In an effort to reduce “negative” attention around weapons to harvest deer, city officials look toward experimental programs like contraception or “covert ops” sharpshooters. But more recently, many have actually started to give hunters, particularly bowhunters, the opportunity to perform a vital role and manage these local herds. City officials like to keep these programs low-key to avoid unnecessary protests or concerns from local residents, so many bowhunters fail to realize these opportunities exist in their home woods.
Most metropolitans or cities with high whitetail and human populations have some sort of city archery program. These programs are usually on several properties, but none bigger than a couple hundred acres. From waste-management land to city-owned parks, these properties often offer some excellent opportunities for local bowhunters to chase down mature city bucks.
Because the acreage is usually small, city-land programs typically regulate use. For some, it may be controlled by a draw system in which a certain number of hunters are selected to take part in the hunting. Others simply require a class to receive an open permit to hunt the city lands enrolled in the program. Either way it is fairly easy and, based on the potential reward, well worth the time.
Because a weapon is being used, many of these city-run hunts require a bowhunter education card or a proficiency test. Why? City officials not only have to justify why the hunts are needed, but they need proof the bowhunters participating aren’t going to go around wounding deer or endangering local residents. With most bowhunts occurring in and around residential areas, safety is a top priority.
Scouting for Success
Most of the properties, even those with high deer populations, don’t guarantee slam-dunk success. With high populations in small areas, I realize that may seem a little strange, but these areas are often not the easiest to enter and exit without bumping deer. There usually aren’t food plots or crops on the area, so hunters will have to identify native food resources in order to be successful.
One of the best resources available is easy-to-access online aerial photographs. You can identify potential bedding and feeding areas, funnels or pinch points, and the places other hunters will likely not venture. Why is that so important? Even though these “city areas” aren’t as well known, it’s likely that you will have some company in the woods. Once-unpressured deer will start to adjust their habits the moment bowhunters start to penetrate these small woodlands. Studying aerial images and finding areas other bowhunters simply won’t walk to will likely put you in an area the deer still feel is a “safety zone.”
Private or public, big or small – it’s difficult to learn a property if access is gained right before the season opener. I’ve adapted my city hunting missions to also serve as scouting missions. After combing over and identifying five to 10 good stand spots via my aerial images, I pack a climbing treestand on my back and venture in. During the hunt I pay very close attention to what is going on in terms of deer movement. I document each movement and create a log for each spot I visit. Not only does this help me to adjust my strategy each time in, it also helps boost success should I hunt the area again.
I know it’s extremely risky, but I also tote a good trail camera with me. What are the odds of it getting tampered with? It’s probably a lot higher than you or I would like, but I lock mine in a bear-proof camera box, and this seems to deter most people. The information I gather from the cameras is invaluable and well worth the risk. Placing a camera lets me know the quality of bucks in the area and puts me in a location 18 feet up a tree where I know I have a good chance to harvest one.
The Hunt for a Wall-Hanger
We all want to shoot a big buck, but the reality is that, as bowhunters, we have a responsibility to manage deer herds. Knowing this, we can’t get completely hung up on harvesting a giant buck when hunting these over-populated areas. It is very important to harvest a deer when hunting these special hunt areas if we want to see this access trend continue. Of course, there is nothing wrong with setting your sights on harvesting a mature buck and then opting to harvest a lesser buck or doe as the season drags on.
If you’re looking to kill a mature animal, the first week of the season can offer some mighty fine bowhunting. Yes, the rut can be good, but it draws other bowhunters to the woods, and because these over-populated areas often have out-of-whack buck-to-doe ratios, rut action is often very weak. In fact, at least in some of the areas I’ve hunted, the rut activity was so flat I hardly saw any deer movement. If you want to at least have the opportunity to harvest a mature buck, the early season is a great time to do it unless you’re certain your property has a good buck-to-doe ratio.
The key to finding and killing an early-season buck is using trail cams as well as hands-on scouting. The toughest part of patterning a buck is finding his bedroom – an area he uses frequently and that doesn’t get disturbed by other bowhunters or the occasional exploring or dog-walking local. Look for those hard-to-reach areas that offer excellent cover. They don’t have to be big. They just need to be off the beaten path, and, at least in my experience, the thicker the better. After locating a few bedding areas, take note of the trails leaving them. Most, especially during the early season, will lead to a natural food source like red and white oaks or other mast-producing trees. Hang a few cameras on these trails and see when the bucks are slipping into these feeding zones.
The first week can also bring out some overzealous bowhunters who do more damage than good. If this is the case, stay out of the woods for a week. Return the following week and use the aforementioned early-season strategies.
Stay tuned for Jeremy’s exciting Missouri hunt…