Best Tips for Bowhunting Urban Deer
January 27, 2015
The expanded archery season had started weeks earlier but fine-tuning my bird dog for the upland season had taken up most of my spare time. For just the second time since the opener, I headed over to one of my urban bow stands. From this particular stand there is a major highway to my back, a retirement complex to my right, a subdivision to my left and a well-worn deer trail in front. This is the typical landscape bowhunters hoping to tag an urban deer come to embrace.
This kind of hunting is not about trophy hunting for big bucks, although there are plenty of racked bucks living in people's backyards. It's about managing an overpopulated deer herd and reaping the benefits with a freezer full of protein.
Typically songbirds and scolding red squirrels serenade bow hunters while they are perched 20 feet up in a tree. Here, it's the chatter of commuter traffic, lawn mowers, muffled conversations and the smell of burgers on the grill drifting in from the surrounding houses that entertain urban bow hunters. Setting yourself up for a successful urban hunt takes a different approach. Here are the ways to do that.
1. Know Why Deer Thrive in Urbanized Areas
To successfully hunt urban whitetails it helps to know why they thrive amongst developed areas so well. A century ago whitetail deer had been pretty much wiped out in most areas of the U.S. by uncontrolled hunting. Even as late as 1960, seeing a whitetail deer was reason for celebration. Through the 70's and 80's they rebounded and started showing up in suburbs and small towns. By the 1990's their population had exploded and with it the problems associated with an overpopulation of deer living too close to man: lyme disease, crop damage, home landscaping destroyed and vehicle collisions.
The fault was not in the deer, but in human sprawl. With sprawl came a less hunter-friendly attitude, which lead to an oasis for whitetail deer. Whitetails thrive in edge cover and you can't find much more edge than around hobby farms, subdivisions and second homes with acres of shrubbery and landscaped gardens. These conditions give whitetail deer a lush habitat with all they need — abundant food, protective covers and a lack of predators. When the area is closed to hunting, the lack of predators includes humans.
In many locations, however, this has also created a bit of a nirvana for bow hunters. Many municipalities that instituted no firearm discharge zones, and private property owners who posted their property, are chomping at the bit to tamp down all the deer. Many townships with a deer problem have organized special bow hunts and bow hunting clubs are often on call to cull problem deer herds.
Unfortunately some towns and cities choose to hire what amounts to assassins who sit in tree stands over bait piles, under the cloak of darkness and armed with rifles equipped with night vision scopes and silencers. It makes more sense for states to institute bow seasons in problem areas before the deer herd becomes out of control. Many do and bowhunters are lucky for it.
2. Gain Private Access to Key Properties
Getting permission can be as easy as a knock on a property owner's door and a succinct explanation of why you want to hunt their property and how you will go about it. You can offer to help with odd jobs around the grounds or keep an eye on seasonal homes and properties. These days, with society's increasing organic and locavore consciousness, an offer to share the free-range venison can often seal the deal.
There are still a few small farms in some urban areas. These are prime places to visit. Farmers are often anxious to be rid of the deer chowing down on their crops. It's not difficult to find what properties are holding deer, given that deer will move around freely (often in the middle of the day) in urban areas.
Driving around at dusk through neighborhoods and surrounding roads can provide a good gauge of deer numbers and movement. Look for tell-tale signs like deer fencing around homeowners gardens and shrubs. But nothing is better than just asking around town at the post office, general store or at work. People seem eager to talk about the deer they see.
3. Pattern the Predictable Urban Deer Travel Routes
Now that you have gained permission to hunt urban areas, you need to scout and decide where to set up ground blinds and tree stands. Home and property owners can often tell you when and where they are seeing deer. Regardless, the deer sign is often prolific. That's not to say you can be lackadaisical. Many hunters assume that wind and stand placement isn't as critical in urban areas since the deer are accustomed to humans and the smells associated with civilization. Not so. They know when danger is close, so wind is always the highest consideration and stands should be set accordingly.
Keeping hunting clothes clean and spraying down with scent eliminator is just as important for urban bow hunting. I set up trail cams in my urban bowhunting areas in the summer prior to the opener. This is when does are traveling about with their fawns. The bucks are less evident and their antlers are in velvet and still growing; only the circumference of their antler bases gives away their eventual size. This trail cam surveillance provides me with a good idea of how many deer are in the area and their travel routes. The big doe I shot this season (pictured below) was a deer I was familiar with. She had a distinct mark or wart under her left eye. She had twin fawns that were out of spots and plenty big enough to fend for themselves.
