I love to hunt. Its constantly on my mind. On any given day, it would probably be easier for me to think back on the times I wasn't thinking about arrowing whitetails than those I spent thinking about gear, strategy and deer movement. There is just one small issue with my this passion. I live here.
In Northern Virginia. A bustling suburb of Washington D.C. home to McMansions, tiny ¼ acre lots and 2.8 million of my closest friends. In this packed suburban corridor, there most certainly aren’t any agricultural fields, farms or large chunks of ground to hunt. Needless to say – it’s not the perfect place for someone who loves to hunt – or is it? Over the years that urban sprawl has headed outward from Washington, D.C., forests, fields and streams have turned into subdivisions, strip malls, and blacktop roads, creating the perfect habitat for whitetail deer. Add in that there are very few hunters and natural predators left - as well as the fact that virtually every house is surrounded with delicious shrubs and flowers – and it’s easy to see that we’ve created the ultimate buffet for deer. Not surprisingly, the growing herd is significantly damaging both suburban landscaping and what's left of the area's forests. And that’s how I ended up here.
More and more homeowners are realizing that the population is way past a healthy balance, and needs to be drastically reduced and that bow hunting is the most practical and reasonable solution. It’s safe, free, andeffective and most of the deer that I harvest get donated to the Hunters for the Hungry Program - where deer meat is provided free to people in need. What’s not to love?
I am proud to be part of the solution – a bow hunter who is happy to volunteer to come out to virtually any property and help harvest deer. I have to admit, it’s pretty neat to have homeowners track you down and ask you to come hunt on their property, instead of the other way around! I have hundreds of properties where I’m able to hunt deer with a bow and arrow – and I get to spend over 150 days a year sitting in a tree helping to thin the herd. In a normal year, a typical harvest would be anywhere between 30-50 deer – sometimes more in a good year, and sometimes less.
Here in Northern Virginia, we have a very liberal deer season. The Department of Game and Inland Fisheries has a special “Urban Archery Season” as well as a “Northern Virginia Late Antlerless Season.” The combination of all of the various deer seasons run un-interrupted from September through the end of April. Towards the end of April, the State allows landowners who have extensive damage from over browsing on their properties to apply for a permit that allows anextension of the season from May 1st through the end of August – making it a full, year round hunting season. There are, quite literally, a full 100 degree (or more) temperature swings in my deer season. Sometimes in July and August, it’s 100+ degrees when I climb into the stand – and at times in January and February – the wind chill will be down at -15 or lower.
Some of the properties that I hunt on are as small as a ¼ acre while others are larger 5, 10 or 15 acre parcels – but they all have one thing in common. They’re overrun with deer. From my front door, I have over a thousand tree’s that are prepped and ready for me to hunt from that are within a 15-20 minute drive. All I need to do is get to the property, climb my tree and hunt. This is a pretty standard
suburban hunting spot, with the property boundaries outlined in red. The area is about an acre, however, there are only two trees that are big enough to climb and hunt from. Luckily, those two trees happen to be within 20 yards of the deer trail that parallels the creek. With the amount of houses surrounding this property, it’s probably pretty hard to believe that this is one of my most productive properties – but it is.
Though most of the properties only have a few trees that are large enough to climb, their small acreage usually ensures that deer will pass within range. I prep every tree to be ready to climb, put a reflective tack in it, trim shooting lanes, and mark it on my GPS. I stay in constant contact with all of the various homeowners whose properties I hunt on, and ask them to let me know when and where they are seeing deer. This helps me establish any possible patterns and determine what properties I should be focusing my attention on. I make sure to rotate pressure on all of the properties that I hunt on, but homeowners are the best trail-cam’s anyone can have, and their information is vital to success. It might seem like since there are so many deer around, that suburban hunting would be easy, but it’s far from it. With the overabundance of browse and varying pressures on the deer, they tend to be almost nomadic. They slowly roam from place to place without much rhyme or reason, making them hard to pattern, and homeowners are the best way to figure out where they currently are and what they’re doing. I have found that playing the wind and homeowner communication are two of the biggest factors that lead to consistent deer sightings. The day before a hunt, I’ll look at the upcoming wind and weather forecast and then try to make the most informed decision I can on where to head for my next hunt.
Over the years that I have been doing this I have developed an efficient system for how to hunt over a thousand trees without needing a thousand treestands by keeping all of my trees ready to climb, marked with a reflective tack, and stored in my GPS. I keep most of my gear in a plastic tub in the back of my truck under my bed cover. I’ll dress in street clothes on my way to my hunting destination and change into my camo at my truck once I’ve parked at the property. I then grab my pack, bow, portable climbing sticks and saddle and head into my location. Once at my tree, I climb up to 20’+, pull up my bow, and settle in; ready to hunt in no more than 15 minutes. Then it’s time to sit back, relax and wait to see if the deer will show up or not. I find that this method allows me to be as mobile and silent as possible without leaving anything in the woods that could rust and require maintenance or a safety issue later down the road.
Almost daily, I find myself going through the same routine of talking to homeowners, checking the wind, trying to determine what property and stand location to hunt, and heading out to go do it. You’d think that after 7 years of doing this day in and day out, it would get old - but it hasn’t. In fact, I think that I probably enjoy hunting now more than I ever have before. It’s great to have access to a variety of places to hunt so close to my house and to be able to help thin an overpopulated herd that really needs it, as well as knowing people in need.that the meat that I’m donating is helping to feed
jungle, there’s a way to get out and do what you love to do. When I’m not waking up and climbing a tree well before the sun rises, or doing chores to keep my incredibly understanding and insanely patient-to-put-up-with-me fiancé happy, I’m out shooting ducks and geese over the Potomac River, or taking my GSP partner in crime to shoot pheasant, chukkar, quail or dove – all in the DC Metro area. I guess I’m living in just the right place after all.