Bowhunting Secrets That Deliver Suburban Giants

The fact is, this talented father-son bowhunting duo has been fooling ultra-cagey suburban trophy whitetails measuring about 150 to more than 175 inches over the past decade or so...

by Mark Melotik

HuntStand Pro Contributor MORE FROM Mark

Do huge deer live and thrive in the shadows of big cities? Absolutely, but they don’t come easily. Here’s how a couple of cagey bowhunters see consistent success while dealing with competition from the Minneapolis metro area’s 3.5 million outdoors-crazy residents.

Metro5 600Passing 140-class deer with a bow is not for everyone, but Minnesota’s Mark and Kyle Herr know that their game cameras don’t lie, and neither do the antler-heavy walls of their suburban Minneapolis trophy room. The fact is, this talented father-son bowhunting duo has been fooling ultra-cagey suburban trophy whitetails measuring about 150 to more than 175 inches over the past decade or so, all on properties where they’ve carefully gained access amidst heavy, intense local competition. And the pair knows all too well that you can’t shoot top-end bucks when you settle for less.

“Our management of our properties is to let bucks grow to four to five years of age,” Mark says, explaining that a typical year will see the pair secure permission on anywhere from seven to 10 local tracts of private land. And they’re always looking for more choice spots holding the type of habitat that attracts top-end bucks.

“Good deer hunters are opportunists,” Mark continued. “If we find a spot that’s better than we have, we’re going to try to get access. We’re constantly in pursuit of new and better properties, and it’s not necessarily just the metro area. It could be chunks of private land bordering parks, dumps, or other private properties that provide security cover and are not seeing pressure.”

Metro6 600In their search for top-end trophies, between them the duo regularly pass on many lesser bucks. Many are deer that a great many bowhunters would consider “best-ever” trophies.

“Every year is different,” Mark explains. “We would like to say our minimum now is 150 inches, but more important than that, is it a 4- or 5-year-old with a gigantic body? It’s sad, but on today’s Outdoor TV shows a 140-inch deer doesn’t even get anybody excited anymore.”

HerrCam 600The Herrs consider their collection of some 30 game cameras a huge piece of their suburban bowhunting strategy; they begin setting them out on their various tracts about July 1. By the start of the season in mid-September, the cameras have typically helped them locate anywhere from six to eight different “shooter” bucks they will target throughout the fall.

Want to shoot a big suburban buck this season? Here’s a look at the Herr’s proven gameplan:

Never Stop Looking For Leads. “I talk to UPS drivers, police officers, the highway patrol—people who are in their vehicles at night a lot,” Mark says. “I’m going to broach the subject with virtually anyone who crosses my path. I’m always asking, ‘Do you hunt?’, ‘Have you seen any big deer in the area?’ Make this kind of networking part of your life.”

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Find The Best Properties. “The No. 1 factor in whether a property will hold big bucks is does it have the security?  Even relatively small tracts can provide this. Our favorite areas are thick cattail swamps and typically, the wetter they are the better,” Mark says. “It’s simply not easy for humans to access these areas, and get to the higher spots through the wettest areas. We’ve used chest waders to access some spots, and shot several deer with wet bellies.”

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The HuntStand App Can Help. Mark and Kyle Herr consider detailed topo and satellite-view maps found in the HuntStand app indispensable, often using them to pinpoint actual stand sites right on the maps. “I can’t tell you how many times we’ve done that, and had them prove to be every bit as good after we’ve hunted them,” Mark says. “We like to set up in ‘high-traffic’ areas. If there are five [high-ground] thickets in a nasty-thick cattail swamp that form a sort of ‘X’, we will set up right at the intersection.”

Gaining Access? Persistence Pays. “You’ve got to knock on a lot of doors. One of our best properties came after asking the landowner for access for eight consecutive years. Eight! By that time we’d developed a friendship, and I pointed out that I regularly see car-hit deer lying dead along the property. Then I asked how three or four deer going to waste per year was acceptable, while letting us take one or two bucks was not? He needed to know we weren’t going to kill every deer we saw. We’ve since taken two monsters there.”  

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An Arsenal Of Game Cams Is Smart. “Buy as many as you can afford to cover all your properties. We start setting them out about July 1 and typically, by the start of the season [in mid September], we’ve located anywhere from six to eight different ‘shooter’ bucks.”

Don’t Forget About Food. “A lot of the time you won’t find feed fields anywhere near our best spots; you’ve got to realize many metro bucks are surviving mostly on backyard feeders, and acorns, which usually begin dropping around Sept. 1. We’re always looking for areas to put in small food plots—with landowner permission—that can draw deer for miles around.”

