Unbeknownst to me, I had slowed the truck to a crawl as I surveyed the thick urban wood lot. Suffice to say, the car behind me didn’t appreciate it.
The greenbelt sat behind a gas station and next to a small pocket neighborhood. I had caught a glimpse of a familiar resident… It was “Shaggy,” a disheveled old buck that still donned his velvet on the early December day.
But it wasn’t his set of antlers that justified his nickname, rather his mangy and matted coat. Shaggy always had a bad hair day – at least for the last couple of years. He wasn’t seen often, but this section was his core bedding area and the number of fender benders I almost caused here were too many to count.
Urban and Suburban Deer: A growing segment of the whitetail population
Urban and Suburban deer have been multiplying around the country for years. Even though hunting them is illegal in my hometown of Austin, Texas, deer nerds like me are always on the lookout for them. In fact, during the pre-rut and rut, I see an amazing number of shooter bucks within a four-block radius of my house alone. The untouchables I call them.
I’ve learned every wooded and semi-wooded area in my part of town and survey them regularly. I’ve also discovered various bedding areas, funnels, and trails in this mostly concrete jungle.
I’m told I need to get a life, but I’m okay with that.
I have a friend (who will remain nameless) that has long since been known for his bow hunting escapades in suburban Austin. A commercial real estate professional, he’s never had a shortage of unoccupied greenbelt sections to visit with his bow in hand. He was once known for his common strategy of putting on camo over his dress clothes for impromptu bow sits.
I’m not a proponent of law-breaking but have to admit that I loved his stories. Plus, much of Austin is mired in a massive overpopulation of whitetails. Some areas are so crowded with deer that many live an unhealthy existence.
For me, this softened my friend’s violation. Conservation and herd management indeed.
Urban Deer Hunting | Tougher Than You Think
Suburban deer hunting presents unique challenges. I get a kick out of the common misconception that these deer are tame and, hence are easy to hunt. Consequently, the idea has been cultivated that all deer are easy to hunt and it’s not hunting at all. This mindset largely comes from some of the city dwellers that encounter them (many of them of course, anti-hunters).
When it comes to bucks (especially mature ones), this couldn’t be further from the truth.
How do they hide in plain sight?
I’m still astounded by the random sightings of huge bucks in my neighborhood; often seemingly new ones. On many occasions, I’ve sat in my truck dumbfounded asking myself, where has this buck been all this time?
Sure, there are the deer groups often seen on manicured lawns. However, it’s not always the case, especially with mature bucks.
Despite living amid constant human activity, urban deer no doubt have people patterned. It has much to do with familiarity and hunting them is another matter altogether.
Just like in rural settings, changes in human activity promptly throws a wrench in whitetail tendencies.
“It will truly give you a new appreciation for what a deer will tolerate in its daily life. And, how quickly when one small thing steps out of that “normal” routine, a deer will take notice and alter its behavior in order to figure out what’s going on,” says Taylor Chamberlin of the Urban Deer Complex 2.0.
Tyler and his outfit tenaciously study and pursue the urban whitetail in the Washington, D.C. area – another region that houses an exorbitant number of deer.
If Urban Hunting is legal where you live, grab the stick and string
Currently, there are many successful urban and suburban deer hunters around the country in areas where it’s legal to bow hunt them. In fact, suburban bow hunting now represents a popular niche in the outdoor industry, social media, and outdoor culture, and it should come as no surprise.
The ability to live in a setting full of consistent human activity adds more proof to the resiliency of the whitetail deer.
It’s astonishing the number of trophy class bucks that are taken a stone’s throw from playscapes, soccer practices, and strip centers. If you pay attention to hunting-related social media and other channels, you will no doubt hear stories about huge bucks taken within, if not near city limits.
“Our goal is to show people that adventure is not constrained to wild remote places and that hunting is not defined by big woods and rural parts of the country,” said Ellis. He continued, “If you look hard enough, adventure can be found in the most unexpected places and can become part of your everyday life like it has for us”.
Suburban Hunting Tips
Deer hunting within and near cities and towns isn’t easy and takes work.
First, it’s difficult to get hunting permission and requires persistence. Be prepared to ask and ask again. Your odds are greatly increased if you can procure permissions on contiguous sections.
