September 22, 2010
By Clay Newcomb
I grew up hunting large areas of public land in Arkansas, but the fall of 2007 found me hunting the exact opposite type of terrain. Coming into the season, my No. 1 stand was hung on a 7-acre tract of private suburban land. What persuaded me to forgo my native propensity for large tracts of real estate was simple: In the month previous to the October bow opener, I had seen two giant non-typicals in my small one-fourth-acre test food plot located on the property. I never intended to hunt the plot, because I didn't think the area would hold mature bucks. However, I was very wrong. Shocked by the amount of boney headgear these deer carried, I knew that my season would be spent in suburbia.
Hunting these bucks would require a mental adjustment to my new hunting environment. "Jake"-braking semi trucks and the distant sound of a school marching band would replace the woodpeckers and whippoorwills I was accustomed to hearing. The long morning drives to far off hunting land would no longer be necessary, as I could be in the stand within minutes of leaving my home. A shot at a mature buck here would demand mental toughness for long hours in the stand, extensive scent control to mask repeatedly hunting the same area, and a few lucky breaks. On Oct. 18, 2007, a combination of all these factors merged into one moment of "string dropping" truth.
AN INVESTMENT IN TIME
My stand hung 25 yards in the timber on the downwind side of the food plot. By Oct. 18, I had hunted almost every morning for the previous 18 days. A group of five does had become regulars in the plot, and I felt they would be my ticket for harvesting a buck. My main objective was to keep the does coming to the food plot without letting them know I was there.
The morning of the 18th was warm and windy. By daylight, no deer were in the plot.
With rut activity increasing, I seized the opportunity to do some calling, which I hadn't done at all up to this point. After waiting for a semi to pass, I proceeded to make a series of aggressive grunts followed by 30 seconds of rattling. Within minutes I heard an approaching deer and immediately reached for my bow. A flash of massive, palmated antler confirmed that "Mr. Suburbia" had come to investigate the mock fight.
The gnarly buck walked parallel to the plot on the downwind side, scent-checking for his fighting rivals. The buck quickly crossed through my shooting lane, leaving no shot opportunity. I then watched as the buck disappeared as quickly as he had appeared.
Miraculously, 15 minutes later the buck returned on the same trail that he had exited on.
At 15 yards broadside, I released an arrow that would put the 168-inch 21-point suburban phantom in the Pope and Young records
FOUR KEYS TO SUCCESS IN POPULATED AREAS
1) Drawing In Suburban Deer: When hunting small tracts of land, you won't have the luxury of hanging multiple stands in different locations. On most small properties, you'll have one stand site, and if it's not a natural travel corridor, you'll have to draw the deer in. On the property I was hunting, there was no reason for the deer to be there other than my food plot.
A small food plot strategically located can be effective, especially in years when other food sources aren't available. On some tracts, you'll want to stay away from property boundaries. On others, however, you can use the surrounding land to your advantage.
My food plot is located 50 yards from the field corner of an adjacent property, creating a pinch point. Moving deer that will not walk through an open field or the food plot itself are forced through the 50-yard-wide wooded strip. I killed my buck in this wooded strip, not out in the open food plot.
Don't be afraid to use all legal options for drawing in suburban deer, like mineral licks, feeders or even water troughs. A well-placed wildlife pond could also create a mecca for thirsty urban bucks while increasing property value. Topographic obstacles like ponds and food plots can do more than just feed and water deer. If strategically placed, they can help channel deer and create more predictable travel routes through your small property.
Even if you don't have the best location on the block, you can draw suburban deer to your property.
2) Calling Suburban Deer: Before calling in my big buck, I had never consciously realized how effective calling could be on suburban bucks. Simply put, the most common culprit for unsuccessful calling is the lack of a mature deer within hearing distance. The sprawling land where we hunt most often has deer spread out, and their bedding areas are much less predictable.
When you are hunting "micro habitats" in populated areas, you often have a good idea where deer are. Usually that turns out to be in the thick cover where the humans aren't.
The deer are close; this is precisely why calling can be very effective. My buck was likely bedded within 150 yards of the food plot where he could monitor the daytime doe activity without ever getting up! The only thing that could draw him in would be an estrous doe or an intruding buck. A rattling sequence and some aggressive grunts were all it took to shake this boy loose from his daytime bed.
The other positive aspect of calling suburban deer is that they are virtually unhunted, leaving them vulnerable to calling tactics. Dominant bucks are susceptible to a "slam dunk" calling sequence on their front door step. An old farmland buck may have
been rattled in before, but Mr. Suburbia has likely never heard anything but authentic antlers and grunts. Don't be afraid to use decoys as well. You'll probably only get one chance to call him in, so make sure everything is right before you crash the horns!
3) Suburban Scent Control:When I first started hunting my big buck, I had hunters suggest that scent control wouldn't be an issue considering that these deer smell humans often. The truth is, for does and younger bucks there might be more tolerance for human scent than in traditional hunting scenarios. However, I wasn't after does or younger bucks -- I was after Mr. Big.
Mature bucks in populated areas are perpetual masters of evasion. The fact that they can avoid human contact while living in people's back yards makes them as wary as any wilderness buck!
If you were hunting large tracts of land, you'd be foolish to hunt the same stand for 18 days. In suburbia you may not have any other option. This is precisely why scent control is such a major key. You had better not let the deer know that they're being hunted. Had I spooked the does off the land in the first week of hunting because of poor scent management, my Pope and Young buck never would have showed.
Every single time I hunted that spot, I used a variety of scent control products liberally. I was double Scent-Loked from head to toe, and I chewed odor-reducing gum, even while walking to my stand. I knew I couldn't take any chances, and it paid off in non-typical antler inches!
4) Changing Your Mental Approach:One of the biggest factors in hunting suburban whitetails is the human factor. You can have all of the right equipment, you can be knowledgeable about deer, and you can have prime hunting land but still not fill your tag if your frame of mind is wrong. Different hunting scenarios require different mental approaches. A wrong mind frame will reduce hunter confidence, meaning you'll spend less time in the tree.
In the many days of hunting this buck, it was easy to get psyched out because of the hustle and bustle of human activity all around. More than once, I wondered if I was wasting my season. All the things that would usually signify poor hunting -- like close human activity and very small acreage -- were present.
I was amazed that even after seeing the two huge bucks during the pre-season, I was tempted more than once to go and hunt other, more traditional properties! I quickly realized that I had to change the way I thought about trophy deer hunting. I wouldn't have gotten out of bed on that 18th day if I hadn't come to terms with my new hunting environment. The truth is, if you locate a big suburban deer, you may have to sacrifice a whole season to kill him.
When hunting suburbia, keep safety and legality as your prime concerns. Always hunt from an elevated tree stand and be sure to check local ordinances and laws regarding hunting. Never take a questionable shot on a suburban deer (or any deer for that matter).
You'll want your tracking job to be short and sweet, and hopefully he'll fall on your property.
Hunting suburban whitetails has revolutionized my big-buck hunting approach. Though it will never replace the classic farmland whitetail hunt, it's certainly a tool that every bowhunter needs to have in his quiver. Once you start monitoring the deer activity in suburban areas, you may be shocked at what you'll find living under the radar. I have no doubt that many a world-class deer has lived and died in suburban areas, and their antlers were probably eaten by squirrels! If only a bowhunter like you or me had been there to put one of those ol' mossbacks out of their misery with dignity!