The Definitive Guide to Harvesting Big Bucks on Small, Suburban Properties
Bernie Barringer 10.29.14
More and more big bucks are showing up in suburban areas. If you find the right small property and get permission to hunt there, you might be surprised to see what walks by your stand.
I’ve seen some really nice deer in some really weird places. Often these places are in parks on the outskirts of cities, and even more often, big bucks live in bedroom communities where the habitat may not be ideal, but the hunting pressure is minimal or even nonexistent.
Take for example the experience of Josh Runksmeier, a friend of mine who was discussing deer with a coworker who told him that a big buck was often seen in his neighborhood. The area was comprised of five- to 10-acre properties with homes and buildings cut out of the hardwood forests of northcentral Minnesota. Seems this particular buck was sporting some big headgear and was known among the locals.
My buddy simply asked if he could come out and have a try at the buck on opening weekend. He was granted permission and shot the deer in the woods behind his coworker’s house on opening day.
The numbers of outsized bucks being harvested from suburban areas is growing every year as more and more homes are being built in what was previously habitat left to the whitetail alone. Here are a few suggestions for finding and hunting your own little suburban property gem.
What to look for
Deer need to eat every day and that is the key to finding them in these suburban areas. The most ideal habitat will have year-round food sources. If there are crops within a mile or so, the deer will be using them. Acorns and other mast crops in season add to the area’s attractiveness. Deer will readily feed on ornamental trees and plants. Hastas are like crack-cocaine to a deer, they love the plant and will eat them down to the nubbins when they find them.
Deer need to have a secure place to bed. It’s shocking how often they will spend their days within a few feet of a busy roadway or 50 yards from someone’s backyard. Find the thick cover that no one seems to go into and you will find the daytime hangouts. Newly-developed areas that have plenty of timber and areas of mostly five acres or more are the best bet.
Parks in these suburban areas can also hold a lot of deer. Even small parks can be deer magnets. It’s rare to get permission to hunt within a park, but there are occasions when that is an option. The properties that surround the parks will probably have the most deer issues and the owners may be readily disposed to letting a hunter thin them out.
Once you have found a spot that the deer are frequenting, getting permission is the next step. Some people will welcome you with open arms and may even see you as a gift, others will snarl at you and maybe even slam the door on you. You never know until you ask. Homeowners who have had continual problems with deer eating their trees and shrubs seem to be the most welcoming. Anyone who has recently hit a deer with their car is also a good prospect.
I once found a 15-acre piece of property owned by a developer that was surrounded by homes on three sides and a small park with a walking path on the other. I called up the owner and he gave me permission over the phone. He said no one had ever asked. I have shot quite a few does off this property and am closing in on some nice bucks that frequent the little whitetail gem. I keep a low profile and as far as I know, I’m the only one who knows I hunt there other than one hunting buddy and the landowner.
Check it out
To successfully hunt these properties, you must be minimally intrusive with your presence and your scent. But I make an exception to that rule when I first acquire a piece of property. I like to cover it thoroughly and gather as much firsthand information as I can. I want to know where the beds are located, how the deer are travelling the topography, and what they are eating and where.
Many of these small properties are transition areas between feeding and bedding locations. I have another one that is a staging area near a crop field. Another is a bedding area. These tiny properties normally are not large enough to be both feeding and bedding. You must figure out what the deer are doing there and hunt accordingly.
One tactic for scouting that may seem crazy at first is to scout the land at night. If you feel the property has good bedding cover, the deer will be out feeding at night so you can move in and look it over with a flashlight during the cover of darkness without disturbing them or tipping off the neighbors about your activities.
Inventory the deer
The next thing you need to do is learn the potential. We need to find out what bucks are using the land and how often. I have found the best way to inventory the population is with game cameras monitoring trails and mineral licks. This two-pronged attack brings the deer to you with the mineral, and you go to the deer with the trail monitoring.
This technique works the best if you start in the spring to early summer when the minerals are most attractive to the deer. Does and bucks alike use the mineral sites and you can watch bucks’ antlers grow throughout the summer. I recommend checking the cameras not more than once every two weeks, and once a month is better.
Time to hunt
If you’ve followed the advise in this article, you’ll know which bucks are using the property and have a rough idea of when and where they are traveling through. You have a couple treestands up and you’re ready to put an arrow in a buck. But hold on! Patience is critically important when the season opens.
The truth is you can wreck the fragile potential of a tiny property by making one mistake. I now have two stands on the 15-acre property mentioned above: one for a wind with some east to southeast to it and one for winds from the west and northwest. I don’t hunt them if the conditions are not perfect—no exceptions. How you approach the stand is critically important, too. Keep your activities secret from the neighbors and the deer.
Small properties in the right locations can be amazing gems. Tread lightly on them and always think of the deer activity on that property as a very fragile thing that can be broken easily. Have you ever successfully taken a deer on a “nontypical” property? Share it below!
Follow Bernie’s bowhunting adventures on his blog, bowhuntingroad.com.