Slip from beneath the shadows of skyscrapers littering Manhattan, cross over Long Island Sound like a ghost is on your tail and escape onto the dry land of Suffolk County, New York. To be certain, by the New York state of mind, you’re outside of the “city,” but by common whitetail hunting measures, you’re not in Kansas anymore.
Spreading across the eastern half of Long Island and just a few dozen miles from New York City proper, Suffolk County resembles anything but the trophy deer hunter’s dream-come-true. Bean fields and cut corn are replaced by suburban neighborhoods and shopping centers, camouflage stands out more than it conceals, and the woods — well, suffice it to say they fall short of the rambling hills and hollers back west. Suffolk County is home to approximately 1.5 million people — more than 1,664 per square mile — and it’s a safe bet to assume few of them are serious trophy whitetail hunters.
But Suffolk County has a secret. Of the 45 non-typical whitetail bucks from New York listed in Pope & Young’s 2009 edition of Bowhunting Records of North American Whitetail Deer an astounding 22 were killed in Suffolk County, all in the last 20 years. It seems that, amid the clutter and bustle of a severely suburban environment, the bucks of Suffolk County have grown large and adapted well.
THE CHOKE POINT
When Bjorn Holubar emerged from a thick patch of woods in Suffolk County on Oct. 25, 2009, he was empty-handed, but he was happy. It had been a long two years since the lifelong hunter had been able to focus on deer hunting, and although the afternoon had been unproductive, it was a relief to be back in the woods.
In each of the previous two seasons, Holubar had been hospitalized due to massive infections stemming from hundreds of chigger bites sustained during early-season hunts. Both seasons ended up awash, but 2009 held promise, thanks to a 150-class 8-pointer that Holubar had spotted earlier.As the hunter made his way out of the woods, he took note of an impressive scrape and rub line that led to a small patch of woods across a busy road and between a 50-home subdivision and a strip mall. Holubar dropped his gear off and, when traffic broke, ran across the road. Just inside the wood line, he spotted several more big rubs and scrapes.
“Intrigued, I studied the area on the computer that night and located a choke point — an impenetrable thicket across from a steep embankment,” he recalled. “If deer moved through, they’d pass me, and I’d have a shot.”
Holubar decided immediately to hunt the area the following afternoon in an effort to catch the deer coming off their beds. By 2 p.m. on Oct. 26, he had parked his car, and 45 minutes later, he had arrived at the choke point.
“Picking a tree, I set up my Lone Wolf climber, but I didn’t have a (shooting) lane to my left, so I started breaking branches, kicking up leaves and dirt, all while rattling and grunting to cover the racket and scent,” Holubar said. “Five minutes later, I had a lane cleared, climbed the tree and grunted.
“With all that noise, I didn’t think I’d see a hair that day, and I didn’t for two hours. Then, out of the corner of my eye, I saw movement in the thick woods in the distance. It was a buck, but I didn’t know how big.”
For most of the year, Bjorn Holubar lives the life that most New Yorkers have come to expect. His profession places him daily amongst the hum and rattle of big city intercessions, mitigations and daily grind. But for a brief — if not fleeting — period of the year, when the annual oppression of heat and humidity begins to give way to autumn’s glow and the predominant southwest breeze makes Long Island a pleasant place to spend time, Holubar eases out of the office, trading stiff workplace attire for well-worn camouflage, and heads for the secret whitetail passages of Suffolk County.
Hunting is in Holubar’s blood. At age 8, he started pursuing Long Island’s more traditional quarry — waterfowl and pheasants — along with geese in Delaware and rabbits and grouse in the Adirondacks, Vermont and Maine. In 1984, Holubar’s father introduced him to Adirondack whitetail hunting, and in only his first morning out, the die was cast: he spotted a deer, albeit 600 yards away.
Over time, Holubar noticed his hunting interests begin to shift towards deer, at first ever so slightly, then more rapidly. He was hooked on the chase after the elusive and addictive whitetail deer, pursuing them in northeastern destinations steeped in hunting tradition — Vermont, Maine, Canada, the Adirondacks and New York’s more rural farm country.
As is common among serious whitetail hunters, the day-to-day responsibilities of life ultimately began to catch up with the desire to be in the woods.
