Backyard Bucks

Some of the biggest whitetails in North America live on the outskirts of housing developments and soccer fields. Isn’t it time you pay these neighbors a visit?

What a terrible afternoon of hunting! Two riders had been by on horseback along the neighbor’s property line, and the other neighbor’s son was now on his ATV tearing up the ground. He was buzzing so close to my treestand I had to turn my face because the breeze was carrying the dust right toward me. Disappointed, I was about ready to get out of my stand when I spotted a flicker of antler in the sunlight. Through my binoculars I saw a big buck bedded only 100 yards away. Now I couldn’t move, nor did I want to!

The afternoon went on and I continued to curse the ATV rider. “If it weren’t for that ‘bleeping’ four-wheeler I’d have my trophy. That kid has screwed up everything for me.” It was amazing: The buck was bedded within 30 yards of the ATV trail, but the noise didn’t seem to bother him a bit. Finally, the sun started dropping behind the trees and the neighbor kid went home. After only a minute or two, a doe popped up out of her nearby bed and ambled by my stand. Even though the leaves were dry, I could hardly hear her because the rush hour traffic on the nearby highway sounded like flies buzzing in my ears.

My binoculars stayed glued on the buck. At long last he stood and stretched. He waved his nose in the air to scent-check the area and then started browsing in my direction. When he reached 22 yards, I sent a broadhead through his lungs, and he expired less than 100 yards away.

Close To Home
During the first cool days of late summer, hunters begin talking to their buddies about the upcoming deer season—going to “deer camp.” What many of these individuals don’t know is some of the best deer hunting available is right in their own backyard.

Whitetails have flourished in many suburban areas throughout North America. In fact, human development of land, which has created a high-percentage of edge cover, has been a blessing for whitetails. Let me give you a real-life example.

I grew up on a property that 3 years ago turned into a “century farm.” My family has owned this farm in Minnesota for more than 100 years, and during the past couple decades I’ve seen this area change from mature forest with a few dirt roads to a Minneapolis suburb. Today, much of the area around the farm contains housing developments, baseball and soccer fields and a network of paved roads. My worst fear while living here has been that my hunting spots would all be developed and eaten up by the urban sprawl. While that has somewhat come to pass, what I’ve found is the hunting has actually gotten better, especially for mature bucks. With the houses spaced so close together, many places that used to be open for gun hunting are now open only for archery hunting—obviously bad for a gun hunter, but great for a bowhunter. This factor now gives bucks a great chance to live past 11/2 years of age, and with age comes a chance to sport some decent head gear.

There’s no question I’ve had to change with the times. I used to go to my neighbor’s house, knock on their door and ask permission to bowhunt their property. They’d laugh at me and say, “Bowhunt? Have at it. You actually hunt with a bow?” Now, however, it’s especially difficult to gain access close to large metro areas, mainly because there are so many more people fighting for such a smaller piece of the pie.

With a little persistence and digging, however, accessing these metro hotspots can be done. In fact, one can also explore the public hunting opportunities close to large metro areas or look into organizations such as Minnesota’s Metro Bowhunters Resource Base (MBRB).

In response to the unchecked growth of whitetail populations in urban environments, representatives from Minnesota’s leading archery organizations joined forces in 1995 to form the MBRB. The group works with the Minnesota Department of Natural Resources and metro communities to generate bowhunting opportunities. It assists these communities when needed in the planning and administering of special bowhunts. And here’s the best part: It also supplies competent and responsible bowhunters for the programs. Other large metro areas across the country also have organizations such as this, and you can learn about them by asking your state game and fish department.

Scout Smart
In my opinion, scouting is the most important aspect leading to a successful hunt, and it’s especially important for tagging metro bucks. But too many hunters “over scout” a spot and actually hurt their chances of success. If you trample through your area during the hunting season to find a fresh buck rub that might have appeared since you scouted 2 days ago, you’re scouting too much.

Whitetails are basically “home bodies” and choose their living quarters wisely. If you intrude once, it might not be a problem. Intrude twice, however, and it’s probably no problem with the does, fawns and younger bucks, but now the mature buck you’ve been targeting is very aware of what’s going on. If you intrude a third time, the mature buck is likely going to change his address to avoid making contact with you.

