Photo courtesy of Eric Bruce.
When most people envision big-game hunting, images of distant, remote wilderness lands come to mind. But whitetail deer can be found almost anywhere.
Almost two-thirds of the United States and Mexico and Canada have healthy whitetail populations. The adaptable ruminants can live virtually anywhere, including urban areas nestled within crowded cities.
Cities and human populations are growing across the South, which translates into more woods being cleared and converted in strip malls and subdivisions. Whitetail habitat is being destroyed in the process, and that squeezes them into increasingly smaller areas.
This causes many deer to resort to raiding gardens and flowerbeds. While most folks enjoy seeing the occasional deer in suburbia, the whitetails aren’t so cute when the creatures start eating shrubbery and running in front of cars.
Whitetail deer populations have exploded in many urban areas. Rare sightings have turned into a routine occurrence. While that’s a problem for motorists and gardeners, it can be a fantastic opportunity for urban deer hunters.
White-tailed deer can live almost anywhere. They can adjust to life in mountain woodlands, Southern swamps, and open farmland. But the most amazing of the locales that they call home are often in urban neighborhoods.
The reason for whitetails’ versatility lies in their ability to eat so many foods, to hide in virtually any cover and to tolerate the close presence of humans. They basically need just two things in order to live: food and cover. Deer are likely to be living wherever those ingredients are present.
That’s why a 10-acre woodlot behind a shopping mall, a stream corridor through a subdivision, or a swamp beside an urban highway can provide sufficient deer habitat.
One of the major obstacles to hunting urban deer is safety. For obvious reasons, it’s not a good idea to fire high-powered rifles around houses and other buildings. The sound alone will cause the neighbors to call the police in terror, and an errant bullet could cause a catastrophe.
That’s why bowhunting with compound or recurve bows or crossbows is the best tool for managing urban deer herds. A well-placed arrow tipped with a broadhead is a lethal instrument for bagging a deer, and is much quieter and safer in urban settings than a rifle.
Most bowshots are from tree stands down to a target within 20 yards. An arrow straying a long distance to where it should not go is highly unlikely, and neighbors are probably never going to know that you’ve released one. Most state game departments and local municipalities allow bowhunting in urban areas, seeing it as the most practical method for controlling city deer populations.
Speaking of urban deer herds, wildlife biologist Vic VanSant said, “We keep the season open a long time and its either-sex all season. We want to keep the population as low as possible because of the conflict.”
Having picked your hunting method, the next task is locating land and getting the landowners permission to hunt. The first part is easiest. Look for thick creek and river corridors, or any patches of woods that could hold a deer. Even a 5-acre tract may have a deer or two in it.
If a house is nearby, start there by talking to the resident about who owns the property. If they don’t own it, they may know who does. Make sure to be polite and presentable when asking.
Many county governments now have Web sites that can be used to track down landowners. If not, a trip to the courthouse may be needed to locate the landowner.
When scouting urban properties, look for cover and food sources Whitetails need some thick protective vegetation in which to hide and bed, as well as food to eat. Regarding the latter, look for oaks, honeysuckle, greenbrier, dogwoods, and forms of soft mast. Setting up ambush sites near a garden that the deer have been raiding is also a proven tactic.
The other feature to scout for is travel corridors. With only small wooded areas, deer moving between patches are limited in their options. Their movements will be restricted to places that offer some type of cover as they move from one to another. Keying on these whitetail highways is an excellent strategy for finding a buck on the move.
Not only can excellent hunting be found in urban areas, but there is also a decent chance at a trophy buck. With no rifle hunting in most areas and fewer hunters hounding the bucks, many of the animals have a better than average chance to live a few years longer and grow a big rack.
Myles Montgomery is a veteran suburban deer hunter who sets up on travel corridors. “With subdivisions all around, this limits the travel routes that these deer use. It takes patience in knowing that sooner or later a big buck will come through,” he advised.
Late last season Montgomery knew that a big buck was around one suburban tract, because he had some trail camera photos and had even seen the buck once at dusk.
“A nice 6-pointer stepped out first, but I decide to let him go. Ten minutes later the 10-pointer came out,” Montgomery recounted.
Montgomery used an Excalibur crossbow to harvest the whitetail, which featured a 140-class rack with a 20-inch inside spread. In fact, his father-in-law Roy Heard had bagged a 120-class 9-pointer from the same suburban stretch of woods just a month earlier!
Opportunity to hunt can be great in some areas. In most states, archery seasons span most of the hunting months. Also, since many of us already live in the suburban areas, scheduling a quick hunt before or after work hours is a possibility. Sitting on a deer stand for the last hour of the day can be one of the most productive ways of unwinding and bagging a deer. For the bowhunter who has a woodlot to hunt near house, this provides a golden opportunity to arrow a whitetail without driving for hours or being away from home the whole weekend.
Not only is there ample time, but most archery seasons also allow either-sex hunting, so any deer coming by your stand will represent an opportunity for harvesting some venison. Game departments almost univ
ersally want hunters to take does in order to control the herd; in urban areas, this is an even more important imperative.
While these city deer are accustomed to people and are used to hearing cars, kids, and dogs, don’t think that they’re total cinches to shoot. They’re still wild, and by nature very cautious. The mature bucks travel mainly at night, and being positioned upwind of an urban whitetail’s nose will still result in a white flag bounding away.
But by hunting food sources and narrow travel corridors between human habitats, the city archer stands a good chance of seeing and getting a shot at an urbanized deer if he puts his time in.