When hunting and scouting, it’s important to locate the areas with the best cover and better yet, their associated pinch-points. Think low impact. Drive the roadways and be willing to glass from both roadsides and parking lots before you ever attempt to set up a blind or deer stand. Deer are much more used to vehicles in these settings.
If they exist in or within the city limits, examine fields from a distance (especially agriculture). Finally, keep your ears open. Much like in the country, the rumor mill is powerful. This is a good way to get info on good area bucks.
Leveraging Suburban Deer Intel for Rural Hunting Success
Finally, use suburban deer behavior (and hunting) to your advantage. It can be beneficial to your more remote hunting pursuits.
Urban and suburban deer hunting provides an opportunity to study deer behavior without heading to the ranch, lease or public hunting area. I’ve often said that my neighborhood is my classroom with lessons and experiences at the ready. As a whitetail hunter and enthusiast, it’s a gift. Simply observe and you’ll become a more proficient and educated hunter.
While there are differences in hunting near the city limits vs. more remote grounds, there are similarities as well. I’ve found that monitoring deer behavior in mine and other Austin neighborhoods has helped my rural hunting immensely.
On numerous occasions, I’ve seen first-hand the beginning of the rut in my ‘hood – heck sometimes even in my cul-de-sac. The year 2018 was no different. It had an earlier rut period than in previous years. I woke one early November day to find that the switch had indeed been flipped. Many amorous, persistent and committed bucks were on their feet. This deer hunting geek was stoked.
It didn’t take
me long to pack the truck and drive the two hours to our family farm to take
advantage of the opportunity. And it paid off. Yes, all those reports
predicting an early rut were true and I had first-hand proof – and time to
strike. Game on.
Hunting in urban settings also presents an opportunity to practice analyzing deer sign, trails, and calling skills – and become a better hunter.
Finally, there are other benefits of hunting in urban areas, including herd management, recreation, and positive economic impact on local communities. From an outdoor tradition, legacy, and conservation standpoint it also widens hunting’s (particularly bow hunting’s) reach and footprint.
Though I won’t hold my breath, I hope to be able to bow hunt whitetails in the greater Austin area someday. In the meantime, I’ll continue to be entertained and educated by them.
On the other hand, if you live in an urban or suburban area where it’s legal, do your research and get after it. You may be surprised by what you find.
One of the most common questions many hunters ask is, “what shell do you recommend for (insert gun) with (insert choke)? Without hesitation, the most immediate follow-up question usually results in, “What do you define as best?”
To us, the perfect shotgun setup is a result of the ultimate satisfaction and confidence when you pull the trigger. The “Best” setup then, more often than not, is a result of personal preference.
Since there are so many factors in determining what shotgun setup to go with, we’ll dive into a couple that allow you to develop some thought and help guide your decision for your next hunting season or day in the field.
#1: What are you going to use this shotgun for?
While many customers call already owning the shotgun they intend to use, they often can also be in the market for a new one as well, possibly even in a different gauge.
The first question we might pose is, “what do you intend to use this gun for the most?”
For example, when hunting waterfowl, semi-automatics are the most commonly used. Occupying the most weight, these guns rely on either gas or recoil driven systems to cycle the shells, allowing the shooter to stay more focused on the target, thus reducing the need to cycle the next shell.
When it comes to turkey hunting, it could be argued that the most prominent shotgun is a true pump-action. Given the reduction in weight, these guns also provide a level of reliability that semi-automatics cannot provide.
In upland hunting, over/under or semi-automatic shotguns are king and its no coincidence these are favorites, as hunters can switch barrels and utilize multiple chokes at once for selected ranges.
After you have selected your style of gun, you’re undoubtedly going to want to settle in on a gauge.
With gauge selection comes a choice in payload, recoil, weight and lastly range. Most smaller gauges tend to have smaller frames.
For larger type people, a bigger gauge may feel more comfortable, as it has added size and length of pull.
Smaller-framed individuals, or people looking for less recoil, may opt for a sub-gauge gun such as a 20, 28 or even a 410 bore. These gauges offer less weight, recoil and ease of maneuvering. A smaller gauge may also provide an additional level of challenge.
Whatever the situation, premium performance and effectiveness are available to all outdoor enthusiasts.
