City Slicker Whitetails
To Score Big, Hunt Where Others Do Not
Matt Walker - Contributing Writer
Like deer hunters everywhere, the thought of knocking on a farmer’s door and gaining access to Midwestern farmland is enough to send chills of nervous excitement through my body. For the first several years of my deer hunting “career”, I focused my attention solely on large tracts of farm land or the largest wood lots I could find. However, my entire way of thinking was changed in one night. After concluding an evening hunt, I stopped by a landowner’s house to visit and drop off a bag of venison jerky. While I was talking to him, I asked him about the deer activity he had been seeing on his numerous farms. He went on to tell me about seeing the largest buck of his life on his “hospital farm”. I thought to myself, “He has given me sole permission to hunt all of his farms. What does he mean “hospital farm?” While attempting not to seem overly eager, I asked him what he meant by “hospital farm”. He told me about a small tract of land he farmed, which is situated neatly against the back of a hospital and a residential sub-division. He said he had seen the largest buck of his life on the farm during last year’s soy bean harvest, and he regularly sees 140-150 class bucks on the same farm. He went on to say he did not let anyone hunt the land because it is situated so close to houses and the hospital that he felt it was unsafe to hunt the property. While we were talking about the farm, he realized I was a bow hunter and I had no intention of hunting with a rifle. He invited me to ride with him in his truck so he could show me the farm. That was the evening when my outlook on hunting properties changed forever.
The farmer’s house is located in the middle of prime Midwestern whitetail ground, but we jumped in his truck and off we headed toward a city with a population of about 55,000 people. We drove down a busy highway which runs through the middle of the city and pulled into the parking lot of a hospital, hence the name, “hospital farm”. There was a small easement from the back of the hospital’s parking lot which was the access road to the farm ground. As we pulled off of his easement the farmer shined a spot light over a soybean field which revealed over 20 white tails 9 of which were bucks. What was even better, I would have been more than happy to let 4 of those 9 bucks ride home in the back of my truck wearing my non-resident Kansas deer tag.
This piece of ground was obviously small when compared to the other farms I had access to hunt so, I asked the farmer how much land he owned in this particular location. The answer was only 22 acres. Now, don’t get me wrong on this, there was other crop land and timber around this particular 22 acres but, he only owned 22 acres of it. That being said, even including the surrounding land, there was well under 100 acres of "huntable" ground, and all of it was located in the middle of a busy area of a growing city.
The next day I returned and hung a tree stand in a good size oak on the edge of the bean field. I returned to hunt it about 10 days later. While in the stand I saw and heard things which just aren’t common for most deer hunts. I saw people in their back yards, I saw hospital employees taking breaks in the back of the hospital, and I saw a couple thousand cars drive by on the highway. I was so close to people I could actually hear parents telling their children to come inside and eat dinner. My tree stand was located less than 4oo yards from all of these things. The other things I saw which aren’t common for most hunts were three bucks which would have topped the 140 inch mark. All of this in one evening from the same tree stand.
I was not able to harvest a buck on that particular evening, but, on the way home it made me think. What about that small tract of land in the middle of the city caused it to hold so many quality deer? Really the answer is obvious and I’m actually a little bit ashamed to admit I had never given much thought to hunting deer in suburban areas. The answer is simply this. Theses spots are over looked by most deer hunters. The fact that these locations don’t receive much attention allows deer to live in these areas without much pressure and in turn they are more likely to reach maturity.
Over the next few hunts in this area I watched deer come to my stand location from the direction of the hospital. Some of these deer were bedding less than 100 feet from the back of the hospital parking lot. This made me think the deer may have not been alarmed by the presence of humans and human scent. WRONG!!! Because of what I had seen I decided to try to hunt the property with a marginal wind direction. The first deer that walked down wind of my stand location was an old sway backed doe. When she got down wind of me, she locked up like an English Setter on a covey of quail. That old doe threw her head up in the air, got a nose full of my sent and blew out of there like I had shot at her. Keep in mind this was even after I had taken a scent free shower and I was also wearing a carbon lined scent containing suit.
All of these things led me to the opinion that deer in suburban areas are accustomed to human activity in certain areas, but, they are no less wild and no less wary of humans than other deer living in the deep woods or remotely located farm land. Whitetails are Whitetails and they don’t like people, regardless of where they live, period.
With that hunt in the books, I decided to stay out of the area until late October, when I expected bucks to be spending time in feeding areas, around doe groups, but before the hardcore seeking/chasing phase of the rut began. I returned on Halloween evening and the best white tail hunt I’ve ever been on unfolded in front of me. I saw over 20 does and young bucks as well as 4 bucks which would have all earned my taxidermist a nice pay day. The largest of the bucks was a gorgeous 5x5 which would have stretched the tape beyond 170 inches. I also ended up seeing a heavy chocolate colored 160” brute, as well as two very nice 8 points that would go 140 inches or better.
As a matter of fact one of them was exactly 143 3/8 inches. I watched him bully a couple of 2 year old bucks around the bean field before I let out a snort wheeze, which he responded to by laying his ears back and bristling up before walking stiff legged toward my location. He crossed the tree line my stand was located in and presented me with a quartering away shot which was too perfect to pass up. After following a short blood trail I located my 2nd P&Y qualifier in as many seasons. But more importantly, I had learned a lesson which I’m positive will allow me to put more big bucks under my treestands in the seasons to come.
The take home lesson from this is: Don’t over look areas you know hold deer just because they are in or near suburban areas. Most other hunters WILL over look these locations, and this creates ideal conditions for bucks to get old and big. Don’t take their wariness for granted. As I said earlier, white tails are white tails where ever they live and they don’t like to people. I don’t care if you’re hunting them in the most populated areas in a busy city or if you’re hunting them in a location where they’ve never seen a person. If they see you, or smell you and determine you are getting too close, they WILL bust you. In some ways I think the deer living in and around populated areas are tougher to successfully hunt because they spend every day of their life learning how much human activity is normal and acceptable. They also manage to live “under the radar” for most of the year. Some of these deer are truly “ghosts” even though they live in areas where they seem like they should be highly visible. Hunting deer in suburban areas is by no means easy, but if you hunt them as strategically as you would any other deer you may very well place yourself in the middle of more mature deer than you’ve ever seen in one place. That’s how it happened for me.
Be sure to consult local law enforcement to ensure hunting is legal in the area you intend to hunt, and be sure to be extra cautious about where you can shoot. Making sure you are shooting from an elevated position or with a good earthen backstop if you're hunting from the ground, is extra important when hunting in a more populated suburban area.
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