Sometimes, shifting our focus from rural areas to the urban scene can pay big dividends. This scenario can be a bonanza for bow hunters who can quietly hunt along the edges of subdivisions where deer have become a nuisance, their stands often close enough to civilization to see television sets through picture windows and smell hamburgers grilling on someone's deck.
Biologist Charles Ruth, deer-project leader for the S.C. Department of Natural Resources, has reported that the statewide deer herd has shrunk from a high of 1.25 million animals in 2002 to approximately 750,000 today. Despite the overall decline in numbers, bag limits remain liberal, and deer are becoming more confident moving into the suburbs and urban settings. If an area meets the requirements of food, cover and water, deer will eventually show up.
As development encroaches more on deer range, more evidence of urban deer populations will appear. Unchecked population growth in those areas will lead to conflict between deer and humans. Strictly regulated and properly conducted bow hunts are a viable means to control these deer numbers with a minimum of disturbance.
Jeff Stewart is well acquainted with the habits of urban deer. He once worked at the Greenville-Spartanburg airport, which had a large population of resident deer. In order to control the population and assure the safety of aircraft, it became necessary to remove excess animals, and airport officials agreed to allow employees to thin the herd by bowhunting. Stewart, who builds and sells recurve bows (www.StewartHybridBows.com), was appointed huntmaster for the airport property, and he directed and enjoyed many successful hunts, one of which produced a nice 8-point buck.
"I had to work later than usual on that particular day, (so) I hurried to an area that I had hunted previously," he said. "After parking my truck on a dirt road near the entrance to the airport and I-85, I (went) only 50 yards from the truck. The setup was on a ridge near red oaks and a scrape. Normally, I would travel as far into the woods as possible, but (the time) altered my plan. Twenty-five yards downwind from the scrape, Stewart could see his truck from the stand. The traffic noise from I-85 made hearing almost impossible, so using a grunt call was useless.
"After only 15 minutes, I looked down, (and) my feet appeared to have sprouted antlers. A buck was directly under my stand. It was impossible to make a shot at that angle, (and) I was afraid to move and possibly spook him. He moved to my right (and) disappeared into the brush, never offering a high-percentage shot.
"I was disappointed, but that's hunting," he said. "About 10 minutes later, I looked in the direction of the scrape, and the buck was standing near it. He was quartering away with his head to the ground. I don't remember lifting the bow, but I do remember releasing the arrow. I could barely hear the arrow strike him over the highway noise.
"He raced away like one of the cars on I-85. I waited about an hour before tracking him. He only traveled 50 yards from the point of impact. He was a nice 8-pointer and weighed 155 pounds. That hunt provided additional reinforcement to my belief that big bucks are not always in the deep woods, but are often right in our backyard."
Stewart has also hunted inside the Greer city limits, on a 10-acre parcel that has provided some excellent hunting, and he is a great fan of urban deer hunting. He has harvested more than 75 deer over the past eight seasons.
Daniel Cathey of Anderson loves remote areas but also often hunts in urban areas. He has found that deer in urban areas are often undisturbed and can reach very respectable sizes due to lack of hunting pressure. Many times, the most danger these deer face is crossing the streets and highways, and they are accustomed to the presence of vehicles -which led to one memorable hunt with his son, Rivers.
"We were planning to hunt along the edge of a pasture in an urban setting. The deer were quite accustomed to seeing and hearing vehicles in close proximity," Cathey said. "I told Rivers to get in the truck, and I would drive him to his stand. (He) questioned the approach and whether it would spook the deer. I drove nearly to the base of the tree, and Rivers climbed into his stand. I drove away across the pasture and had barely reached my stand and started to climb when I heard a shot."
When he checked later, Cathey found that Rivers had taken a nice deer. He had correctly guessed that the deer would be more cautious of human scent or the sight of a person walking across the pasture than his truck.
Personal experience has shown me that deer are very comfortable in close proximity to human activity. One of my favorite stands to hunt with a bow is accessed by canoe, but it is so close to houses that traffic noises and voices are easily heard. The deer's ears may flicker at nearby sound, but they will not spook unless someone is moving close to their location. Their senses are acute, and they are not "tame" by any stretch of the imagination, but they have learned to coexist with humans and take advantage of suitable habitat.
This spot has yielded seven deer in the past three seasons. It is amazing to learn that these alert animals are moving about urban neighborhoods undetected and unharmed. Local residents are usually aware only because of sightings at night or from damage to ornamental plants or gardens. Many would not believe the significant deer population that exists just outside their doorsteps.
Urban deer can be a great source of sport and venison, but hunters must maintain good relationships with local residents, be as unobtrusive as possible and obey the special regulations that usually accompany this type of hunting.