Hunting in urban areas has become a popular trend over the last several years due to the increasing amount of record-book bucks being taken in heavily populated regions of the U.S. The reasons for this are simple. Farms that were once fruitful for deer hunters have been turned into urban or suburban housing plans and developments, the deer are using these areas to escape other heavily pressured hunting areas, and often access to these areas is limited. When you combine these three things, the number of aged, mature whitetails increases — and consequently more wall-worthy bucks are condensed into a smaller parcel. This brings deer density numbers to the peak, making for a dynamic hunting opportunity. While all of this is great news, what makes the hunting in these areas truly special is the weakening of a deer’s senses that allows hunters to more consistently overcome obstacles that wouldn’t be possible in other scenarios.
While “urban” is defined as an area without a strong farming community and a high population, for the urban effect to have an influence on deer, this definition is too narrow. Even in less populated regions, when certain factors come into play, utilizing the urban effect to one’s advantage will allow a hunter to gain an edge. If hunters take into account, for instance, the wind direction in relation to the smoke billowing from a wood-burning fireplace, they can then use this natural cover scent in their future hunt plans. By utilizing what is available and in addition to “clean” hunting practices, hunters will be able to get into areas during prime time despite having otherwise borderline conditions. From the 2-acre woodlot inside a housing community to the wood line running between two 1,000-acre cornfields, the urbanization of America can have a positive influence on our hunting style.
For whitetail hunters, overcoming a deer’s nose is often the most difficult thing to accomplish. A deer’s sense of smell is said to be more than 500 times keener than a human’s, with the ability to smell something from a half mile away. Imagine the smell of a skunk as you are driving down the road and how it lingers in the air for what seems like miles. To a deer, that is the same type of sensitivity they have to something as miniscule as the garlic breath you emit after eating a pizza the night before as they lay in their beds more than 400 yards away. That is something that you simply cannot easily overcome, and that is where exploiting the urban effect comes into play.
Deer in urban areas or other places where human presence is frequent still have this same sharp ability to detect people, but they’re less alerted by these foreign odors. As an example, think of a hunting area that borders a small development. It isn’t uncommon to see deer in these areas with nary a reaction to a person running down the street as they stand munching on petunias 50 yards off the road. They can see danger, smell it, and even hear it, but they barely even lift their head to observe it. Instead, they are comfortable with it and through repetitive exposure they choose to ignore these sensory alarms.
While sitting in your kid’s treehouse waiting for deer to come into the yard isn’t something I unequivocally recommend, this weakened defense is something to take into consideration when setting a stand behind the house for a quick pre- or post-work hunt. By using this knowledge, a hunter can set a stand and utilize a wind direction that is pushing scent from the scenting zone, aka house, toward the direction of approaching deer with less caution. While a deer’s sense of smell certainly can detect the intensity of a smell and likely interpret that the smell is within the “danger zone,” aka woods, by using good cleanliness practices for clothing and body the smell emitted by the hunter will be lessened and conceived as coming from a longer distance than it really is.
While there is obvious reasoning to understand how hunting in a woods where people walk dogs, play paintball, and do other nonhunting activities would make deer less alert to human odors, that doesn’t mean other hunting areas can’t utilize the same principles to their advantage. Even on large farms there are often bordering houses that emit their own odors and in some cases utilize wood burning as a source of heat in the fall and winter. If the wind is wrong for the stand but blowing a steady stream of smoke in your direction, don’t be afraid to utilize this natural deodorant. First and foremost, if your farm is surrounded by wood-burning houses and you hunt in close proximity, smoke your clothes and body before entering the woods.
Influences Of Man-Made Structure
If you hunt in an urban fringe area long, you’ll eventually run into a situation where a new road or house is built right over the best travel corridor for whitetails in the area. While the obvious initial reaction is that this will completely ruin an old faithful spot, don’t jump to any conclusions right off the bat. Just like natural cover, deer quickly become familiar and calm about traveling right next to a barn, house and even a barking dog. While the original travel path might have been obstructed, it is likely that the path will simply now go around said structure with little to no change after the construction settles down. Sure, the stand location might change a little, but what this structure has actually done is made even the most remote hunting area into an area where urban influences have an effect. Dependent upon the situation and legal and comfortable safety zones for hunting, using this structure to cover scent and your own silhouette gains an advantage.
First and foremost, these structures create an funnel or pinch that will force deer to take a path they otherwise might not have taken. Sometimes these paths will force deer to use the outside of a wood row or push them out into a more open area where hunters can more easily set a stand. If a stand isn’t possible, setting a ground blind between this travel path and the structure allows the hunter to use the larger silhouette of the structure as a backdrop. It isn’t uncommon to see many smaller structures surrounding a house, and there is a comfort level that urbanization brings that allows for less alertness to a new building from the deer’s perspective. Similar, for instance, to using a hay bale blind in a row of freshly cut bales. In addition to the permanent visibility these areas help to conceal, they also allow for a sneak approach. By moving in from a structure toward a stand. hunters can be seen as another nonpredatory movement around the house and forgotten about as soon as it ceases.
A Noisy Sneak Attack
Every hunter has been there: The season is winding down, the winds are right for a scent-free approach to the stand, but the dry leaves make footsteps sound like firecrackers. If you can hear yourself walking, so can the deer, and on quiet mornings that sound can travel for hundreds of yards. While one can certainly hope that an eavesdropping deer would think the sounds of a human walking are instead those of a foraging raccoon, how many times has a hunter come walking past your stand and you didn’t know what it was before you saw them? Just like us, deer are adept at picking out exactly what different creatures sound like by their footsteps. While strapping pillows to your feet might work, instead try something a little less awkward. In woods next to a roadway or in areas where ATVs and UTVs are frequently used, trying an alternative, and likely noisier, approach can get you in closer and undetected.
When approaching from the road to a stand, road noise is your friend. Background road noise is often loud enough to mask any sound a hunter will make for the first couple of hundred yards from the stand and perfectly acceptable to the ears of a deer. If the stand is too far from the road and ATV use is common in the area, especially for afternoon hunts, don’t be afraid to cover some of the ground to the stand on a motorized vehicle. While I normally think using an ATV to hunt runs a high risk of scaring deer away, that isn’t the case in certain scenarios. Deer quickly become accustomed to their use, both smell and sound, and in areas where they are common it isn’t unusual to drive them past deer as close as 5 yards off the trail. If it is a long hike, minimize the amount of perspiration on your body and utilize an ATV as a tool to get you closer and ultimately less likely to get busted when situations arise that are too perfect to pass up.
Think Outside The Box
While traditional urban hunting in the backyards of a housing plan isn’t for everyone, that doesn’t mean that many of the same practices can’t apply to other less populated regions. As a whole, when deer live surrounded by frequent human activity, they quickly become desensitized to humans. Hunters can use this weakened sensitivity to outsmart an otherwise extremely cunning creature, gaining an advantage that other masks simply cannot match. Hunters still must follow sound practices to minimize their presence, but coupling those practices with these ideas creates a dynamic situation where deer won’t be themselves and a potential higher degree of success can be had.