Urban Deer Hunting… The Entertaining, Challenging, and Useful Suburban Whitetail
-By Jerald Kopp
The abrupt honk startled me.
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.
“Shaggy” is just one of a growing population of whitetails in suburban areas around the country.
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.
Just because you might see them in the “wide open,” doesn’t mean suburban deer are easy to hunt.
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.
There is no better example of such success than Lee Ellis and Drew Carroll of Seek One Productions who has had incredible deer hunting success right in the suburbs of Atlanta. In fact, they’ve taken bucks of massive proportions – bona fide trophy class whitetails.
“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.
Even if hunting with a bow and arrow is allowed in your suburban area, be sure to still obtain the proper permissions before hunting whitetail.
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.
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.