Bowhunting Backyard Trophy Bucks
November 24, 2010
"You don't leave deer to go find deer, and I find more mature bucks in town than anywhere else."
I used to drive by deer like this to go find deer. No more! This Ohio suburban buck carries more than 170 inches of antler.
AT ONE TIME, I THOUGHT I had to drive as far as possible and end up a million miles from anything to hunt for big deer. I didn't want to see a person or hear a car. I wanted to be alone with my thoughts, a couple of squirrels and, with luck, a big whitetail. That was the only way to create the optimal hunting experience.
My thinking has changed dramatically. Now I don't mind barking dogs, screaming kids, or the sounds of traffic. In fact, I like the sounds of the ice cream truck when I'm hunting for big deer. That's because I don't hunt out in the country too much anymore; most of my efforts are focused in urban areas.
For most of my adult life, my quest for trophy bucks took me far from the city. However, every time I passed deer on my way out of town, I wondered, How is it that a 150, 160, 170-inch buck is standing in town, and I'm driving by that deer on my way to go find deer? My father always said, "You don't leave fish to go find fish," and the same applies to deer. You don't leave deer to go find deer, and I find more mature bucks in town than anywhere else.
The reasons are pretty simple: Whitetails have adapted to suburban sprawl. They thrive in backyards and city parks. They hide in any small patch of woods or brush and come out only at night to feed, cruise, and breed.
Many new housing developments, as in Michigan where I live, actually create excellent habitat for deer. When developers build 20 or 30 new houses, they always include green spaces. Whitetails call those bedding areas. Frequently, developers build what they call "water features." Whitetails call those water sources. Additionally, developers landscape with ornamental shrubbery, flowers, trees, and lush lawns. Deer call those rich food sources. Thus, instead of leaving, whitetails adapt and flourish in many urban settings.
Many family farms have given way to townhomes, condos, and strip malls. Don't let this discourage you. Just consider such developments as refuges for whitetails -- and great places for you to hunt giant bucks!
To top it off, because urban deer face little hunting pressure, they live to ripe old age, and their numbers explode. At a place I hunt in central Ohio, I've seen more big bucks in the short time I've hunted there than in all of my previous years combined. A couple of those bucks have had antlers measuring well over 200 inches. Amazing! Hunting in town, I've taken home the two biggest whitetails of my life, unthinkable a few years ago. I never would have dreamed that my hunting career would take me from the fields of Kansas, Iowa, or southern Ohio into town in search of Pope and Young trophies.
Check local ordinances to see where you can hunt, and then seek out green spaces and remaining strips of agriculture that will harbor deer.
HUNTING URBAN DEER has forced me to relearn some things about hunting mature bucks. One thing I learned quickly was that deer in more developed settings live in smaller home ranges than their country counterparts. It took me a while to accept this because it made no sense to me that big-city bucks would be different from any other bucks. But after some observations, I was sure of it. Once I found a big buck and began to see a pattern, I saw that particular deer regularly. In fact, once I found a big deer in town, I would see him almost every time out.
Wanting to know if this was the norm, I asked leading biologists and experts about it. Brian Murphy, Director of the Quality Deer Management Association, confirmed my observations that deer in town do in fact travel far less than their country cousins. Biologists and wildlife professionals with the Georgia Dept. of Fish and Game, the Ohio DNR, the Michigan DNR, and others, have observed the same thing. This revelation was important, because it meant once I identified where a big buck lived, I could focus my efforts exclusively on that area.
While suburban deer may be relatively easy to pattern, they are so in tune with their environment that they just as quickly pattern hunters pursuing them. Sure they hear dogs barking and children playing. They see school buses and ice cream trucks. They smell barbeques and people in their yards. And they learn to live comfortably with these.
But just walk into a yard and hang a treestand, and the deer will react instantly and vanish. In fact, based on my experiences, I would say suburban deer will pick up on anything out of place faster than those living in the middle of Iowa. Scent control, a well-timed entry into the stand, total concealment, and other aspects of cautious hunting are every bit as important when hunting in town as anywhere else.
I BECAME ESPECIALLY AWARE of all of this during one of the greatest deer hunts of my life. It began well before dawn, as I sat within the city limits of a small suburb of Columbus, Ohio. The 40-acre property was surrounded by condos, newly built single-family homes, a couple of main roads, and a nearby shopping mall.
My friend Scott Esker has learned that the biggest bucks live in the most unlikely places -- neighbors' yards.