“As time, responsibilities and relationships crept up on me, I couldn’t take weeks at a time off,” Holubar explained. “So I looked for a fix, and I didn’t have to look far. Deer were right under my nose.
“With a little research, I was amazed by the deer hunting opportunities close to home on Long Island.”
LAND OF GIANTS
Long Island deer hunting is highly regulated and restricted due to overwhelming population densities. Of the Suffolk County townships that even allow bowhunting, Brookhaven touts 1,822 people per square mile, Riverhead comprises only 67 square miles but carries 410 people for each mile, and Southampton boasts 393 people per square mile. Despite — or perhaps because of — the population densities, deer on Long Island grow to trophy proportions.
Prior to the 2009 season, four of the top seven New York non-typical bucks listed in P&Y’s record books came from Suffolk County. In 2001, John Hansen killed the third-highest-scoring New York archery non-typical — a 197 3/8-inch 30-point
er with main beams of 28 5/8 and 27 6/8 inches, respectively. During a three-year period from 2000-2002, six bucks were harvested in Suffolk County that ranked in the top 40 all-time for non-typical Pope & Young bowkills in New York.
“While there are great deer on public lands in Suffolk (County), private land access may also provide an edge,” Holubar said. “So in addition to overlooked public land, (you have to) get access to some 10- and, yes, even 5-acre pieces of land between subdivisions. Who else do you think is eating Granny’s roses in the middle of the night?”
THE HUMAN VARIABLE
As is the case with suburban whitetail hunting in general, hunting the small parcels of private land among the comings and goings of a busy community requires more than access. In Suffolk County, the challenge of dealing with human variables only compounds that of bringing a wary, mature whitetail within bow range in an extremely limited area.
“Be aware that these small pieces of land must only be hunted a select three or four times a year at most, or you’ll push the deer out and get ‘detected’ by humans,” Holubar said. “So while on the ground or in a tree, you need to avoid mountain bikers, walkers, kids, dogs and other hunters. Suburban deer hunting requires the hunter to not only pattern the deer but also offers the added challenge of contending with the human variables.”
“Long Island also has hunting restrictions regarding distances from homes, schools, strip malls, further limiting where we can hunt,” Holubar continued. “Yes, I hunt ‘close’ to houses, churches, cemeteries and strip malls. Funny thing, this past fall, I was up in a tree and saw my girlfriend grocery shopping — and she thought I was at work.”
Holubar’s bottom line is simple: If you want to be a successful trophy whitetail hunter in a suburban setting, you better be able to change your beliefs about deer.
NOT A TYPICAL BUCK
The buck was acting oddly. He would walk 10 to 15 feet, then stop and look in Holubar’s direction. For 20 minutes, this process repeated itself.
“I decided to grunt to see if I could get a reaction, and I did,” Holubar recalled. “He immediately thrashed some brush, aggravated by what he thought was another buck in his bedroom.”
The buck continued to walk a few stops and then look toward where Holubar had earlier created a mock sparring match while clearing his shooting lane. Finally, the buck began moving toward the choke point as Holubar had anticipated.
“Through the brush, he looked like a 130- to 140-class buck,” he said. “Now focused on the shot placement, I didn’t look at the rack again. I picked a lane, drew and estimated the shot at 35 yards.
“He walked into the lane. I whistled, and he stopped. I shot and thought I missed, but he turned, dropped and got up. As he turned, I saw how wide and huge he was … I came down the tree and ran to where I saw him pile up. When I got there I was amazed. He had what I thought were four beams and lots of points.”
The following morning, Holubar contacted Fish Unlimited taxidermy and took the deer in to be caped. His buck tipped the scales at 210 pounds field-dressed and carried 20 points. After the mandatory 60-day antler drying period, Holubar had Dick Johndrow, chairman of the New York State Big Bucks Club, measure the rack.
“Dick was anxiously waiting, and for the next three hours he measured and remeasured the rack,” Holubar said. “When all was done, we added the numbers up.”
Holubar’s suburban monster scored an amazing 211 2/8 inches gross and netted 202 5/8 net, with 55 inches of non-typical growth — enough to rank second all-time in New York’s non-typical archery record-book. Not bad for a big-city buck!