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Backyard Bucks at Cabela's

Backyard Bucks

Author: Michael Faw

In many parts of the U.S., deer are becoming more and more common garden pests. By adopting some creative hunting strategies, you too may soon be hanging your tag on one.

Old apple orchards, abandoned farms and even neighborhood backyards can produce some tremendous whitetails.

The buck of your dreams could be much closer than you think if you are a typical hunter. In fact, you could walk or drive by that buck on your next trip to your hunting stand. Let's face it: Whitetails have become more accustomed to humans and human-altered habitat, and they have begun acting more like secretive rabbits in recent years. This means that today's wily deer will hide closer to homes and farm buildings in thickets and areas that hunters frequently overlook.

A good example of this situation occurred when I was hunting on a 500-acre farm with an apple orchard behind the owner's residence. My routine hunting tactic involved parking at a nearby barn, walking past the apple orchard and hiking more than a half-mile into the nearby mountains. One day the landowner called to me as I was preparing to leave after another unsuccessful hunt. "You should have seen the buck here in the orchard this morning," she exclaimed with outstretched arms to indicate the deer's antler width.

"He's a big one and he's been here the last few mornings. I think that you're wasting your time on the back of this property," she added. Hmm, she could be onto something I thought as I thanked her for the information.

I stored my muzzleloader and started a quick scouting trip around the house and orchard. To my surprise, I found numerous well-worn deer trails leading into the orchard and more trails within a stone's throw of the rear of the house. There were many fresh deer beds on a hillside at the edge of the backyard, some beds and trails by the old overgrown corral near the barn and more beds and trails along the brush-choked creek that ran by the owner's garden. Seems the local deer were eating falling apples, residual garden crops and grass in the manicured yard. As daylight approached, they simply walked a few yards and tucked themselves into the brush and out of sight much like a rabbit. Yes, they had probably watched me walk by as I entered and exited the farm to hunt.

In many areas across the U.S. deer are becoming as common as rabbits, and trouble for landowners.

Now, however, thanks to the landowner I was clued in and would be hunting the backyard with the owner's permission. The first task I had to complete was finding a deep-rutted intersection of well used deer trails. I found it near the creek and the back edge of the orchard. Once I identified this as the best place to spot a moving deer, I looked for a vantage point to hang my treestand. I did not want to shoot toward the residence or local highway, and there were no homes behind this location, so a tall apple tree became the obvious location.

Other hunters who are keen to the ways of backyard bucks have successfully tried other tactics. One hunter I know hunts from the second level of an abandoned farm house.

Another hunter I know hunts from the loft of a barn and has downed several dandy bucks near the owner's backyard. I would not, however, recommend shooting from any building that housed livestock.

Before I hung the orchard stand, I discussed the situation with the landowner. I told her I would be about 200 yards away from the home and able to observe some of her backyard. It seems that she was more upset about the local deer eating her flowers and valuable shrubs than she would be about hearing the boom of a muzzleloader. She stated that the local population needed some thinning. I assured her that I would not be shooting toward the house.

From the stand location, I also noted where the deer beds were located and scanned with my binocular to determine which ones I could observe and monitor. If a bedded deer stood up and prepared to leave the area, or was walking back to the beds, I wanted to be able to spot it. I also wanted to be able to spot deer that were sneaking along the creek and any that were milling around in the apple orchard. I changed my hunting tactics and began parking along the residence's driveway and walking around the barn and corral as I worked my way back to the corner of the apple orchard.

Author, Mike Faw with a good backyard buck.

My wait the first morning ended after 10 a.m. when I spotted four deer passing through the trail intersection. The last one was an 8-pointer that soon wore my game tag. Shortly before the deer came my way I heard the backdoor slam at the landowner's residence. Maybe she had pushed them my way?

The Search For Clues
To narrow the possible treestand sites, I had to scout the area using unconventional methods. To search the creek and the tangle of honeysuckle and dense brush that grew on each bank, I donned waders and walked up the creek. The trip revealed many fresh deer beds and several muddy crossing areas where deer slid down the banks into the water. I pulled on my briar-proof pants when I searched brushy areas at the corral and near the garden edge. From the looks of old rubs that I spotted, the local deer had been using the backyard hiding spots for several years. Those deer were hunkering down inside tangles of briars, brush and old rusty barbed wire much like a rabbit, so rabbit hunting practices were appropriate. Under bridges, in drainage ditches, in the weedy corners of gardens and behind small tool sheds are other places where I've discovered deer taking refuge.

Safety First
Never under any circumstances should you shoot a rifle, bow or shotgun toward a house or occupied building. Some states have laws preventing hunters from hunting with 200 yards of an occupied building. Check your restrictions before hunting and clear all the details with the landowner before hunting.

Good bucks like this one can be found closer to home than you might imagine.
Suburban Backyards Are Open Also
In recent years, many cities and small towns across America have adopted local hunting ordinances that permit hunting (often times bowhunting only) within the city limits. To participate in these hunts often requires attending an orientation meeting, buying an additional permit and passing a proficiency test. The results can be worth the extra effort in many cities and suburbs where bucks grow huge antlers thanks to the extra nutrition available in backyards. Contact the city's police department or parks and recreation department for more details, and to see if they have an open deer season.

If you find a place to hunt in suburbia, the noise of traffic on nearby streets and highways, slamming doors and barking dogs can sometimes cause hunters to think no deer will approach such a noisy area.

Remember, the deer accept the noises as the normal living conditions for that area. It's the unusual noises that will spook them.

Under The Cover Of Darkness
One final note about hunting in backyards. Most hunters want to sneak in under the cover of darkness and wait for sunrise and legal hunting hours. If you do this, avoid shining flashlights and vehicle headlights on the residence since this could startle or awaken the homeowner. If the homeowner has an inside dog, you can often pass by the home without detection. If the dog is leashed and outside, then chances are you'll be detected, the dog will bark constantly and the landowner will become frustrated. Sometimes good communication with the landowner can reveal solutions.

As suburbia spreads into more areas, more and more hunters might find themselves hunting in or near someone's backyard. The results can be surprising and satisfying.

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