I live and hunt a couple of hours outside the concrete jungle of northern Virginia, for decades one of the fastest growing regions in the United States. Even in these difficult times of Bidenomics, suburbia continues to sprawl into the once-rural counties where I grew up hunting. New roads and houses continue to carve up the land, and the deer habitat, across the region. And the deer kill keeps going up! Hunters tag tens of thousands of whitetails in small woods and thickets (many only 10- to 50-acres), and we shoot some massive bucks.
A good portion of the harvest occurs during the bow and muzzleloader seasons in late October and early November. I think these are the best times to hunt small lands in suburbia. Many deer are still fairly predictable in their travels between feeding and bedding sites. Also, while bucks are used to seeing, hearing and smelling people on the fringes of their chopped-up habitats they haven’t been spooked too badly by rifle hunters inside their living quarters. They haven’t turned nocturnal yet.
Keeping in mind the acorns, bedding thickets and buck sign you found on earlier scouts weeks ago, hang several tree stands downwind of nearby ditches, hollows, creek bends, ridge points and similar terrain wrinkles. You can bet your compound bow or in-line smoke pole that a mature buck living in or traveling through a woodlot or thicket walks regularly down little funnels, around points, in creek beds, etc. Be in the right spot at the right time and you might see him and get a shot. The best part is that since deer are squeezed into narrow covers, funnel stands are apt to produce either morning or evening. Hang 2 or 3 tree stands in a small woodlot, and hunt them in a rotational pattern every few days to keep the pressure down, especially your scent.
As the pre-rut rolls into the peak breeding season—the middle of November in most areas but as late as mid-December or January in a few Deep South states—a big buck will leave the strip or pocket you’re hunting for days or weeks. You might see him chase a doe across a road two miles away. Or you may spot him scent-checking girls in a cornfield or right-of-way 3 miles from your stand. But hang in there, especially if you’re seeing four or five does every day that you hunt. While he’s gone another good buck, maybe a 10-pointer that you’ve never seen before, might cruise past one of your funnel stands, hot on the trail of those untended does. And there’s a decent chance that one day the big boy you started out hunting will circle back into his home core area, if he’s not shot by another hunter or hit by a car.
As Cat D-9s rip roads and home sites in once-rural farms and woodlands, a ton of edge cover is created. Whitetails love to walk and browse these strips, especially once acorns and other food sources have dried up late in the season. Move one of your stands over to a thick edge and watch for deer skulking around at dawn or duck. You might yet whack a big buck in the suburbs.
Did You Know?
- In chopped-up suburban habitats, most whitetail bucks have small home ranges—maybe 500 acres or less—and tight travel patterns (outside the peak of the rut).
- Many bucks have five or six core bedding areas and “cover hop” between them.
- If you drive past a buck on the way in to your hunting spot, he’ll probably just stand and look. But if you stop your truck and get out for a closer look, he’ll flash away for cover.
- In the suburbs deer smell all sorts of stuff—exhaust, burgers on the grill, cigars—on the fringes of their habitats. But you’d better use a scent-killer and play the wind when hanging tree stands and hunting inside a thicket or woodlot. Too much human stink will drive a buck to one of his secondary core areas.
- Bucks tolerate weed eaters, kids hollering, dogs barking… But the roar of an ATV or the metallic clang of a tree stand inside a cover can spook deer, so keep quiet on the way in.