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The Suburban Deer Slayer

Posted by Ford Van Fossan on

This month we check in with First Lite Team Member, Taylor Chamberlin, for another treatise on the finer points of hunting urban whitetails.

IMG_8823 A typical suburban hunting scene. Photo: Author.

Suburban deer hunting is fantastic. There are a multitude of properties within a short drive from your own home, an abundance of deer, relatively low hunter pressure, and a season that runs year-round. While all that is fantastic, there are plenty of hurdles that present themselves that make urban hunting a unique experience among itself. Some are funny, some are interesting, and all of them as a whole end up making urban archery the fun experience that it is.

Overall, the entire process of hunting in an urban environment is different than hunting in a rural area. First off – you HAVE to get dressed in the field, and it’s not because of scent control! Being that there are so many people surrounding you, you don’t want anyone to see you in camouflage that doesn’t have to. The more you can be out of sight, the less issues you will have with anyone who might not agree with what you are doing. While what I’m doing is totally legal, ethical and needed by the deer herd, most anti-hunters will stop at nothing to confront you and ruin your hunt. I’ve had groups of protesters come into an area that I’m hunting banging pots and pans, making as much noise as possible, just to try and scare the deer away. Driving to the property that you are hunting and getting dressed in the field is the only way to do it.

IMG_7208 Subtlety is key. Photo: Author.

Along the same lines, it’s important to develop a system of HOW you hunt from the tree. I am fortunate that I have the ability to hunt almost every day of the season, and I make sure that I have enough properties to hunt that allow me to not burn out certain places and keep a rotation of going to different properties. It wouldn’t be possible for me to have a tree stand in every one of the locations that I hunt, because I would have thousands of dollars tied up in stands and steps. Over the years I have tested many different methods of climbing/hunting and have settled on a quick, quiet and safe way to hunt.

When I initially get a property I will ask the homeowners when/where they are seeing deer and then try to pick a couple different trees to hunt from based on the wind. I will then climb those trees with my portable climbing sticks and saddle (that are always in the back of my truck) and prep the tree by trimming branches and clearing shooting lanes. I’ll mark the tree on my GPS, and make a note of what wind to hunt it from. When the time comes to come back and hunt that property, I’m able to check my notes on each tree and determine what wind is best, then slip in and hunt. I find this to be incredibly fast, quiet, and easy. Most of all, it’s better than a climber because you aren’t limited to what exact tree you can climb. Rather than hunting for a tree, I can hunt from the area that I want, or need to be in. On a property that’s ½ or ¼ of an acre, sometimes there are only one or two trees to choose from, so it’s very important!

IMG_6883 A good-looking suburban buck. Photo: Author.

Scouting in an urban area is also very different, and you have to take into account different factors that you wouldn’t even imagine when hunting in a rural area. Pinch points and saddles in urban areas can hide right under your nose, and areas that you might avoid in the country could be a hot spot in the ‘burbs. The first item that I always look for are man-made structures that will help funnel deer. Deer in the suburbs will always tend to walk to a fence, and then walk alongside it until they have the ability to turn off, making areas where something runs a long way total hot spots. Areas like fences, roads, downed trees, etc. are all areas that you might tend to avoid in the country, but can be total hot spots in urban areas. Sometimes even the best spot to hunt from is one that already exists. Deer are used to the structures that they see every day, and if a tree fort or elevated playground is in the right area, it can be a perfect spot to hunt from.

When hunting in the suburbs, it’s also important to learn the normal movements of the neighborhood. Knowing what day and what time the trash trucks, school busses, mail men, and anyone else come and go are important. The deer know the normal patterns of the neighborhoods, and they will cater their movement to it. I’ve lost count of the amount of times that a trash truck will pull out after picking up trash, only to have 8+ deer pile out of their bedding area immediately after it leaves.

File_003 A yard hunt. Photo: Author.

Another aspect of scouting that’s completely different than hunting in the country is talking to people. I find that in rural areas, people are very secretive about telling people what they’re seeing and where they are hunting. In the suburbs, the homeowners and people that work in the area are a tremendous resource. I always ask the homeowners when and where they are seeing deer, and ask them to let me know if they start noticing a pattern of when they are seeing them. Most of my harvests are due to homeowner communication. They’re also a fantastic resource to talk to their neighbors for you to introduce you and turn one property of access into two. Over the years, I have also found that mailmen are a phenomenal resource. They know everyone in the neighborhood, and spend all day walking around with their eyes open. They can tell you when and where they are seeing deer, and they can introduce you to the property owner that owns the property where they tend to see deer.

I think one of the hardest parts of urban hunting is also one of the best parts of it, and that’s dealing with all of the meat. If you’re a year-round hunter and you are dedicated to helping thin the herd out, then you will, without a doubt, need to figure out a way to deal with all of the deer you harvest. Fortunately for me, my state has a program that allows me to donate harvested deer to help feed the homeless and less fortunate. It’s a free service where I can drop off a field dressed deer at any butcher, and they will take care of the rest. I use this service A LOT, and really enjoy knowing that all the meat is going to a good cause. I also enjoy eating the deer myself, and feed my family and friends with the organic bounty. It doesn’t get more organic and grass fed than suburban deer!

IMG_1542 Its all fun and games until some high school girls happen by the doe you have hanging under the deck. Photo: Author.