Brad, the property owner, did not hunt, but he encouraged me to do so. That morning, as he did each morning during the school year, Brad walked 200 yards down the driveway with his junior high-aged son to the school bus. He then returned to the house. I had watched this routine many times from my treestand. I also had watched the whitetails begin to emerge as Brad got closer to his home between 7:15 and 7:30 a.m. The deer had patterned him!
Those are pretty tight quarters to be hunting deer, and many bowhunters assume they could never gain access to such places. The truth is, you and anyone else can if you use all available resources. Every small town, community, and municipality has a website, and that's where you find out, "Can I hunt in this town?" Whether you're looking at a s
mall town or a city like Columbus, the website will give you ordinances concerning hunting.
If it doesn't fully answer your questions, move on to law enforcement. The local chief of police is a great resource for finding out what's legal and what's not. In many communities, especially in the eastern United States where whitetails have overrun many urban areas, citizens and public officials are begging for relief from marauding whitetails, and hunting is the number one way to control deer numbers. You may also find, as I have, that in many suburbs you need a special permission slip to hunt there. But once you have that, you will have access to some of the most amazing whitetails anywhere.
Dr. Ken Thompson knows the fallacy of traveling to remote areas when he can shoot bucks like this close to home.
Shortly after Brad had returned to his house this particular morning, I watched the first buck of the morning come out -- an awesome nine-point that probably would have scored in the mid-130's. Right away I decided that if the deer walked within range of my treestand, I would take the shot and be very happy with what I thought would be a P&Y whitetail.
Behind me was a furrow field, in front of me a cut soybean field. The nine-point was working his way down a fencerow, coming steadily from my right. Suddenly, for no apparent reason, he made a right turn into the furrow field and skirted me about 60 yards away.
I sat disappointed for a bit, and then I glanced across the open field and saw the most impressive whitetail I may have ever seen. With the naked eye at more than 350 yards, I could see a giant 10-point rack working across the neighbor's backyard. Quickly I brought up my binoculars to confirm his size. He was big!
The buck was moseying around the neighbor's backyard with a handful of other deer, not terribly concerned about much of anything. It was early November, and I thought he should be in rut, but he was not acting rutty at all. After about 15 minutes, the giant buck and the other deer with him disappeared into a half-acre grass field directly adjacent to my stand site.
Again I sat there miffed. A couple of hours went by, and I was beginning to wonder how long I should stay when I looked up and saw the same 10-pointer reemerge from the grass.
I don't know why God smiled on me that day, but it seemed I had that deer on a tether as he began slowly walking straight across the cut bean field and into my lap. Watching him plod step-by-step, I felt as if he took three hours to cross the field, although he probably took just minutes. When the big buck reached the scent stream of the VS-1 whitetail scent I had put 20 feet in front of my stand, I came to full draw, and when he stopped, I made the shot.
One major challenge in hunting any urban area is recovering your deer. In many cases you'll be hunting properties smaller than an acre, and if a deer you've arrowed runs onto a neighbor's property, you have to know the laws of your state. In Ohio, for example, you must have written permission to retrieve your deer. So make sure you understand the laws and work with all the landowners. Above all, make sure you pick your shots carefully and put your arrows on the money to ensure short tracking jobs.
As I climbed down from my treestand that morning to track my trophy, I looked around in amazement. Traffic was heavy on the road 100 yards away, dogs were barking, children were laughing, and I was smiling. All the noise and confusion of the city -- all the things I used to avoid in my search for big deer -- were right here, and in abundance. The lesson was clear: Don't drive past deer to go find deer. The trophies you're looking for most likely have been living in your neighborhood all along.
Steve Gruber is the founder of Wolf Creek Productions, which has produced 15 nationally syndicated outdoor television series since 1994. He is the host of Deer City USA on Outdoor Channel, focusing on pursuing big deer in urban settings. You can learn more about Steve and successful hunting in town at SteveGruber.com or DeerCityUSA.com.
Author's Notes: I killed my urban buck with a BowTech General set at 70 lbs., Gold Tip Pro Hunter arrow, and 100-grain Muzzy MX-3 broadhead. I wore Under Armour base layers, Scent-Lok outer layers in Realtree camo, and Cabela's Outfitter Series boots. Other equipment items on this hunt included Nikon binoculars and rangefinder, Scott Rhino release, M.A.D. Growler grunt call, Dead Down Wind scent elimination spray and wipes, and a Hunter Safety System vest. While I have not had this buck officially scored, I did put the tape to him, and he grossed 176 inches.