The images are ingrained in our minds — a monster whitetail in a woodland setting or in a lush farm field. Since our infancy, those classic images have appeared in paintings, calendars, advertising and hunting magazines. So, it’s no small wonder that when hunters think of trophy-racked bucks, remote woods and farm fields come to mind.
Nice images, but recent record-book entries are revealing a different story. Many of the trophy bucks being taken these days are coming from what I call “developed habitat,” or suburban residential and business areas. The reason is twofold — these bucks are older, more mature animals, and whitetails, by their very nature, have rapidly adapted to the preserve-like conditions offered by these areas. The real challenge for hunters, as well as deer managers, is how to access these populated areas to manage what has become a problematic and overabundant deer treasure trove.
For example, deer cause an estimated $18 million in property damage annually just in the D.C. metropolitan area. In New Jersey, car-deer accidents cause an estimated $10 million in property damages annually. In Pennsylvania, that figure is $25 million. And this doesn’t account for the human injuries or even fatalities these accidents cause. The direct economic cost of vehicle-deer collisions on Wisconsin roads is estimated to be more than $100 million annually. These direct costs include damage to vehicles, medical treatments and government response costs. Nationwide, studies have shown that deer-car accidents cause an estimated $1.1 billion of damage annually, and that’s just based on the ones reported. A Cornell University study found that only one out of seven car-deer accidents are reported. So it would make sense that more efforts be made to reduce and manage deer in the most problematic areas. But these areas, due to human densities, are often the ones that are off-limits to hunting. But that is gradually changing.
The first step in locating these new potential hot spots is reviewing the state buck records, especially those listing the last few years’ entries. Another is checking with county highway departments, which keep records of deer-car accidents. Lastly, check with the nearest wildlife management agency office in those areas. Combined, this will give you a starting point, or several, to begin your scouting.
Since hunting by any method is sometimes prohibited by townships or within corporate lines, a check of the local laws for these towns and areas will reveal the off-limits areas. However, the lands lying on their perimeters often have no such laws or ordinances, and these should be considered as potential spots to receive access. And just because a certain suburban cluster or commercial development may not allow bowhunting doesn’t mean they all will.
The facts speak for themselves, many suburban areas of the nation are facing a deer overpopulation crisis. It’s not uncommon for the non-hunting residents to initially resist hunting as a tool and partial solution to the problem, but as they personally become aware of the alternatives, and especially property damages caused by the animals, many often conclude that hunting is a good solution. This can be especially true if they learn of test programs where suburban deer are being baited and then shot over spotlights at night by authorities. And once they’ve been exposed to responsible hunters and their ethical methods, they usually gain both an understanding and new attitude toward the beneficial role hunting plays in deer management.
The Appropriate Steps for Gaining Access to Suburbia
The steps that lead bowhunters to suburban trophy buck areas, and then gaining permission to hunt there, require more than the casual knock on the door and “Mind-if-I-hunt?” approach. But the potential rewards are well worth the effort.
Review your state’s recent record entries to see where those bucks were taken. Pay special attention to areas near populated centers.
Check with those towns' and counties’ highway departments for car-deer accident hot spots, which will indicate high-density deer areas.
Review local town ordinances and laws as they relate to hunting there. Pay close attention to any adjacent huntable lands that border on non-hunting ones.
Check with the nearest state wildlife offices to see where hunting, especially bowhunting, may be allowed in heavily suburbanized or industrial areas. See if there are any organized hunting groups that have gained access, and consider contacting them to possibly qualify and join their group.
When scouting and seeking permission, wear casual clothing, be polite, friendly and also prepared to answer questions and give your potential hosts hard facts and figures that support hunting as a safe management tool. Have permission agreement slips with you for those who agree to let you hunt, list any conditions the host may want (times and days that they prefer you hunt) and both of you sign the agreement.
Don’t just treat the host as an access means. Note their interest and occasionally offer to help them with a task or drop off an appropriate gift. Show your appreciation.