#3: Choosing the right shell for your shotgun setup
With your next shotgun in hand, what shells do you intend to use?
With such advancements in technology and metallurgy, there are vast amounts of lengths, payloads and shot materials to choose. The most widely used shot materials are often steel for non-toxic and lead (where allowed) due to their mass availability and affordability.
Large pellets hit with a magnitude of force. However, they usually lose pattern counts at extended ranges. To make up for this, smaller shot sizes are used. But, the setback here is that these smaller pellets lose vast amounts of energy, thus decreasing their range regardless of pattern count.
To combat decreasing range, increasing the density of the shot material increases the mass of the pellet. This results in saturated, hard-hitting and efficient killing patterns, resulting in more success and less cripples.
With the recent rise in tungsten based alloys, a new pinnacle in the shotshell community known as, “Tungsten Super Shot” yields the maximum in pattern efficiency at a multitude of ranges.
Referring back to our most commonly received question, many customers ask us what shell works best for their previous setup. A choke, aftermarket or not, is merely an additional forcing cone to optimize pattern efficiency.
In short, your choke should complement your gun and cartridge, not the other way around. The best aftermarket chokes cannot allow the shell to optimally perform if they are chosen incorrectly.
First and foremost, it is the utmost importance to consult the ammunition and choke manufacturer you are considering for both their recommendations and any safety warnings.
Chokes that are not designed to handle heavier-than-lead-type products, or over-constriction, could result in severe damage to the gun or even injury to the shooter.
Tighter constriction doesn’t always mean tighter patterns. In fact, it can result in an inconsistent blown core pattern that leaves it looking “splotchy.”
When selecting the right choke, consider the make and gauge of your gun. The backbore of your shotgun, coupled with shot material, payload and shot size, will ultimately dictate which choke is right for your setup as it will ultimately culminate in your desired best pattern.
#5: The final touches
Your shotgun setup is almost complete. But, there are a few accessories and modifications you can add to increase your comfort and performance.
A reflex sight, which is most commonly referred to as a “Red Dot,” is a great addition that can improve your accuracy, and ensure that your point-of-impact/point-of-aim is true. It can also provide ergonomic relief to your neck and eyesight.
In short, if your sight is dialed in, the gun will hit what it points at.
You can also improve your setup by lengthening the forcing cone of your shotgun. This results in a smoother transition as the pellets travel down the barrel, reducing stray pellets or, “fliers.”
Lastly, if you desire to provide the ultimate level of protection for your setup, there are options like Cerakote that virtually eliminate the wear and tear from the elements that allow you to prolong your investment.
Choosing your best setup is the result of what you want to achieve. As it has been said before, “beauty is in the eye of the beholder.” In this case, perfection is just what you envision it to be.
As outdoorsmen and women, and conservationists, we all strive to achieve the most lethal and efficient method of take. After all the effort we put in to become successful, our equipment should be at the forefront of our mind and we should accept zero compromise in their performance.
Remember, with any setup, practice and patterning are critical to fine tuning your outcome. Maximum confidence in your abilities and equipment will ultimately lead to most memorable hunts you will ever experience.
I grew up in an era where box blinds were mainly built from scratch. Although there were a couple of companies manufacturing them, it was common to use any leftover lumber we had and buy the rest of what we needed to build them ourselves. I still consider it nostalgic to see old rotted blinds in distant fields.
Today, permanent hunting blinds, sometimes called “box blinds” or “shooting houses,” continue to be a fixture over much of the American landscape. They’re now made for both rifle and bow hunting and provide not only concealment, but protection from the elements.
Whether factory fabricated, or old and rustic, permanent blinds still have their place in the deer woods.
Permanent Hunting Blind Placement… Why, Where, And When
Perhaps the best trait of permanent blinds over other types of deer stands, is the inherent comfort that comes in handy during extremely cold weather or all-day sits during the rut.
It’s important to carefully consider blind placement at a basic level. There is much more to it than simply locating them over feeders (where legal) and food plots.
First of all, short of the rut, large mature bucks don’t always visit these areas during shooting hours. So, with each prospective spot, ask the simple question, “what reasons do deer have to visit this area.” Asking this question is all the more crucial for bow hunting, where good blind placement can reward you with a short, quality shot.