Metro2 600The Cattail Slough Connection. Minnesota may be known as the Land of 10,000 Lakes, but it also holds something like 30 million cattail sloughs, which can seem to proliferate nearly every inch of the state but are especially common in and around metro Minneapolis. The swampy areas offer deer ideal security cover, even while houses (see above) virtually line the high ground around them.

“Those big deer feel so secure where the marsh edges meet the woods, and that’s right where we shoot most of our big bucks,” Mark says. “The bucks seem to linger there right at last light. And I’m hunting right at that edge, looking out over the tops of the cattails. We’ve learned that you must have lanes trimmed out through that edge or you likely won’t get a shot.”

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A Typical Deadly Setup. “Our typical, ideal stand height is 18 feet, but sometimes we have to work with what we have. I shot a 165-inch buck when I was just 8 feet off the ground, and that’s with two guys in the tree,” Mark said. “I shot another big deer, 172 inches, when I was only 6 feet high. I was up just high enough to get above the cattails. Just because a spot doesn’t have an ‘ideal’ setup doesn’t mean you shouldn’t hunt it. If an area is holding big deer, you’ve got to figure out a way to make it happen.”

Consider Deer Trails & Prevailing Winds. “A few years ago when we started setting our stands where the wind is almost in the deer’s favor, we started seeing a lot more big bucks,” Mark explains. “We’ve found that the better, mature deer will typically travel somewhat crosswind; we work hard to find their preferred trails, and in most cases, we’re setting stands so our scent is only missing those trails by 15 or 20 degrees. It’s kind of a risky tactic but it’s led to some of our biggest deer. But it also means that when the wind suddenly switches or starts to swirl, we have to back out of there.”

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Lead The Deer To Lanes. “Sometimes in very thick areas we’ll go in with a brush hog and cut short trails, not for our use but for the deer,” Kyle says. “If you make some short, strategic trails in the thickest, nastiest stuff the deer seem to use them.”

Become A Deadly Shot. “We shoot our bows regularly, and out to some fairly crazy distances,” Mark says. “However, we’ve learned that when you can group at 80, 90, or 100 yards, those 20-30-yard shots become second nature.”

Metro9 600Aggressive Calling Can Pay Big. “A lot people are surprised to learn how often we use rattling, and its effectiveness. In a lot of our areas, we know some very big deer are very close, and we blind rattle often. At the right time, rattling can work like a charm.”

Sacrifice For Success. “You’ve got to make sacrifices to kill big bucks. Some of our properties hold ponds ideal for waterfowling; we love waterfowling and could shoot a ton of ducks and geese off them, but that just isn’t smart when you’re hunting big bucks. You’ve got to keep intrusion to a minimum.” 

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Stick To Your Goals. “[We’ve had years when] we passed 30 or 40 bucks, and some of them were really nice 130- to 140-class bucks, and in that ‘point-blank’ range,” Kyle says. “Some people think we’re crazy but we knew we were on to some 170-class deer. That said, what we consider a ‘shooter’ can change from year to year.”

Fun With Filming? These days the Herrs film almost all of their hunts, and ideally, one films the other. In the past, the pair was paid for their footage and so passed many good bucks when conditions were not ideal. Although Mark says the current goal with filming is simply to have fun, some nightmares over missed opportunities persist.

“One time in a ground blind I had a mid-160s buck come in and pose broadside at 20 yards, but the camera was shielded by a cedar tree. So I passed the shot…and never saw that buck again.

Metro10 600“During another ground blind hunt a huge buck was closing in on my decoy. As I came to full draw I was watching the camera screen when the buck suddenly froze and blew out of there. Turns out the landowner’s brother had chosen that instant to come walking out to see how I was doing.”

“One buck I’ll never forget was a massive, 175- to 180-inch giant that was at 30 yards and coming straight for my tree. All of a sudden out of nowhere a big black lab comes barreling out of the cattails and runs that buck for a good mile. I saw that same buck twice more after that incident, but never got a shot…or an opportunity nearly as good as the first.

Metro12 600“We’ve also had several incidents of nearby car horns scaring big deer that were right in our laps. The cars weren’t honking at us or the deer, just passing by. That can be heartbreaking, and your big deer can also get hit by cars. One time we were both in the tree, hunting a nice 150s buck, and one evening at last shooting light we heard screeching car brakes—then a loud Boom! We both knew it was the big one. We packed up and hiked the short distance to the road and sure enough, he was lying there. We were hunting a slough that held about 15 different bucks, but which one gets hit? The one we were after.” 

Several Properties Help Thwart Metro Challenges. “It’s kind of sad, but these days we have to hide our vehicles so people don’t know where and when we’re hunting; I guess word has gotten out. We’ve also had treestands and game cameras stolen, and have to deal with trespassers from time to time. All are reasons to have as many properties as possible. When one goes cold you can simply jump to another.”



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