August 11, 2021
Imagine you're out scouting for whitetails in the spring or summer, looking for that perfect rut funnel. And then, boom, you just located it. Except here's how it looks. There's a small strip of woods that connects two larger pieces of timber. On one side of the strip is a paved street; on the other side are backyards from neighborhood houses. It's not the typical rut funnel you might think of, right? But in suburban areas, scenes like this are all too common.
I first started hunting whitetails in suburban neighborhoods long before I traveled to more rural, wilder places. Where I grew up and still call home in northeastern Minnesota is ripe with opportunities for “suburban hunts.”
There are multiple towns and cities that have long established bowhunting seasons within city limits, and I've been participating in these hunts for over a decade. Hunting and scouting suburban areas is unlike anything else I've experienced. Almost everything you read and watch when consuming deer hunting content doesn't relate directly. There are no such things as agricultural fields. And “classic” bedding areas may or may not exist. Often, to be successful you first have to scout and learn how deer operate within your given area.
Where Do Deer Feed?
Though suburban whitetails don't act and spend their time in the exact same habitats that rural whitetail do, many of the same core principles still apply. In my opinion, two of the most important factors you must figure out when scouting suburban bucks is to understand where they feed and where they bed.
I'll discuss locating food sources first. Scouting for feeding areas in suburban environments isn't as simple as looking for a destination food source, such as a corn or bean field. Even an oak flat dropping acorns in a hardwood setting can be difficult to find. Food sources for bucks in a suburban setting can be diverse, and you need to understand what you're looking for.
I spend a lot of time driving around neighborhoods that are close to my hunting properties during the late evening, doing what you would consider glassing from a distance. Though instead of glassing a bean field from a mile away, I'll mainly use my binoculars instead of a spotting scope.
I drive through neighborhoods with my binoculars at the ready. Often times, I treat these neighborhoods as the quote-on-quote “destination food source” for the simple fact many people have bird feeders, apple trees in their backyard or simply feed deer. Though I may not be able to hunt right in people's backyards, scouting these spots gives me a starting point to where deer may be headed in the evenings.
After that, I'll focus on the woods where I can hunt. I'll determine what other food sources there might be. Again, apple trees are fairly common in my neck of the woods, and there seems to be a lot more in the city than outside of it. I've got small pieces of property I hunt where there are oaks dropping acorns and other areas where there are lots of berries, such as buckthorn or mountain ash that deer spend time in.
The main objective is to identify areas of high feeding use by whitetails. These can be brushy thickets full of desirable browse, small clear cuts in residential areas, dense edges, etc. Identify some areas where bucks could be feeding, and you'll have a good start to your scouting efforts.
Bedding Can Be Tricky
Identifying areas where suburban bucks are bedding can get particularly difficult. Many times, when hunting suburban areas, bucks are bedding in tiny pieces of woods where they can see to the road, people's houses, etc. And I've found that suburban bucks are transient in their bedding, often relocating to different bedding sites frequently. This can make hunting them tough.
When searching for bedding areas, if there are larger pieces of timber within your suburban area, look for any sign that bucks could be bedding in those areas. But don't be afraid to scout in the oddest pieces of cover, either. As if you were hunting whitetails in rural areas, pay attention to buck bedding habits and keep records. Once you've put many of the feeding and bedding puzzle pieces together, you'll soon be ready to hunt.
Piecing Together Travel Corridors
When hunting deer in suburban neighborhoods, travel corridors can be fairly straightforward. However, it's common for the corridors to be tight quarters. I'm going to outline two perfect examples for you, based on bucks I killed in 2018 and 2019 in suburban Minnesota neighborhoods.
The suburban spots I hunt can easily translate to any other suburban area. When reading through the quick overviews of these spots and hunts, take note how the bucks moved through the travel corridors (where I arrowed them both). Also, note where the bucks were coming from and where they were headed to.
You'll notice, just like in many different settings hunting whitetails, I was essentially right between their bedding and main food source. In both spots, I was set up where there was a food source within the travel corridor that they could essentially stage in before heading to their destination food. Both bucks used tight quarters corridors to access food sources.
The buck I killed in 2018, a top target buck of mine, was arrowed on 10 acres of property I have permission on. Options for stand placement were fairly limited. When I first gained permission to the spot years ago and scouted it for the first time, I noticed something in particular.
To the west of the property, right across the road, were a bunch of apple trees in a person's yard. It seemed to me every time I drove by at night, there were deer in those apple trees. When I scouted the property I could hunt, I noticed a lone oak tree filled with acorns, which happened to be right at the beginning of a strip of woods that led from bedding cover to the apple trees.
The main bedding cover was about 100 yards to the east of the oak tree, and the apple trees were roughly 200 yards to the west of the oak tree. From the base of the strip of woods (where the oak was), the woods were about 100 yards wide between the yard of the landowner I could hunt on (to the south) and the other road (to the north). By the road where the apples were, the strip of woods was only about 20 yards wide. So, the travel corridor pinched down big time.
When I first put up my trail camera, I noticed deer were always coming from the bedding to the east and heading west in the evening. Then the deer would head back to the east in the morning.
Once the acorns started dropping in September, deer came by the oak earlier in the evening. They then would hang out under the oak for a bit before heading up to the apples. I quickly figured out the deer were using the oak as a staging area and not heading up to the apples until dark.
A few years later, I finally had a buck on a semi-decent pattern that I wanted to shoot. I knew I just needed the right conditions for him to move through the travel corridor where the acorns were falling. Low and behold, an October cold front in 2018 was able to help me seal the deal on the mid-150's 12-pointer from a tree stand where I could see a road and multiple houses. Scouting years in advance is what led me to kill that deer.
The hunt for my 2019 buck played out similarly. Except for this buck, I began scouting during the season. I was hunting an area of public land in a suburban neighborhood all fall. I had been chasing a few different bucks, but couldn't quite catch up to any of them. Before I knew it, late-season had arrived, and time was ticking.
One evening after hunting in December, I got back to my truck and literally spotted one of my target bucks headed right at me through someone's yard. The buck came by my truck within 20 yards and was headed towards a small piece of timber across a snowmobile trail.
The woods he was headed to I had never stepped foot in, so I figured I better investigate. I decided to scout the small piece of timber the next day. That area was just big enough to even legally hunt, based on rules in our city where you have to be so far away from houses, marked trails, etc. There was really only one spot I could setup. But I noticed a ton of deer trails coming from the west (bedding across from the snowmobile trail) to the east (neighborhood).
Remember what I said earlier about neighborhoods being destination food sources? Well, I figured there were bird feeders or even people feeding the deer somewhere in the neighborhood. Also, the small piece of timber was loaded with buckthorn, which in my neck of the woods is a food source deer love to eat, especially late in the year.
Near this tremendous amount of deer sign, I set a stand up that day and had an incredible hunt. Deer were working their way past me towards the neighborhood, just as I had expected. It wasn't long before my target buck came by at 60 yards, and I had no shot. But the very next day, the big wide 9-pointer spit the distance, and I was able to make the shot count.
I downed that buck within sight of hiking trails, snowmobile trails and many houses from my stand. I was able to put an arrow through him due to my scouting efforts. That hunt is proof that it's possible to scout during the season and make quick adjustments based on fresh sign.
Never Stop Scouting
Ultimately, I've found success on suburban bucks through serious scouting efforts. In suburban areas, it can be rather difficult to hunt food sources or bedding areas. But if you can locate areas where the deer are moving through, you'll have a fighting chance of making something happen. Remember, begin your search by locating food and bedding locations. Then, when possible, focus on hunting between the two.