The off-season is a great time to place new hunting blinds or relocate old ones. But, where should you put them?Whether sitting on the ground or perched on a platform, below are a few considerations for good permanent and semi-permanent blind placement.
With a little scouting, these sections aren’t hard to find. However, you should note that sometimes the bedding and feeding area aren’t necessarily on the same property. Either way, once discovered, you can set a permanent stand in the path of the daily migration of a group (or groups) of deer. These honey holes are valuable. Take time to find them. If it’s not evident during the season, make time for off-season scouting sessions in search of them.
Go to New Heights
Higher is better. When considering an area for blind placement, take a little time to look for the highest spot. Though not always noticeable at first, a spot that’s even 5-feet higher than its surroundings is desirable – especially for non-elevated blinds.
Why? Greater height means greater visibility!
Do you hunt on flat terrain? If so, still take time to assess the area. It’s uncanny how the slightest upward slopes are right under your nose. Unless the high spot has other undesirable traits, it’s a good initial alternative to consider.
Higher blind placement is better, because it gives you a greater field of vision over the terrain you’re hunting.
It’s no secret that whitetails prefer certain travel routes – often the path of least resistance. Any property frequented by deer will prove this. It’s really just a matter of finding these heavily traversed stretches. Here, a little time on the ground can yield valuable intel.
Check property lines, low creek crossings and the like. If you have deer, you can find their paths of choice.
As such, the more trails you can see from your stand, the better. If you place a stand in view of or close to an area where two or more trails converge, you’ve increased your chances for consistent deer sightings significantly.
These days, we hear a lot about funnels or “pinch points.” The term seems to be used quite loosely too. In its most basic sense, these are areas where deer movement is reduced to a smaller section or zone.
Examples are spots where two fields are separated by a narrow section of cover or a thin passage between a creek and woodlot. Permanent stands go well with good funnels because they continue to be dependable travel corridors into the future. Find such areas and you won’t be disappointed.
Cover Your Backside
It can be easy to feel invincible sitting inside a box. But, this is where many hunters, after doing a lot of things right, blow it.
Don’t get so comfortable that you fail to consider what that box looks like from a deer’s line of sight. I’m of course talking about the silhouetting effect, and it’s important to avoid it.
First, make sure that the back of the blind is dark and solid. For example, if there is a window behind you, cover it up. If the back wall is light in color, cover it with paint or cloth.
Box blinds are large and it’s pretty hard to make them vanish. However, in this hunter’s opinion, it’s always good to mask them as much as possible. So, be sure to place the blind against brush and timber, and if possible, just inside the edge of it.
With time, deer do get used to blinds, so, why not have them blend into your surroundings more naturally? This goes into the “why not stack the odds in your favor” category.
Inside Information | The View From Within An Elevated Blind
Other than avoiding being silhouetted, there are other considerations once your settled inside the blind.
If you’re inclined to leave any of the windows closed, practice the art of quietly opening and closing them. If rifle hunting, take time to practice the shots you may be inclined to take.
Likewise, for bow hunting, identify the angles in the blind that will be difficult or impossible to shoot from. This means determining the proper height of the shooting opening(s). Additionally, physically practice the possible draw angles that may materialize in the moment.
Finally, place your chair in the optimal position for the most likely shot angle. Determine these obstacles first before you’re suddenly staring into the eyes of a target buck, or maybe even the buck of a lifetime. Most of us know all too well how fast this can happen.
Locating and harvesting mature whitetail bucks isn’t easy and can take time. But, permanent stands positioned in a variety of logical locations will eventually pay dividends.
Because permanent hunting blinds are typically heavy and bulky, there is plenty of incentive to make placement decisions count. Let’s face it, these structures are not fun to move. So, use your off-season scouting sessions as an opportunity to find some of the areas mentioned above.
Sheltered and comfortable, permanent hunting blinds strategically situated in optimal areas can be productive mainstays on private hunting grounds.
And remember, if hunted smart, they are great scouting venues. Remember that no matter how attractive a given spot is, don’t hunt it at all costs. Be resolute and play the wind. In fact, make it a goal to place them in areas where they can be hunted with different prevailing winds.
Finally, shooting houses provide the perfect venue to share a hunt with a friend or family member right by your side – even in rainy, snowy, or windy conditions. Setting them in these high-percentage areas means action. A win-win.