Link: NY State Areas to Hunt
We’ve posted them below in our link resources at the bottom of the article for easy reference.
By the way, most of these lands are permissible for hunting, it’s just up to you to figure out how to get there and which portions of these land you can hunt on.
It should be noted, pretty much all of them are in the Adirondacks and the Catskills regions of upstate NY.
If you live in NYC or the greater Tri-State Area, you may also want to try hunting in Pennsylvania since it could be closer than going upstate.
I did the Google Map method to see which green lands were close to NYC. The first piece of land I noticed was the ‘Delaware Water Gap National Recreation Area’…
…which spans the border of New Jersey and Pennsylvania. So I did a Google search of the following:
“Delaware Water Gap National Recreation Area, hunting”
Lo and behold, I find the first link is from the National Parks Service about the Delaware Water Gap National Park. It turns out that it’s nearly a 70,000 acre National Park that allows hunting in most areas.
According to the site they have whitetail deer, pheasant, and bear populations that are just some of the game found in the park.
Check this out: This is one of those examples of a park allowing hunting, so even if it’s a National Park it always pays to check if they allow hunting.
This park is also only a 1 Hour and 15 minute drive from NYC, so it’s very accessible.
NOTE: This park borders both New Jersey and Pennsylvania so chances are that you’ll need to get a hunting license and tags for both states, which is a great opportunity for you.
Think about it this way, if there are less hunters there because they need two licenses, then it’s more game for you. Sounds like a win-win for you.
This is crazy: I found these areas all within 15 minutes of searching while in my kitchen and there TONS of other lands that I just didn’t explore since this was an example.
Needless to say, it’s pretty remarkable that we can find land to enjoy like this so quickly from the comfort of our home.
In our parents day, finding land was WAY more arduous than just scrolling and searching on a computer…
…you had to have physical maps, hope they were updated, call the local warden and physically map out your hunting trip like you were planning the assault of Rome.
The bottom line is this: If you follow these instructions, you should be able to find land to hunt on almost anywhere.
Finding the land is the first step. Once you have the land to hunt, then you have to learn how the animals use the land. If you learn how to use the land, you can learn to be very successful.
True Story: I knew an old timer who lived in the Bay Area of California in the early 2000’s. He found public land that was only a short drive from the Bay Area.
Keep in mind this land was intimidating to hunt for most people because it was only a few thousand acres…
…and would get so many hunters on opening day of deer season that if you came late, you wouldn’t find a place to park your car.
However, this guy was smart. He had studied the land and had learned where the deer go when the hunting pressure is high.
In addition to that, he kept himself very fit, and he would park his truck at 3am to set out on a fast hike into a deep part of the woods.
As the sun rose and everyone else began to show up to hunt the place, they would push the deer right to him…
…and by noon on opening day this guy would be walking back to the truck with a backpack full of deer meat.
By contrast, the rest of the hunters (myself included) who came with the sunrise typically had to go multiple times to this same piece of land to get our deer.
It took that guy a long time to figure out how the deer use the land, but he enjoyed years of success by learning that area.
Now it’s on you. Go find land near you. Scout the land. Learn how the animals use the land. Know what the animals are eating, where they get water, and where they bed. Spend the off season learning this so that when the season is open, you will already have a hunting plan.
The only question is, are you ready to take the next steps?
If you are, comment in the box below with where you’re going to look for land and any questions you might have that we didn’t cover.
Resource Link: Resource for the Shadow Wolves
Resource Link: Homepage for the Boone and Crockett Club
Resource Link: Wild Boar Nuisance Information
Resource Link: https://www.wildlife.ca.gov/hunting/plm
Resource Link: Hunting in National Parks Link
Resource Link: BLM Map Page
Resource Link: United States Forest Service Homepage
Resource Link: https://www.dec.ny.gov/lands/67299.html