The deer living practically within the city limits of some of Oklahoma's biggest municipalities may be the perfect candidates for a late-season bowhunt. (December 2005)
Photo by Ron Sinfelt
Many people who live in bigger cities don't notice, but there is wildlife all around. Oh, we see the squirrels and the songbirds because they're almost unavoidable.
But there are foxes, raccoons, coyotes, bobcats, rabbits, skunks, possums and Lord knows what else living in our ditches and creekbeds and undeveloped city lands.
Turkeys and deer are no strangers to urban environments, either.
I live in a Tulsa suburb, completely surrounded by Tulsa and other suburbs. In the 20-plus years I've lived in my house, I've watched as acres and acres of woods and pastures have been turned into subdivisions, churches, retail businesses and other habitat-consuming developments.
Yet from my porch I can still hear quail whistling and coyotes yipping, as well as ducks and geese as they fly from one neighborhood park pond to another. And yesterday, when I decided to go for a walk along a creek that flows through my town, I jumped three healthy-looking deer from their beds.
I see the animals killed regularly in deer/vehicle collisions along the roads that I drive toward downtown Tulsa, where I work, each morning.
A few years ago, when I worked for the Oklahoma Department of Wildlife Conservation overseeing its Tulsa office, we fielded many calls about deer being killed on urban roads, about deer eating ornamental plantings in suburban yards and about deer in city parks.
We could always tell when the rutting season rolled around, too, even without setting foot in the woods. That's because, in late October and early November, we would get daily calls about deer, with an unusual number of bucks included. The bucks were being killed on the highways and arterial streets of Tulsa and its surrounding suburbs.
Each year there are hunters, especially bowhunters, who bag their deer within the city limits of Tulsa or Oklahoma City or neighboring towns. Hunting with firearms is either prohibited or very limited in most incorporated cities and towns in Oklahoma. Many larger cities even make discharging firearms illegal unless you're on the grounds of a trap or skeet club or an established shooting range.
But many cities allow archery hunting within their boundaries. Therefore, many urban-area bowhunters fill their deer tags each year by hunting close to home, often within earshot of rush-hour traffic and within sight of streets and skyscrapers.
I have one friend who fills all of his archery tags, and usually fills both of his muzzleloader and modern firearms seasons tags using a bow as well, by hunting exclusively in the Tulsa urban area. I can't say too much about his hunting spots without giving away the exact location, but suffice it to say it's a high-traffic area with lots of industrial and manufacturing facilities around and lots of truck traffic to serve those businesses. The local deer seem unfazed by all of the human activity that surrounds them.
Deer are amazingly adaptive creatures. They often adapt to surroundings that would drive humans away. Years ago when I was in the Army and stationed at Fort Sill in southwestern Oklahoma, I spent as much of my free time as I could roaming the vast post, which is the Army's headquarters for artillery training. The post includes many square miles of land on which cannons of all sizes are fired almost daily. The artillery ranges are pocked with craters where thousands of rounds of high explosive and incendiary artillery rounds have landed or exploded for many decades.
Deer roam the ranges and even bed down in the craters. I've watched deer, both bedded and feeding, going calmly about their day, even as exploding ordnance pummeled the earth and rent the air.
I don't know if any deer there have actually been hit by artillery rounds. The point is that deer get used to noise and activity and take it in stride.
Yet if a hunter walks by a few yards upwind or is seen entering the woods, those deer at Fort Sill will act just as skittish as deer in the wilds of Oklahoma's remotest areas. They get accustomed to human activity that doesn't seem to be directed at them, but they're still wild animals and are wary of humans approaching them on foot or prowling too close to their bedding and feeding areas.
Urban deer are much the same. They may get used to having humans in their proximity, and they get used to the sights and sounds of traffic and other human activity, but they still don't want humans to come too close.
Access to urban-area hunting lands can be even more difficult to get than access to rural lands. And there is usually a great demand. Hunters who have permission to hunt a tract of "urban wilderness" usually try to keep quiet about it. Their buddies who must drive 50 or 100 miles to their hunting spots and who may be confined to hunting just on weekends are often jealous of those who can hunt near home or work and therefore may be able to hunt just about any day of the season.
I have one friend who is an experienced beaver trapper. He removes nuisance beavers from properties, not for cash but for hunting privileges on the property. His skill has provided him with access to a couple of the best hunting spots to be had in the Tulsa urban area. I've known of law enforcement officers who provided anti-trespassing services in exchange for hunting rights on land close to town. I have another acquaintance who has a tractor and a brush hog. He mows part of some undeveloped property bordering a highway on the outskirts of Tulsa in exchange for bowhunting rights on the wooded, bottomland portion of the property.
My point is that sometimes you must be creative in gaining access to huntable tracts of land in urban areas. Sometimes, some kinds of barter work better than offering money.
However, I would recommend trying to get exclusive access to the land where you want to hunt.
There are publicly owned tracts of undeveloped land in many areas, but if hunting is permitted there, the lands usually get overrun with hunters who don't accomplish much more than interfering with one another. Of course, that's not much different from the situation at some of the public lands in rural areas, where it seems there's a hunter perched in every tree on opening morning of archery season.
In other states, stretching from New York to Kansas, some communities have taken a proactive position, developing urban deer hunting programs that help put toge
ther property owners who have deer problems with hunters who are seeking a chance to kill a deer close to home. In almost all cases I know of, regulations limit hunting to archery hunting only. In some cities, there are regulations dictating that hunting must be done from tree stands. Another stipulation I've seen in the regulations from at least two cities is that all shots must be taken in such a manner that an arrow will not travel past the boundaries of the property line when released.
I don't know of any Oklahoma cities that have taken such proactive steps, but many still allow archery hunting within their boundaries, so long as state regulations are followed.
