Paddling into Public Land: Using a Kayak to Hunt Whitetails on Public Land


It was early archery season in Pennsylvania. I can remember walking to my tree stand that I had hung on state game-lands. When I arrived at my tree stand, I could clearly see, even in the early morning, that someone had been hunting out of my stand the day prior. The climbing sticks were caked in mud from the boots of another hunter. This was very frustrating; how long had they been hunting out of my stand? How many deer did they spook coming to and from my stand? Did they harvest a sizeable buck using the stand that I had scouted and prepared?

Sharing the woods with others is something that all public land hunters deal with. This can be a challenge. Not only do you have to match wits and knowledge with a creature of the forest, but you also have to compete with other hunters. So, how does one avoid other hunters on public land? In a study released by Penn State in 2004, it was discovered that most hunters in Pennsylvania didn’t venture more than .3 miles from the nearest road*. By using this study, one can deduce that the further away you get from roads and civilization, the less likely you are to run into other hunters. Obviously, one way to beat the crowds is to lace up the hiking boots and start making tracks. However, another way to escape the hunting pressure is by utilizing a kayak or canoe.

Using a kayak, or some sort of small watercraft, doesn’t require too much effort and it can really provide a significant advantage over those hunters who just walk into a location. As deer get more and more pressure from hunters during the season, they will use natural obstacles, such as rivers, to provide cover and solitude. By using a kayak or canoe, one can stealthily move into those hard-to-reach places that often hold high-pressured deer. Noise can be kept to a minimum when using a kayak and a trail of human odor isn't left behind. It can be a great way to sneak up close to bedding areas without alerting deer to your presence. 

This buck was harvested on public hunting land in PA. I approached this location by kayaking across a deep river. The trail-camera pictures above, are from the same buck a couple days prior to harvesting this deer.

By using my kayak as a tool, I have been fortunate enough to harvest two public-land bucks, in the same location, on back-to-back years. The state game-lands that I was hunting had a small secluded corner that was separated from the main portion of the game-lands by a deep river. In the first couple weeks of archery season, most hunters were walking into the main portion of the game-lands and pushing the deer across the river. I was able to access the smaller corner plot of game-lands by using my kayak. This strategy resulted in the harvest of two nice bucks, two years in a row.

Dan harvested this nice public-land buck by kayaking in and hunting an island that the deer used as a bedding area

Dan holds another really nice public land buck that was taken by hunting islands.

 Dan, and several of his family members, have applied the same strategy and have hunted islands in the middle of a large river. Deer often forded the river in order to bed on the island. As the hunting season wore on, deer felt more and more hunting pressure on the main land and continued to find refuge on the islands, even into the winter.

Tom displays another nice island-buck. Again, a kayak was used to get in and out of this hunting location

By using kayaks, we were able to access land that was not readily available to most hunters. This strategy not only gets one away from other hunters, but it also can lead right into deer sanctuaries.

Please click the media player at the top of the page to listen to a Roots, Game, and Trail podcast. In this podcast, Dan and I recall memorable hunts where we utilized our kayaks to get the jump on some nice PA bucks on public land.