Deer Hunting in the "Burbs"

By Daryl Damron | September 2, 2003
From Missouri Conservationist: Sep 2003

Perched 16 feet above the ground in a white oak tree, I closed my eyes to take in the sounds around me. I heard someone cutting grass for possibly the last time of the season. I also heard several dogs barking. Based on the time of day, I guessed they were welcoming kids who were getting off school buses. I thought I heard the "tink" of an aluminum bat meeting a baseball on a nearby Little League field.

Another familiar sound, the soft, rhythmic crunching of dry leaves on the forest floor, suddenly grabbed my attention. The white-tailed deer had to hear the sounds from the nearby subdivision, but he seemed to ignore them. Yet when the young buck neared my ambush point, he quickly focused on the slight squeak my treestand made as I shifted my weight. As he neared my shooting lanes, he seemed aware that a predator shared the woodlot with him this evening. What he didn't know was that I wasn't a threat to him. Although armed with a bow and arrow, I was after only antlerless deer, unless a truly exceptional buck presented an opportunity.

Targeting urban deer seems to contradict the classic image we have of deer hunting in the big woods. Yet more and more hunters are finding pockets of good habitat and, sometimes, exceptional hunting within municipal boundaries.

As a wildlife damage biologist in an urban region, I often receive requests from landowners for deer hunters willing to help them remove deer that are causing damage to their crops. However, finding the right hunter for a specific landowner can be difficult. Many hunters are not willing to harvest as many deer as the law allows or enough to truly help landowners control damage caused by deer. They prefer classic hunts in rural or heavily forested areas. To them, actually harvesting deer is a secondary consideration.

That's too bad, because we have plenty of deer in urban and suburban areas. Many factors contribute to the high populations. The popular practice of including forested acres in subdivisions, corporate campuses and municipal parks often make the landscape appealing to deer, which thrive in "edge" habitat. Deer also abound where manicured lawns, ornamental plantings and fruit-bearing trees and shrubs dominate the landscape.

In many cases, deer are protected by municipal ordinances prohibiting the use of firearms or archery equipment.

The combination of protection from hunters and other predators and abundant food and cover all add up to higher than desirable deer densities.

The amount of tolerance people have for white-tailed deer varies greatly. Some Missourians want to have as many deer as possible, regardless of any repercussions resulting from high deer densities. Others see deer eating their hostas and roses and consider them to be mortal enemies that need to be eradicated. Between these two extremes are the majority of citizens who enjoy the presence of white-tailed deer, but accept that their population needs to be managed. They understand that a regulated harvest of deer is required to minimize the impacts of deer diseases and reduce the number of deer/auto collisions.

To manage urban deer populations, the Missouri Department of Conservation has, over the last decade, liberalized seasons and harvest limits for white tailed deer in our state's urban centers, such as St. Louis and Kansas City. The new Urban Deer Management portion of the firearms season provides two additional days to harvest antlerless deer in the St. Louis and Kansas City areas. In addition, hunters may now purchase and fill any number of Second Bonus permits during the firearms season. Managed hunts provide additional deer hunting opportunity.

Some hunters prefer not to shoot does. This sentiment doesn't help reduce deer numbers. Most of the permits are for harvesting antlerless deer because adult females are the driving force in deer populations. To maintain or reduce deer numbers, hunters must harvest adult females.

Fortunately programs like "Share the Harvest," work to encourage hunters to take more deer and donate the valuable meat to charities that feed people in need.

Archery hunting is the most widely permitted method of hunting in urban areas. Archery is an extremely safe method of hunting small tracts of land because arrows don't fly far, and most bowhunters usually shoot downward from elevated platforms. Muzzleloading firearms, shotguns and centerfire rifles and pistols are all valuable tools for harvesting deer, but many ordinances prohibit discharging firearms. Some municipalities determine what method of hunting is to be allowed based on the number of acres in question. Always check with local legal authorities to find out what methods are allowed or any restrictions that may apply to the area you plan to hunt.

Where local ordinances allow the use of firearms or archery equipment, landowners have the freedom to manage deer as they see fit within the parameters of prescribed deer seasons. Landowners experiencing damage or wanting to reduce deer numbers should take advantage of capable hunters willing to help them meet their management objectives on their land.

