SUBURBIA MONSTERS - A BOWHUNTER'S DREAM
When most bowhunters dream of big bucks, they think of hunting on some large track of land in Illinois, Kansas or Iowa. Those places produce monster bucks every year but they are not the only place to find a big buck. In fact, more and more large bucks are being found on small parcels of woods tucked in behind a subdivision or next to a shopping mall than ever before.
Finding big bucks on a small parcel of land isn’t rocket science but the truth is it requires a lot of hard work, just like killing big bucks on large parcels is a lot of work. Suburbia bucks beat to a different drum than big woods bucks. One guy who knows more about suburbia bucks than most is Steve Esker from Ohio. Esker has been featured in many magazines because he killed a 216-inch buck on a small parcel back in 2009. Since he killed that buck, he has tagged several big bucks... one with a higher score than the 2009 buck. Esker has killed over a dozen bucks that score more that 150 and most of them have been killed in suburbia, not on a large farm somewhere. “Killing big bucks on small parcels of land can be done, but it requires a lot of work,” Esker said. “What I have discovered over the years is just because a buck lived near a housing development does not mean that he is trapped. I have scouting camera pictures of a monster buck one night on a small parcel of land and a picture of the same buck a few days later several miles away. Suburbia bucks can cover a lot of ground just like big woods bucks.” One of the differences between the two bucks is many of the suburbia bucks live to a ripe old age so they sport large racks.
Killing suburbia bucks starts with having permission to hunt private land. “I recently killed a buck on 2-1/2 acres that scored over 170,” Esker said. “I get permission to hunt these small pieces of land by knocking on a lot of doors and asking for permission. Many people say no at first,but over time say yes. I always look professional when I ask for permission and am very polite. I have asked permission on the same piece of land three times before getting permission but eventually many people eventually say yes because I am always polite and never look like I just crawled out from under a car.”
Esker has dozens of small parcels that he hunts on; many of them are ten or twenty acres. Some are larger; some smaller. His key to finding the needle in the hay stack on those pieces of land is scouting cameras. “I hang many scouting cameras to try to pattern suburbia bucks. Most suburbia bucks spend the daylight hours bedded down and spend the few of daylight hours they are up and moving transitioning between feeding areas and bedding areas. I try to locate these transition areas where they travel. I try to find where bucks live and bed,” Esker explained. In 2010, Esker found a 217-7/8” buck living in a 30-acre tree nursery that had been abandoned. The buck would rarely leave the overgrown nursery during daylight hours. Esker had scouting camera pics that showed the buck repeatedly in the same area. “Because this buck never left the overgrown trees during daylight, I had to figure out a way to kill him in the nursery. It was really tough because there weren’t many big trees to hang a stand. The trees were all overgrown so I had to crawl in to hunt the area. I ended up putting my treestand in a young oak 15 feet off the ground. I eventually killed that buck.” The buck spent most of his life in the nursery that had housing developments around it.
Another thing Esker has noticed when hunting suburbia deer is that they can tell the difference between a person mowing the grass and a hunter. “These bucks are acclimated to hearing, seeing and smelling people but they get edgy, just like any other deer when they feel hunting pressure.” Esker said. “Deer will be bedded down and watch a person blowing leaves or mowing the lawn a short distance away and not have a problem with it but the moment a guy in camo comes walking into the woods, they leave. I have entered the woods with a leaf blower in my hand just to outsmart deer before. Suburbia bucks are smart; just like bucks that live in large sections of woods.”
You might think that suburbia bucks don’t care about human odor because they smell it all the time, but that is not the case at all. “I always hunt the wind. The deer really get spooky when they come in to a setup and smell human odor.” Just like when hunting big woods, Esker says the more hunting locations you have, the better so you have several backup plans. When looking for a new hunting location, Esker leaves no stone unturned and has learned over the years a monster buck can live almost anywhere. “There is one spot my brother and I hunt that the land owner has a gazebo that the deer are comfortable with. We actually put a popup blind right in the middle of the gazebo and hunt. We have killed a lot of deer out of that blind.”
The best time to kill a suburbia buck is between the middle of October to the first week of November. “I have the best of luck around the middle of October through the beginning of November because that is when the bucks are starting to move around during daylight.” Esker has also killed bucks early in the season. “Early in the season can be good as well because the bucks still have a pattern but many of these bucks only move first thing in the morning and just before dark in the evening. I like to hunt when the bucks start thinking about the does. To be successful, I must do everything right from worry about scent to hanging my stand in the right location. Every little detail must be thought out.”
One thing is certain: getting permission to hunt farms and large parcels of ground is getting extremely difficult. If you want to tag a big buck but don’t have deep pockets, consider hunting in suburbia. Like Esker says, it isn’t a cake walk but with a little hard work, you might kill a monster right behind the sand box.
BY TRACY BREEN
About the author: Tracy Breen is a full time outdoor writer, consultant and game dinner speaker who often discuss how he overcomes cerebral palsy. Learn more about him at www.tracybreen.com
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