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This month we check in with First Lite Team Member, Taylor Chamberlin, for another treatise on the finer points of hunting urban whitetails.
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.
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!
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.
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!
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.
First Lite received this report recently from our buddy, Josh Kuntz. For context, Josh is a native Montanan, an Idaho BHA Co-Chair and a highly accomplished backcountry hunter.
The opening weekend of the Montana rifle season this year proved eventful indeed. The week before I hunted near McCall, Idaho and I passed on a few easy shot opportunities on a small muley buck and three trophy class Texas Longhorns. No shit, those crazy-horned bastards were up on top of a mountain hanging out in 3 inches of snow. I'm not going to lie, I thought long and hard about how sweet it would be to have a Euro-mounted longhorn in the living room. But the legal ramifications of killing a rancher's prize cow and picturing my wife filing divorce papers were enough to keep my trigger finger at bay.
Thursday afternoon I boogied towards Montana and turned up a hot date with a redhead on Adult Friend Finder. The smokin' ginger fed me a few beers at Lolo Peak Brewing, clearly trying to get me drunk and take advantage of me. Thanks again for the beers Ty , your beard has never looked better.
Friday morning I bought my Montana deer and elk tags, stuffed down a burrito and met up with my good buddy Tim, who also happens to be the new Hunting Sales Manager of Mystery Ranch Packs. We hauled ass to our favorite trailhead and were pleased to find the trail had no recent footprints or horse tracks. Friday evening we setup a camp a few miles in, then glassed and only managed to spot whitetails, one of which was a promising buck.
Saturday morning was the opener and our plan of sitting on a central ridge looked genius as we had 50-70 elk and a bull moose running our way about 9 minutes into legal shooting light. The lead cow was apparently a masochist of some sort, as she turned the herd and lead them all straight up into some nasty burned timber well beyond our shooting range. Thankfully I didn't have to admit to Tim that chasing elk uphill through burned deadfall was not at the top of my Christmas list. Instead, it made sense to focus on the 3 whitetail bucks that were on a leisurely stroll directly towards us. One was clearly a shooter and I was in a prime position. The one snafu was that he bedded down about 75 yards into private property, clearly mocking me as I repeatedly ranged him at 200 yards. We decided to bail off the ridge and still hunt through a prime bedding area just below us. Even though we had perfect wind and our ninja skills were primed we blew out a dozen or so whitetails during the first hour of tippy-toeing around. That's when we ran into the first area of the old burn and commenced the laughable task of navigating thousands of downed, burned trees that were hiding in tightly packed, nipple high, new growth pines. Brutal.
We decided to make a big move, hiking around some private property and heading into the adjacent Wilderness area, home to the largest mule deer I have ever killed (2012). Much to our dismay, we spied 8 horses tied to trees in the spot we were headed. I began softly speaking to the horses from a short distance and two rotund pumpkin bodies rolled out from behind a log to "greet" us. As suspected, these 2 guys were hunters with an outfitter. Their combined weight was nearly that of my Chevy truck and they informed us they were from West Virginia and there were 4 other hunters and 2 guides "WAY UP OVER THAT HORRIBLE RIDGE". These 2 good ol boys had attempted the Everest-like ascent of said ridge but turned back about 50 yards in because it was too difficult. I peppered these guys with questions and learned that most stereotypes of West Virginia were based on these 2 guys. The fatter and younger fella looked like the lovechild of Chris Farley and Larry the Cable guy and he was completely dumbfounded to learn that we had walked all the way in there and were camping out of our backpacks. Clearly befuddled, he asked, "what in the world do you use to heat your tent?" Every ounce of me wanted to say something about Brokeback Mountain, but he was armed and from West Virginia, so I kept my pretty mouth shut and we moved along.
Seventeen minutes later we heroically crested the "ridge of death" and found the 6 other guys sitting in a circle in the dead center of a giant treeless meadow. We chatted them up and then dropped off the other side to a basin containing a few lakes and a nice meadow. We set camp again and spread out to cover the meadows for the evening. Tim elected to pass on three small whitetail bucks. I glassed up a very nice bull about 1 mile away and up a distant ridge, about 300 yards from where we had camped in previous years. That night, some sort of polar vortex moved in and the tent had nearly formed ice by the time we finished dinner and crawled in to the quilts. I have night terrors occasionally and Tim was treated to some high decibel moaning in the middle of the night. The performance reached its zenith when I sat bolt upright in the middle of the night, bumped my head on the icy tent wall and created a snow shower inside the tent. This kind of unplanned entertainment in the middle of the night (in grizzly country) is perhaps the reason there is not a huge line of friends asking to go hunting with me.
Anyhow, Sunday morning was colder than a witches titty and we spent the first few hours overlooking an empty meadow. Visions of the big bull from the previous night and my big 5x6 muley from 2012 danced in my head as we made our plan. Around 9:30am we headed into another burned area but luckily it was devoid of new-growth pine and we only had to step over deadfall about 30% of the time. There was very little wind and being quiet was damn tough in the jumble of burned trees but fortunately Tim and I each honed our sneaky skills back in our 20's making silent retreats from the bedrooms of Bozeman's cougar population. Moments after re-shouldering our packs from a quick break I noticed a body materialize about 35 yards to my left. Tim was only a few steps away but was looking the other way, probably recalling a fond Bozeman cougar memory. Without a conscience thought about doing so, I was looking through the scope and with a small turn of the head I saw the antlers I was looking for. The body was obscured by trees but at 35 yards my crosshairs were dead solid on the neck when I pulled the trigger. It was all over in an instant.
The pack out was 3 miles, the first of which took over an hour to negotiate; some of the worst blowdown and new-growth I have ever had the misfortune of finding. But it was worth it for this great animal.
Best and happy hunting,
Josh Kuntz lives in Boise and hunts across Idaho and Montana. He currently serves as a Co-Chair for the Idaho Chapter of Backcountry Hunters and Anglers.
There are 30 Million White-tailed Deer in this country...
...but that doesn't mean that killing one of them is a cake walk. To celebrate North America's most popular game animal, here are some tips from the First Lite Pro Staff to help you fill your tag this season.
Knock on doors
For better or worse, the vast majority of whitetails harvested every year are killed on private lands. With today's burgeoning populations of deer many landowners are more than happy to have a few less on their property. It never hurts to ask.
Scout, Scout, Scout
Look for natural food sources, trails, scrapes and rubs. Set up cameras if you have access to them. Have several trees ready to go so that when the weather moves in or the rut begins you can take advantage of variable deer movement. Most of the work of harvesting whitetails occurs before the hunter ever climbs into the stand.
Work the military crest
Deer tend to walk the "military crest" or the top 2/3rd's elevation line in hill country on the leeward (downwind side) of a ridge, and then will often bed on the points of ridges with the wind at their back. This allows the daytime's rising thermals to create a scent zone that allows the deer to smell what is behind them and see what is in front of them. Knowing these lines and bedding spots, intercept them in the morning or evening.
Find him, don't push him
When it comes to hunting a mature buck, locating deer while also putting very little pressure on the area is key. Get to vantage points and glass bean fields from long distances, let trail cameras sit for 8-10 weeks without checking them, and treat your hunting land as a sanctuary.
Whitetails are very wary animals. Walking into the stand can alert them just enough to make them hunker down until dark. One technique is to have a buddy drive you in and drop you off, and drive away. The sound of the vehicle cruising away makes any bedded deer within hearing distance feel the danger has left.
That's all for now. From all of us here at FLHQ, best luck in the deer woods!
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.