Both Tulsa and Oklahoma City prohibit hunting in their city parks. Police officers, security officers and state game wardens have all been summoned to chase bowhunters out of parks in both cities in the past.
Tulsa's Mohawk Park, which includes hundreds of acres of forests and is abutted by hundreds of acres of undeveloped agricultural land, has a resident herd of whitetails that has, at times, included some pretty impressive bucks. Some hunters hunt the adjacent properties, but some have also been arrested for hunting in the park.
You don't need to prowl the parks in order to find deer in urban areas. As I sit here, I can think of at least nine areas within the city limits of Tulsa where I know of resident deer herds. That's not counting suburban communities, but only in Tulsa proper.
There have been trophy-quality bucks killed in Oklahoma County, where most of Oklahoma City is located. The one I remember best was taken by bowhunter Chris Foutz of Edmond. It was the Sooner State's highest-scoring typical whitetail at the time it was taken in the early 1990s. It still ranks No. 3 among Oklahoma typicals. It was a 16-pointer that measured 179 6/8.
That trophy buck was also a late-season archery kill. Foutz took it just a couple of days before Christmas.
This is a good time of year to bowhunt, and it may be even better in urban areas at this time than in the early weeks of the season back in the warm weeks of October. Most of Oklahoma's legion of deer hunters pretty much hang up their guns and bows before the end of firearms season, which is in late November, spilling over a few days into December each year. So anyone hunting in December may have less interference and see less human traffic in the woods than they might have earlier in the fall.
Urban deer hunting is a possibility in Oklahoma. I don't mean to suggest that there is room for everyone who wants to hunt within the city limits of the state's biggest cities. But there is more room than you might think.
And Oklahoma's December weather -- most years, anyway -- is usually mild enough to allow hunters some enjoyable days afield. As long as you've got some good longjohns and some layered clothing, you can probably sit comfortably in a deer stand with a bow in your hands on all but a few of the coldest days in December.
But icy winter weather can strike at any time, so always pay attention to the forecast, especially if precipitation is a possibility. Getting trapped by rising water or impassable muddy roads is an inconvenience anytime. It can be a serious threat in the wintertime.
It's not a bad idea to carry a cellphone, too, in case help is needed. I always thought I'd be the last person I knew to carry a cellphone in the woods, but I usually have mine tucked away in a pocket when I'm hunting these days. It may be turned off while I'm actually hunting, but it's there in case I need it.
And in urban areas, cellular phone signals are almost always available. That's not true everywhere, of course. There are still many areas of Oklahoma where virtually no cellphone providers have service. The area I hunt in western Osage County is that way. You can find a couple of spots where, standing on a hilltop, you can get a faint "one-bar" signal that fades in and out, but that's about it. And there are many areas in southeastern Oklahoma where cellphone signals don't reach the valleys between mountains.
One thing urban hunters should be aware of is that there may be people around who either oppose hunting for some reason or another or have neutral feelings about hunting. They may be very shocked or offended by the sight of a dead or bloody or gutted deer being dragged from the woods and loaded into a vehicle.
Flaunting your kill in urban areas where passing motorists or busloads of school kids might see it is probably not a good idea. That's the kind of action that can result in total bans on hunting in urban areas.
And please, please don't tie your dead deer on the hood or trunk or other visible spot when you haul it to the check station or to the meat processor or to your home. I've been a hunter all my life, and even I don't particularly like seeing deer being hauled around in that manner.
A few years ago, I was waiting in line at a deer check station. It was midmorning on opening day, and everyone who had gotten lucky on opening morning was in town to check in their bucks. The check station was located right on the main thoroughfare of the town, which is in the heart of a popular hunting area. A steady stream of cars carrying "civilians" -- non-hunters just going about their Saturday morning business in town -- passed by the check station and stopped or rolled past slowly as occupants ogled whichever deer was being hoisted onto the scales at that moment.
There was quite a crowd gathered when a white sedan covered in blood came rolling up Main Street. A buck was tied on top of the trunk of the white car. A rope that passed through the rear windows of the sedan secured the buck on top of the trunk and up against the rear window. Red blood coated the white trunk lid and ran in rivulets down the rear fenders of the car. Blood was also smeared all around the rear window glass. It was a gory scene.
I looked around and saw women and children with shocked looks on their faces. Even hunters standing in line were whispering to each other about the repulsive picture this hunter presented.
I happened to know the hunter's identity because he was a neighbor of a friend of mine in that town. And I know he also owned a pickup truck and that the truck was in working order. Why he chose to strap the bloody carcass on top of a white car to parade down Main Street, instead of bringing it in the bed of his truck, is beyond me. But I remember that several people were offended. I even heard people talking about it at a café a couple of hours later. People even hinted that maybe that hunter, a longtime resident of the town, was just a little bit crazy.
The folks who ran the store that operated the deer check station said they got several complaint calls and comments from customers over the next day or two. They said they rarely got any kind of anti-hunting comments from customers about the check station but that a
couple of customers suggested that, after the bloody car rolled down Main Street, maybe it was time to move the check station to the outskirts of town.
And that was in a town filled with hunters and where the motels and restaurants fill up with hunters throughout blackpowder and rifle seasons each fall. Imagine what the reaction would have been had the hunter driven his bloody car through the streets and expressways of Oklahoma City or Tulsa en route to a check station.
Urban deer hunting is a possibility in Oklahoma. I don't mean to suggest that there is room for everyone who wants to hunt within the city limits of the state's biggest cities. But there is more room than you might think. It just takes a little searching to find it, and maybe a little creative bargaining to get permission to hunt it.
But if you can get a spot to hunt that's close to home or work, it can enable you to hunt many days you couldn't hunt if you had to pack up and drive for an hour or two to a rural spot. In short, it can be well worth the effort.