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.
Over his years of chasing whitetails, A.J. Downs of Conroe, Texas, has taken a number of big bucks with his bow. But none of the other mounts in his trophy room can match the size, or the meaning, of the freak whitetail that fell to his arrow shortly after daylight on opening day of the 2012 archery season.
Thirty-five years of bowhunting have taught Bill Ullrich a few things about chasing whitetails.
Several seasons ago, Bill had made up his mind to take off work early to spend an afternoon in the woods, and he knew exactly which tree he was headed for that afternoon. He was almost to the tree when something told him he needed to turn around and, instead, opt for a tried and true setup he had long-ago named the 'œgood luck tree.'
One hour and ten minutes later, he realized that was the best decision he had ever made, as he watched his arrow bury to the nock in the largest whitetail buck he had ever shot at.
Bill Winke has earned himself a spot as one of the best Midwestern whitetail hunters of all time with this massive double G4 Iowa giant.
The huge Iowa non-typical Bo Russell took is testimony to the rewards of smart scouting and hard work. Not to mention being adaptable enough to overcome some outside interference — including a crew of archeologists!
Russell\'s giant had a gross score of 246 4/8 inches and a net of 231 4/8. That made him the second-largest bow kill entered from the 2012 season.
After many years of chasing the same buck and coming up empty, Brian Hollands\' luck finally turned around. On a fateful morning two seasons ago, Hollands not only found a lost little girl wandering the back roads of Missouri, he also found the buck of a lifetime.
Brian Herron fought numerous obstacles and setbacks to eventually bag this 184-inch bruiser.
The 16-point Daigle buck, scored by Boone & Crockett measurer Lonnie Desmarias, grossed a whopping 197 0/8 inches gross and netted 191 0/8 inches as a non-typical, breaking the existing Massachusetts state record by seven inches, according to the Northeast Big Buck Club records.
In 2009, Dean Partridge started having encounters and getting trail camera photos of a small 4Ã—4 whose back tines were a little bladed. There was nothing out of the ordinary at the time, so Partridge and crew carried on filming that fall and finished off the season. The next summer, he was back in the woods, checking to see which bucks had made it through the harsh winter. And much to his surprise, the buck that seemed ordinary had grown into an extraordinary buck with a large droptine that he aptly named "Droppy."
You need only skim the pages of the record books to understand why the majority of hunters pick the November rut as the prime time to hunt giant whitetails. Mature bucks are never a pushover, but they are more vulnerable when their nose is glued to the ground trailing an estrus doe. Fred Swihart proved, however, that you can have success outside the rut — sometimes it\'s just a matter of persistence.
Whitetail fate played its hand for Arkansas'™ Shane Frost in the big-timbered, fertile ground of the Black River Bottoms in Clay County. The ancient oaks and sloughs, in all their years, had likely never witnessed a more epic bowhunting scene, which ended with a 216-inch trophy on Frost\'s wall.
Garry Greenwalt teamed up with North American Whitetail\'s Gordon Whittington to kill this amazing Washington buck, known to Greenwalt as "The Ghost." Greenwalt spent a good deal of time tracking down the amazing 172-inch Washington giant, but it was all worth it.
It was mid-afternoon on Nov. 13, 2009, and Gary Morris of Winslow, Ark., was heading south out of Iowa. Driven by a haze of internal frustration, he was headed back to Arkansas six days early. The last three years of planning, anticipation and excitement for his Midwestern hunt had been stolen by an encounter with a 170-inch behemoth buck and a blown 12-yard 'œchip-shot.' After his miss, Morris thought about giving up bowhunting altogether. But it\'s a good thing he didn\'t.
With the help of her husband, Kevin, Ohio resident Lindsay Groom scouted this buck for two weeks before coming across its path again. Lindsay shot the buck with her crossbow at about 10 yards, but was unable to locate the buck.
After watching the kill shot again on film, the couple decided to track it the next morning, finding the deer just 30 yards away from where they stopped looking the night before.
Jeff Iverson hunted this particular buck for three seasons. In 2010, when the buck was a six-by-six typical, he missed a shot at it with his bow but Iverson\'s persistence eventually paid off.
On Nov. 14, 2012, the wind was right for hunting, and Jason decided to sit all day. At about 7:30 a.m., he heard chasing over the steep hill in front of him. Then a doe came running up the hill and went past him. Jason could hear grunting from the cedars below. It was the buck he had named "Cyclops."
With the buck at only 70 yards, Jason cranked up his scope and looked at the buck closely. Immediately he saw the glassy eye, and he knew Cyclops was his. It was a chip shot for his accurate .270 Win. After the shot, the huge buck only went about 75 yards before he crashed.
After years of hunting other people'™s property, Schmeidler finally got his own in 2010, when he purchased a 750-acre property consisting of river bottom cover and cropland. He immediately planted multiple food plots, his favorite being milo, and two seasons later, nine straight days of hard, smart hunting gave Schmeidler his trophy.
Despite one of the worst droughts in history, in July 2012 Jim Cogar'™s expectations for deer season in central Ohio were as high as ever. Trail cameras were set, mineral sites were established, and other attractants were strategically placed throughout the farm.
After discovering a giant on his trail camera, that he aptly dubbed Conan, Cogar set out on a mission to bag Conan before the end of the season.
It was Super Bowl Sunday before the opportunity presented itself to Cogar. As Conan led two young bucks down a hill, a distraction opened the door for Cogar to bag his buck of a lifetime.
Joshua Earp\'s Georgia giant scored 187 inches green, weighing in at 235 pounds, and was a great October surprise.
'œI'™ve hunted 25 years for this," Earp said. "I give all thanks to God and my father for teaching me and introducing me to this sport I'™m addicted to.'
Lucas Cochren killed an amazing 238-inch Kansas trophy, but it all started with a blood trail gone cold. Fortunately, Cochren stuck to it and bagged the trophy of his lifetime.
Mike Moran\'s Saskatchewan buck was a dream come true for the hunter who\'d spent 27 years looking for a deer of that quality. He finally got his wish one Thanksgiving day, an experience he won\'t forget.
Payton Mireles, age 10, of Indiana, with her first buck: a 154-inch bruiser.
Having two years of history with this particular buck, Rhett Butler was able to track where he had taken pictures of "Hercules." The deer seemed to be ranging over 1-1.5 square miles revolving around a 100-acre alfalfa field.
When the buck stepped out, Rhett put the crosshairs onto the buck'™s left shoulder and squeezed the trigger of his Winchester .270 bolt action. At the crack of the rifle the buck dropped in his tracks and never even kicked. The hunt for Hercules was over.
Killing the buck that had come to be known to the Taylors as 'œBig Daddy' was Robert'™s primary focus in the fall of 2012. He arranged his work schedule so he could be in a deer blind most mornings and afternoons during the waning weeks of the season.
After a sleepless night and an unsuccessful afternoon tracking a blood trail, Ryan Dietsch was sure he\'d squandered the opportunity of a lifetime. He and friends went back to track the deer he thought he\'d hit, but couldn\'t find so much as a drop of blood. His luck all changed, however, and the rest — along with his 219-inch trophy — is history.
Stanley Suda with his Southern Ohio buck, estimated between 235 and 240 inches.
"The shot was perfect," he said. "I watched my dream buck run across the field and pile-up about 20 yards inside the wood line. This was definitely my finest moment in the treestand.'