A gray squirrel scampered through the leaves as I intently scanned the area around my stand. I knew the land held plenty of deer. I just need to be patient, I thought. It wasn’t long before I spotted activity—a small game hunter. He quickly passed my location, obviously in a hurry to get somewhere. This was the second person to walk by me on that crisp October morning, but I wasn’t about to call it quits.
I knew if I put in the time, a deer would eventually make its way down the scrape-littered trail by my stand. Moments later, the sound of the small game hunter’s gun filled the air. He was clearly having better luck than me ... but suddenly a flash of movement met my eyes. Antlers! My brain went into overdrive. It wasn’t a giant buck, but a buck nonetheless, and he was working my way.
The buck stopped to sniff one of the nearby scrapes and I took the opportunity to ready my bow. After working the scrape, he continued my way and walked the edge of the small clearing in front of me. I bleated with my mouth and the buck stopped at 30 yards for a very desirable quartering-away shot. The arrow hit a touch low but punched right through his heart. He piled up a few dozen yards away.
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Understanding Pressured Deer
With all of the disturbances I experienced that morning, many folks would have just pulled their stand and searched for a more remote area to hunt, but that was nearly impossible in this case. Why? I was hunting a small tract of public land located near the densely populated Twin Cities—a magnet for area residents. As a matter of fact, almost all area Wildlife Management Areas (WMAs) feel the same human disturbances, albeit, some more than others. Not only do other hunters use these lands, but so do joggers, dog walkers, bird watchers ... you name it and it’s a year-round affair.
During my hunt, I was banking on a few key elements to increase my odds of success. The local deer herd learned that humans are predictable, and not a threat at long distances. It's true: Most folks walk the open paths that are mowed and maintained by the Department of Natural Resources. And like almost all area WMAs, bowhunting for deer is the only option. Sure, there is gunfire from small game and waterfowl hunters, but the shotgun blasts are more of a nuisance to other humans than to deer.
On a few occasions, I watched deer around my stand as shots rang out nearby and the deer simply ignored them. There were also times when I’d spot a deer watching me as I walked the property. I'd continue to walk as though I was totally unaware of the deer’s presence, and as soon as I made it to cover, I'd discreetly position myself so that I could watch the deer. As expected, the deer would return to its normal activity.
I also learned that the deer on metro lands treat human disturbances differently depending on what part of the property they’re on; I call it the "golf course syndrome." These are areas where the deer experience non-threatening encounters with humans on a regular basis, and thus the deer exhibit the same behavior as deer on a golf course.
Most deer hunters opt to hunt as far back on a property as possible, trying to avoid other outdoor enthusiasts. This often forces deer to move to the front of a property, where man seems to be less of a threat. Guess where my stand was located?
Metro Deer Hunting Tips
What does all of this mean to you if you’re hunting near a metro area? First of all, scout the land as you would normally scout any other property. Look for tracks, droppings, rubs and anything else that would indicate recent and regular deer activity. Second, search out areas where deer can travel to bedding areas, food and water sources and remain undetected. While deer will be accustomed to some human disturbances, they won’t waltz across an open field if you’re standing in the middle of it, but they will still move around during daylight hours. If you manage to spook a metro deer and it flees, relax ... it will likely only run a short distance before settling down and you can hunt the same area again the next day. One last tip: Take a ride around the neighborhood and try to find the residences with bird feeders and vegetable gardens. Metro lands provide good cover for deer and backyards offer an easy food source, so if you can find the travel route to and fro, you'll be one step closer to tagging a deer.