I have designed my own meat processing station in my garage that allows me to be out of sight of the neighbors and people driving down the road. I used to process meat outside of my house under my deck, however, that stopped pretty quickly when my neighbor’s son had a group of high school girls come over to his house. When they parked and walked past my house (while I had a deer hanging on a gambrel about halfway through the quartering process) they started to scream and get upset. I’ve found the garage works much better for everyone!

Overall, urban hunting isn’t easy. Due to the small size of the properties, lack of abundant browse, and the constant human interaction, deer in the suburbs tend to be nomadic. They’ll often roam over a huge core area, making them very hard to pattern and hunt successfully on a consistent basis. To routinely harvest urban deer, it requires you to spend many hours in a tree and pick your locations wisely, as well as having different systems in place of knowing when the deer are using a property, and being able to get there and hunt them quickly.  But when it’s done right, it’s one of the best ways to hunt. You have an endless supply of hunting properties within a short drive from your house, a year-round season, and plenty of game to harvest. I’d say it’s worth dealing with all the different intricacies without a doubt.

First Lite Team Member, Taylor Chamberlain, lives in suburban Northern Virginia just south of DC and hunts whitetails roughly 150 days year.

Conserving Bighorn Sheep in the Northern Rockies

Posted by Ford Van Fossan on
Kit in ActionSW First Lite Team Member Kit Fischer of the National Wildlife Federation with a newly released bighorn. Photo: Steve Woodruff

Last year, the National Wildlife Federation (one of the founding First Lite Partners in Conservation) launched a new initiative to protect imperiled bighorn sheep in the West. While bighorn numbers historically were estimated at 2 million nationwide, the population has declined precipitously since the mid-1800s due largely to loss of suitable habitat and disease spread from domestic sheep. Recent estimates place the number of bighorn in this country at 50,000 individuals.

Ellis_Peak_in_the_Tendoy_Mountains_location_of_disease__imperaled_Bighorn_Sheep_2_of_35_Grid7 Bighorn populations in the Tendoy Mountains of Montana have been ravaged by disease transmitted by range sheep. Photo: Bruce Gordon.

To combat this decline, in 2015 NWF launched a new initiative focused on maintaining separation between domestic and wild sheep and increasing available habitat. We are working closely with our sportsmen partners, including the Wild Sheep Foundation and state wildlife federation affiliates in Montana, Idaho, and Wyoming to address challenges and opportunities facing bighorn sheep in the West.

You Gotta Keep ‘em Separated

Specifically, we are addressing the risk of contact between domestic sheep and bighorn sheep on public grazing allotments managed by the Forest Service and The Bureau of Land Management. Region 4 of the U.S. Forest Service (ID, WY, UT, and NV) is completing a risk of contact analysis to identify areas where domestic sheep and bighorn sheep occupy the same habitat.

IMG_1752 A sedated bighorn is examined by wildlife professionals. Photo: Kit Fischer

As a primary method in addressing spatial separation between bighorns and domestic sheep, NWF has developed grazing agreements with willing sellers to retire grazing allotments in areas where there is a high risk of contact. While NWF’s approach to solving bighorn sheep conflicts is relatively new, NWF’s Wildlife Conflict Resolution Program has been working to resolve intractable conflicts between large carnivores and livestock on public lands since 2002.

More Secure Habitat = More Bighorns = More Hunter Opportunity

Over the past 13 years, NWF’s Wildlife Conflict Resolution program has resolved conflicts between livestock and wildlife (native trout, bighorn sheep, wolves, grizzly bears, sage grouse, elk and mule deer) on over 1 Million acres of public lands in the west.

IMG_1737 A helicopter carries a sedated sheep away for relocation. Photo: Kit Fisher

In the past year alone, NWF and our partners developed grazing agreements with sheep producers on nearly 250,000 acres in Wyoming and southern Idaho, securing critical additional habitat and eliminating the risk of contact with domestic sheep. In turn, this will mean larger populations of bighorns and more hunting opportunities for the public. Since the program’s inception, NWF has worked cooperatively with ranchers to eliminate conflict between wildlife and livestock on over 1 Million acres in the west.

These retirements, which are completely voluntary, have received strong support from livestock producers who typically use the payments to secure grazing in new locations without wildlife conflicts. A market approach to changing grazing patterns can turn opponents into partners and provide a positive solution to chronic conflicts between domestic and bighorn sheep. We believe this grazing retirement approach can provide a new conservation model that reduces litigation, sustains agriculture, and re configures grazing to locations where it is compatible and sustainable.

Big_Beaver_Poison_Middle_Shineberger_and_Little_Beaver_Creeks_1_of_29_Grid7 Bighorn habitat along Big Beaver and Poison Creeks in Montana. Photo: Bruce Gordon

While NWF’s bighorn sheep conservation efforts have been effective in increasing habitat and minimizing risk on public lands, there is still plenty of work to be done in restoring bighorns to much of their historical habitat. We look forward to expanding our bighorn conservation efforts in the coming months to Colorado, Oregon, Nevada and Washington as new and exciting opportunities for landscape-level restoration become available.

First Lite Team member Kit Fischer is the Wildlife Conflict Resolution Program Manager for NWF Northern Rockies and Pacific Regional Center.

One of First Lite's founding partners in conservation, the National Wildlife Federation is one of the country's largest and most venerable conservation organizations. For more information on their work or to support NWF's efforts directly please visit www.nwf.org/wcr.

And don't forget to round up your next purchase on firstlite.com to benefit NWF or one of our other conservation partners.