Hiding In The Shadows: Bowhunting Big Bucks Near Big Cities

Living near a big city doesn’t have to mean second-rate hunting. Here’s a proven gameplan for out-sized whitetails that can work in suburban areas across the country.

by Mark Melotik

HuntStand Pro Contributor MORE FROM Mark

Living near a big city doesn’t have to mean second-rate hunting. Here’s a proven gameplan for out-sized whitetails that can work in suburban areas across the country.

Minnesota’s Kyle Herr remembers the date like it was yesterday. November 13, 2016 will likely linger in the 36-year-old whitetail hunter’s memory banks for some time, as it not only delivered a massive 160-class Minnesota buck, the heavy-beamed trophy is a stunning reminder that the unique system Kyle and dad Mark Herr, 56, employ for bowhunting big-city suburban bucks is not only deadly, but deadly consistent.

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Make no mistake, consistent success where the Herrs like to hunt doesn’t come easy. Bowhunting the greater Minneapolis metro area and its 3.5-million-plus, outdoors-crazy population, carries more than its share of challenges. Trespassers, stolen game cams and treestands all make that dubious list. Yet the area also holds more than its share of many-tined rewards.My beautiful pictureStep inside Mark Herr’s suburban trophy room and instantly, you see what all the fuss is about.  On the south wall hangs Mark’s largest metro buck, arrowed in 2013, a heavy-beamed brute scoring more than 175 typical inches. In the northeast corner stands the beautiful full-body mount of one of Kyle’s best, another thick and gnarly 160s buck. In total the Herrs’ trophy room holds more than two dozen impressive deer mounts, most taken within a mere 15-mile radius of Mark Herr’s quaint suburban home.

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Haunting The Hottest Properties Pays. One of the biggest obstacles to metro success is access; virtually all prime suburban tracts, near big cities across the nation, are privately held. Luckily, the Herrs have this all but figured out. They have secured permission on several deer-filled suburban tracts and Kyle’s success last fall showed the benefits. In early November both Kyle and Mark had been concentrating their hunting efforts on a property the duo knew held a 170-class 10-point, yet the bruiser had been giving them the slip. After hunting hard for days and passing up a few nice deer including a 140-class 8-point, the pair came together last Nov. 11 for an afternoon strategy session.CityBucks2 900“At that point dad and I were talking strategy for the next few days, considering the weather, the wind, our work schedules, the whole nine yards,” Kyle recalled. “We were both thinking about checking a game camera on one other particular property, but dad was the first to suggest it. It was lucky that he did. A late-night check of that camera that same day, Nov. 11, found we’d filmed a huge buck we’d never seen, and just a few hours before. Talk about timing.”

The next morning Kyle was in that new stand before daylight, and spent the day watching a literal parade of does…a total of 18 to be exact. But not one buck. With the rut raging, Kyle returned to the stand during the fateful midday of Nov. 13, when things were quite different.

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“About 30 yards from the stand I could hear all kinds of chasing and grunting near the stand, so I just hunkered down in the weeds and waited there for maybe 30 minutes, hoping a buck would make a mistake,” Herr said.CityBucks3 900When no deer materialized from the thick brush, and the rut party seemed to move away, Kyle snuck quietly into the stand. Within minutes he was watching no less than five bucks chase a single hot doe around the area for a solid hour and a half, never offering a shot. The whole time the deer, which included one massive dominant buck, stayed within 200 yards, but were constantly moving. Then suddenly the hot doe popped out of the swamp just 15 yards away, followed by a massive metro brute. It was the buck caught on film just a few days previous. Kyle drew his Bear Agenda compound and made the 40-yard shot count, helped along by a deadly Rage Hypodermic broadhead. The buck collapsed within 30 yards, and the Herrs had just added another trophy to their impressive collection.

Securing Permission Is A Science. So how do you go about securing permission in the hard-to-crack suburban landscape? Talk with the affable Herr duo for even a short while and you begin to realize a few things, one being that they are soft spoken, and humble to a fault. They also come across as trustworthy and imminently likable. Add those qualities up and you have some potent land-access skills.

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“It really starts by knocking on a lot of doors, and sometimes you’ll get lucky and the landowner will tip you off to the presence of big deer, but that would be unusual,” Mark Herr says. “Usually, a landowner will tell you they’ve never seen a big buck; but your first camera check might show the property holds several.”

Having secured permission, the Herrs put their years of trophy hunting techniques to work.

“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 continued. “I shot another big deer, 172 inches, when I was only 6 feet high. That was a situation where 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.”

Even on the best tracts, the Herrs know you can’t set up just anywhere for consistent success.

“We believe in setting 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,” Mark says. “It seems like the best, dominant bucks come from the best habitat. And that often means the nastiest, thickest areas. And that’s why we can sometimes find four or five bucks scoring 150 inches or better on the same tract. Those big deer just seem to gravitate to those areas.”P047-256-256-256-f1h-002Find the right metro areas and hunt them intelligently, and the sky is the limit for the encounters you will experience.

“Two years ago I saw a nice buck in the distance and started rattling, and he came in on a string—almost to the base of my tree; he was at 9 yards,” Mark remembered. “I was trying to self-film, and every time I would let go of the camera he would take a step or two out of the frame. We did that several times, and he ended up walking straight away from me—and I never did get a shot. That buck was between 165 and 167 inches.

“The next day I was in the same stand and in comes a 175-inch buck dogging a doe. And it did the same thing as the previous deer, moving slightly to bird-dog that doe, each time I wanted to shoot. So finally it was leaving, it was at 42 yards; I pushed the camera to the side and shot him. It’s just amazing the opportunities you can get in the metro when you don’t shoot that first 120-inch buck.”

Breaking Down A Suburban Honeyhole. What does a property need to hold to catch the Herrs’ eyes? The pair begin by looking at topo maps to determine the type of terrain and cover big bucks prefer, and they know a mature buck’s needs are fairly specific.

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

“Next in importance is an absence of pressure from people, and that doesn’t necessarily just mean other hunters,” Mark continued. “Even people out walking dogs can be a factor, people out running or jogging. Big bucks don’t like human intrusion.”

You can’t grow big bucks without food, but metro areas feature some distinctly non-traditional sources. Because of this, the Herrs know that even tiny supplemental food plots can draw deer like magnets.

“A lot of the times you won’t find feed fields anywhere near some of our best spots, but you’ve got to realize a lot of the bucks in the Minneapolis metro are surviving mostly on backyard feeders, and acorns, which usually begin dropping around Sept. 1,” Mark says. “We’re always looking for areas to put in small food plots—with the landowner’s permission—that can draw deer for miles around.”CityBucks4 900But even with an ideal setup and perfect weather conditions, the Herrs know suburban whitetail success is far from guaranteed.

“Most people don’t pay attention to all the details. If you’re going to hunt mature deer, you’ve got to consider everything,” Mark says. “Yes, we’ve killed some nice bucks but we’ve killed far less than we’ve known about; it’s just hard to kill them even when you know they’re there.”



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