Bucks in your backyard – don’t overlook suburban, urban areas where whitetails are thriving and unpressured

bucks

Learn how to find deer in places most North Carolina hunters won’t look for them — around loads of people

The first major signs of rutting activity begin in October, the first full month of fall. And buck fever grabs most hunters across the state. Plenty of hunters have made it into the woods this month. Many have gone home with meat in the freezer. And some have made a trip to the taxidermist.

Most hunters set their alarm clocks for the wee hours of the morning to make time for a 50-mile trek into the country. But a select few slide into their tree stands behind their subdivision or the local shopping center. And frankly, under the right circumstances, the suburban hunter can expect to encounter a real trophy with a belly full of petunias and roses only minutes from his or her driveway.

North Carolina’s human population is growing to the level where human habitat is taking over large portions of wildlife habitat. According to the U.S. Bureau of Censuses, North Carolina’s population has risen from 1.8 million in 1900 to around 10 million today. The state is home to the Research Triangle Park and thousands of other large industrial facilities. And all of those people living and working here need places to eat, work and play that displace wildlife every year.

Deer populations continue to thrive in crowded cities

A report in Forbes showed Raleigh and Charlotte as top 10 cities in the United States to which people are relocating. But the deer populations in those areas continues to thrive. According to the N.C. Wildlife Resources Commission, Wake and Mecklenburg counties, home of the state’s largest cities, have deer herds with more than 45 animals per square mile.

The statewide deer population is estimated at 1.3 million, with no signs of decline. To offset the continued growth of the herd, the Commission has used several new mechanisms to increase the annual harvest, including Sunday hunting, liberal use of crossbows, liberal harvest guidelines and urban hunting initiatives.

According to Greg Batts, a Commission biologist whose territory covers Wake County, collisions between vehicles and deer are out of control.

“In Wake County, there are just as many, if not more, deer killed by cars than hunters,” Batts said. “The company contracted to remove deer carcasses from the highway … each year they pick up around 3,600 to 3,800 around Raleigh.”

By contrast, in an average year, hunters kill between 2,600 and 2,900 deer within Wake County’s borders.

It’s not just the big cities that have these problems

While Wake and Mecklenburg Counties are on the hot list for urban sprawl and deer depredation, there are similar situations almost everywhere, with the exception of the western mountain counties.

Even though large chunks of wildlife habitat are being consumed by development and urban sprawl, significant amounts of forested acreage are scattered across suburbia in small wood lots, power-line rights-of-way, gas lines, and green space designated by planned-unit developments. These wooded regions are sanctuaries for deer that receive very little hunting pressure. And they contain a wide selection of readily-available food resources around every corner.

At first glance, one would expect deer to head from cities and towns toward rural areas. For the most part, this is true. Most deer get squeezed out of their native habitat when new shopping centers and residential developments are built. And many shift to the closest place to hide and find sustenance.

However, deer are not completely opposed to city life. And some movement towards town may not be completely out of the question.

Deer can live it up in the city

“The living is good in the city and suburban areas, with a smorgasbord of flowers to eat everyday and nobody trying to hunt you — as opposed to the country living where most hunters go,” Batts said. “Deer are accustomed to seeing and hearing people all of the time. They are not very fearful of people within the urban environment.”

Hunters looking to harvest that Bullwinkle who doesn’t mind the peripheral noises and challenges associated with suburbia have a good opportunity to score big.

“There are lots of subdivisions and green space areas near populated areas where no hunting exists. And there is a good opportunity to find older, mature males,” Batts said.

The wooded regions around neighborhoods contain just about everything the deer need. They are perfect places to find a large buck.

“Most of our deer problems occur in North Raleigh, (where) the (home) lots are large, with drains and creeks that are not housed and become perfect places for deer to live,” Batts said.

Suburban areas are gold mines for deer hunters

Dennis Moser of Indian Trail is professional hunter and has competed in the American Whitetail Authority Pro Series. While the series has given him the opportunity to hunt all over the country, his two decades of experience hunting around the suburbs between Charlotte and Shelby will always be his crown jewels.

“A lot of suburban areas, you are hunting near industrial centers, subdivisions, shopping centers and major interstates, but, they are ideal spots,” Moser said. “Deer grow old anywhere they can find food, water and cover, and these suburban areas have been real good to me and my family.”

Moser has killed several good bucks over the past decade in the 140- to 155-inch range in Cleveland and Union counties, just 75 yards off major roadways.

“My favorite place to hunt is between an industrial park and a large interstate. The patches of woods or wooded corridors near these areas are ideal,” said Moser. He looks for physical barriers and corridors that funnel deer between feeding and bedding sites. Deer seek out places with the easiest opportunity to feed. And that is usually somebody’s flower beds. But setting over these food sources may not go over too well with the homeowners.

Use mapping technology to locate travel areas

“They will terrorize gardens and shrubbery during the night time. I find the heavily traveled corridors between the subdivisions and their bedding areas,” Moser said. “Get on a major corridor like a sewer line, power-line right-of-way or a wetland/stream area that connects to other wooded areas.”

Moser’s background in the real-estate business has given him the skills to use a wide range of mapping technology, satellite images and publically available tax records that help him locate those critical travel corridors and the landowners that own them.

“Use maps to identify the location and do not do any scouting. Just find a heavily-traveled corridor, put up a stand, and they will come,” he said.

During October and November, bucks will be rutting heavily, and these suburban deer use the confined travel corridors almost exclusively to find receptive females. Hunters can expect to see bucks from all around the region, big and small.

Whitetail travel routes are unchanging in urban environments

Hunters choosing to hunt in the suburbs can benefit greatly during periods of elevated rutting activity because of the confined travel corridors. In rural areas, deer use major travel ways most of the time. But they can easily change their routine and pick any wooded trail available. But in suburban areas, the travel corridors are established and very confined. And that gives urban hunters a definite advantage.

In many newer subdivisions around major metropolitan areas, local zoning laws often require green space or wooded buffers throughout these planned developments. They create perfect travel corridors for deer around the food-filled subdivisions.

Before hunting any of these suburban areas, hunters need to check local laws to make sure the property is either out of the city limits or in a place where hunting is allowed. And always get permission from landowners before hanging the first stand.

Every year, more hunters are learning about the big buck havens near town and populated areas. The old adage of having to go to the country, miles and miles away from civilization, to find a mature deer is no longer a necessity. Plenty of monster bucks with record-sized racks are lurking right in the middle of suburban America.

About Jeff Burleson 1311 Articles
Jeff Burleson is a native of Lumberton, N.C., who lives in Myrtle Beach, S.C. He graduated from N.C. State University with a degree in fisheries and wildlife sciences and is a certified biologist and professional forester for Southern Palmetto Environmental Consulting.

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