Landowners' objectives may vary. A landowner who is losing hundreds or even thousands of dollars in ornamental or garden plantings probably needs to harvest does. This is often the case where hunting has not been allowed for a long time or where the landowner's property is adjacent to a park or refuge where hunting is restricted. If the landowner has a tree nursery, he or she may need to have antlered deer harvested to stop the destruction caused by bucks rubbing trees during the rut.

In urban areas, it is important to make deer management a community effort and involve others who have similar management objectives. This can be done by talking with neighbors or through a homeowner's association. Since most parcels of private land within urban settings are small, deer traverse many properties on a seasonal or often daily basis. The community approach is valuable because it gives hunters more options with less legwork and allows them to focus on the immediate area deer are using.

If you are a landowner and you are experiencing property damage caused by white-tailed deer, local conservation agents, wildlife damage biologists and private land conservationists may know local hunters who can help you. Ask questions in local sporting goods stores and at Conservation Department offices, and you will surely turn some heads and make progress. Most hunters are eager for new hunting opportunities.

Once you have found a few bowhunters, you can pick the hunters who are right for you. All it takes is a few questions. Look at it this way; if your roof needs to be repaired, you would ask a contractor some questions before you agree to hire that person. Finding and setting up a working relationship with a hunter is no different.

Like many hunters, I prefer to drive less, spend more time in the tree, hunt where deer densities are high and build relationships with landowners seeking a little help from good neighbors. As a hunter, it is important to do what you say you will if you are asked to help someone control deer. It is a privilege to be invited onto another person's property, and the opportunity should be treated as such.

Many landowners do not have extensive knowledge about hunting. Their opinion of hunting and hunters will be based on how you conduct yourself on their land.

If you intend to harvest does but don't need seven deer for your freezer, you may need some help offsetting the costs for "Share the Harvest" donations. Many landowners would be willing to help share some of the costs if their objectives were being met. These are details that should be worked out before climbing into a tree stand. This will help avoid misunderstandings that can strain relationships.

Within municipal boundaries where ordinances allow, hunting is the most cost effective way to control deer numbers. Hunters can help landowners and gain access to a hunting area close to home at the same time. This leads to more days afield and more time enjoying the sights and sounds of Missouri's fall bounty.

2003 Deer Seasons

Archery Deer season runs Oct. 1 through Nov. 14, and Nov. 26 through Jan. 15, 2004.

The Firearms Deer season has several portions:

  • Urban portion (only in Units 58 and 59) is Oct. 25 & 26.
  • Youth-Only portion is Nov. 1 & 2.
  • November Portion runs from Nov. 15 to Nov. 25.
  • Muzzleloader portion runs from Nov. 28 to Dec. 7.
  • Antlerless Only portion (only in Units 1-27, 33 through 38, 58 & 59) runs from Dec. 13 through Dec. 21.

All hunts require a valid permit. For more information about seasons, restrictions, bag limits and permit costs, see the 2003 Fall Deer and Turkey Hunting Information booklet available wherever permits are sold or online.

Questions landowners may want to ask hunters

  • Have you completed a hunter safety course?
  • How long have you been hunting deer?
  • Have you harvested deer in the past?
  • How many deer are you willing to take?
  • Are you willing to take antlerless deer?
  • When will you be hunting? Morning? Evening? Weekday? Weekend?
  • Will you be bringing anyone with you?
  • Who should I call in case of emergency?
  • Do you possess the proper permits?
  • What kind of car do you drive?
  • Are you going to call before hunting?

Questions hunters may have for landowners

  • What are your property boundaries?
  • Are there any restrictions on when or where I hunt?
  • Should I call prior to hunting?
  • Are there any hidden dangers I should be warned about?
  • How do your neighbors feel about hunting?
  • Can I use tree stands, screw in steps, etc?
  • How should we handle a wounded deer situation?

This Issue's Staff

Editor - Tom Cwynar
Managing Editor - Bryan Hendricks
Art Editor - Dickson Stauffer
Designer - Les Fortenberry
Artist - Dave Besenger
Artist - Mark Raithel
Photographer - Jim Rathert
Photographer - Cliff White
Staff Writer - Jim Low
Staff Writer - Joan McKee
Circulation - Laura Scheuler