As opposed to large wooded and agricultural land hunting, where deer numbers and movement changes with weather, logging and food sources, urban deer are much more consistent and predictable year to year. If permission is granted, ladder stands that can stay in the same spot, sometimes for years, are often the best option. The ladder stand I use has produced deer for over 10 years.
You have to demonstrate finesse when erecting ladder stands, hang-ons and ground blinds in urban areas. They need to remain inconspicuous not only to the deer but to the landowner and their neighbors as well. It's not that urban bowhunters should be self-conscious, its just that many urban dwellers simply don't approve of hunting.
If the hunter is physically able to use one, a climber is also a good choice for urban whitetail hunting. This allows little if any disturbance to the area and leaves few signs a hunter was out and about.
That said, in some places ground blinds are often the only choice, and tent blinds or multiple naturally constructed blinds can be very effective as well.
4. Use Does to Find the Backyard Bucks
During the early bow seasons, I don't generally use any attracting scents. I do create mock scrapes and hang a wick soaked in pre orbital gland scent on a licking branch above the scrape and doe urine in the scrape. The bucks in the area visit these mock scrapes and I take an inventory using a trail camera. But I am concentrating on mature does since that's the point of deer management bow seasons.
I'll get after antlers in earnest later in the bow and gun seasons. I always have a bleat can call in my pocket and a grunt tube around my neck throughout the season. Does are particularly vulnerable to bleat calls during early fall. They have been keeping an eye on their offspring for months and are very protective and will readily come in to investigate a bleat sequence.
Everyone knows it's tough to hunt deer already in fields or open areas. If they aren't intercepted in the woods or upon exiting they instinctively stay away from the edges and out of bow range. Try doing distressed fawn bleating. Really hammer the calls out with emotion like a fawn is being torn apart by a coyote. I have arrowed does that simply could not resist looking for a fawn in distress.
I generally blind call every 15 minutes. If I see a deer, I will bleat, or grunt if it's a buck, and have reeled in deer from a considerable distances. Later in the season in late fall and early winter the old adage: "Find the does, find the bucks" applies 10-fold to urban whitetail bow hunting. The does and full-grown fawns you have pinpointed are still in the area and are going into estrus. The bucks that have been absent suddenly show up and are on the prowl. I still use the bleat call but compliment it with periodic grunts when hunting urban bucks.
5. Understand All Property Limitations Before the Shot
Urban whitetail bow hunting demands accurate shot placement. You are hunting in a claustrophobic environment, sometimes just yards from the edge of a lawn and within eyeshot of houses. The last thing you want is a wounded deer running around with an arrow sticking out of it.
For practice, nothing can replace launching arrows at a target under similar circumstances as an actual hunt. I have found many of my shots at urban whitetails tend to be within 10 yards, so by all means some of your practice should be at close ranges.
A deer will run even after the best broadside shot, yet rarely end up in someone's back yard. But sometimes a marginal or bad shot happens and a lengthy tracking job results.
This is problematic in urban whitetail bowhunting. A blood trail can lead off the property you are hunting and into areas where you don't have access — or, worse, into neighboring yards and developments. If this occurs it's time to clean up and knock on doors. Removing your camo and leaving the bow in the truck is a good idea when approaching a home or
landowner about resuming a tracking job on their land.
Neither my friends nor I have ever been turned away from continuing to track a wounded deer, and in a few cases, its actually given us access to new hunting areas as a result of interacting with owners of nearby properties.
6. Be Prepared to Quickly Remove Your Kill
At the end of a successful urban hunt, you'll have a deer on the ground. Depending on how visible the area is that you are hunting, you may want to remove the animal whole and field dress it at a more remote location. You don't want bloody drag marks or someone coming across a steaming gut pile (or a neighbor's pet dog taking a good long roll in it before heading home for the couch), any one of which could compromise your permission to hunt that area.
Removing or dragging a deer out should be done discretely and not when the neighborhood kids are out waiting for the bus. I keep a green tarp in my truck and wrapping a deer in the tarp for transport out to the street not only makes it easier to drag but more palatable to potential onlookers. I know other bowhunters that use a wheeled cart to get their urban deer quickly to the truck.
Whitetail deer hunting used to be associated with large tracks of forest and farmlands. These days, for the avid bowhunter, there is no better place to launch an arrow than someone's backyard.