Yes, metro whitetails deal with everyday disturbances like dogs and hikers, but I believe they know when they’re being hunted. After all, in these areas, humans are their only predator.

My favorite time to go through an area with a fine-tooth scouting comb is March through May. During the summer and early fall, I still do a lot of scouting, but I do so from a distance with binoculars. Most evenings during the late summer you’ll find me in my truck with my two young daughters scouring the countryside for big bucks. They love to go “lookin’ for deer” with Daddy. On several occasions I’ve learned exactly how to set up on a specific buck from long-range glassing sessions in my truck.

When the hunting season gets under way, it’s important to keep on top of what’s happening in terms of deer movement patterns, but be careful not to alert deer to your presence. Thankfully, this has gotten much easier in recent years thanks to affordable trail cameras. Used correctly, scouting cameras can teach you a ton about your local deer herd without disturbing them. If you think you know what’s happening 24/7 in your hunting area because you hunt it two evenings a week, I’m sorry to say you don’t have a clue. Scouting cameras have opened my eyes to the movement patterns of deer on my land, and they’ll do the same for you.

Do Not Disturb!
While it won’t take you much time to walk through a 10-40 acre parcel, and funnels will be blatantly obvious, these tiny tracts are difficult to hunt without spooking deer. And because these deer live in such close proximity to humans every day of the year, they know how to hide in the smallest chunks of thick cover.

Just as you should when hunting large timber or farmland, do everything you can to obtain an aerial photo or topographical map of the property. Search out several different routes to approach each stand site so you can have alternates depending upon the wind. It’s especially important to remain undetected as you enter and leave a stand. If you’re busted in big timber, you can usually find another good spot and still hunt the same deer. In smaller tracts, however, once you’re busted, many times the game is over, particularly if you’re after a specific mature buck.

While hunting these small parcels, you might be forced into setting up very close to deer bedding areas. Not only should you map out several routes to and from your stand, but go a step further and clean these trails so you can approach silently. It’s a good idea to go out a month or so before the archery opener and cut silent walking trails with a pruner or weed-whacker. And after the leaves have fallen, I use a rake to remove the debris from my access trails. Because of this effort, I often see deer bedded close to me after I approach a site and climb into my treestand.

Once you have a good idea of where to set up an ambush, it’s important to get your treestand or blind in place as soon as possible—before the season is best. That way, deer have time to grow accustomed to it and to go back about their business after the disturbance. Funnels created by housing subdivisions and other man-made developments often make certain stand sites productive year after year, but make sure not to over-hunt these spots. Strike only when the odds are in your favor.

It’s a good idea to have several stands set up in the same ambush spot so you can hunt during different wind conditions. This also allows you to alternate stands and keep the deer guessing. I have one 30-acre chunk I hunt within 30 minutes of downtown Min­neapolis where I have eight treestands set up. Some are within bow range of one another, and this way I keep things fresh and always have a spot I can hunt regardless of the wind direction.

Timing Is Everything
Like deer hunting everywhere, I believe the best time to target metro bucks is when they’re chasing every doe in sight in hopes of finding one in estrus. However, there are some great hunting periods specifically related to these urban areas that might surprise you.

The land I hunt near my home is located on the boundary between gun hunting and no gun hunting, but bowhunting is permitted in the no-gun zone. You wouldn’t believe the stampede of deer that come running from the gun hunting side on opening day of firearms season. Bowhunters “in the know” would never miss the chance to be set up on a funnel near that boundary when the slug gun hunters take to the woods.

Key food sources can also be obvious in metro areas where there’s an absence of agricultural land. Places like apple orchards or even gardens can act as deer magnets. I like to plant food plots, and because my plots are the only major food source for some distance around, the later it gets in the season the more deer I see.

Backyard bowhunting certainly isn’t for everybody. Instead of hearing wolves howling at dark, you’ll hear dogs barking; and instead of seeing miles of unbroken ground, you’ll see rooftops and water towers. But if you can simply accept the surroundings for what they are, the reward could be the biggest buck of your life.

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