Marginal, small, under-the-radar patches of habitat offering fantastic hunting and fishing opportunities exist across the continent. These places often go unnoticed, hidden in plain sight. Hunters and anglers usually gravitate toward large wilderness areas or big lakes and rivers, thinking there will be less competition and more game—or so the conventional wisdom goes.
Whitetails can get big living in overlooked, 10-acre wood lots. Small pivot corners often hide coveys of quail. It’s not uncommon for tiny farm ponds to hold huge bass. Places like these don’t look like much, but that’s exactly why they’re so good.
Seek, and you shall find
Marginal hunting and fishing locations occur in several situations. They can be so small most people don’t think it’s worth the time to check them out. They can require going through an arduous process to access them that deters most people. Sometimes they occur near urban areas or adjacent to other places not typically associated with hunting and fishing like mining operations, state prisons, military facilities, dumps, or industrial plants. Some of them exist due of a combination of these factors.
When I lived near Lake Ontario, I often fished near an industrial plant’s warmwater discharge. In the colder months it was a mecca for fish of all species, from walleye to brook trout. I never saw another boat because to get there, you had to make a long run through shallow water using just the trolling motor. A lot of folks also had the misconception that it was illegal to fish there. I called the plant and they told me as long as I didn’t venture within 100 feet of the discharge (which was clearly marked), it was all good. With a little research, a phone call, and the curiosity to check out a small piece of water, I found a honey hole.
Where there’s a will, there’s a way.
Access is a big part of identifying marginal hunting and fishing zones. While there is no replacement for on the ground scouting, you can accomplish a lot in front of a computer screen. Virtually wandering around your region with a mapping app like onXmaps is a great stuck-at-home activity with big rewards.
Look for patches of public lands along rivers or creeks that are surrounded by private land on all sides. In most states, it’s perfectly legal to access them from the water. Not many hunters are willing to use a canoe or kayak to check out a new spot. The same goes for long hikes. If you can piece together a string of checkerboarded, low-quality BLM chunks, you might find unpressured animals a few miles from the road. On the other side of the coin, I know of hunters who’ve found big success very close to large metropolitan area by seeking out such as the state-owned noise buffer woodlots along freeways or the stand of trees out behind the county wastewater treatment facility.