“Town deer” are a subgroup of America’s favorite ungulate that are subject to both affection and disgust. Some folks feel like an evening stroll reveals a private national park with wide-eyed does and heavy-racked bucks grazing on the hepatica only feet away. But for others, these animals are nothing more than overgrown rabbits that eat landscaping and defecate on sidewalks.
Deer, particularly whitetails, have created a stronghold in the suburban and urban interfaces across the country. Here in Missoula, Montana, the deer stop and look both ways before crossing the street more often than the pedestrians. Constant forage and a lack of predators have created the perfect setting for an explosion in these tulip-munching populations. Because of this good living, a larger percentage of deer are able to reach maturity than their wilder cousins in the foothills. This means big antlers in the concrete wilderness.
The following tips might sound familiar to most shed hunters, but you don’t need to lace up your boots for this expedition. Tennis shoes will work fine.
Food Sources Remember a month ago when Marilyn, your neighbor two houses down, was complaining about the deer eating all her bird seed and scaring the chickadees away? Deer want to find food as easily as possible, and humans love to deliver calories in neat containers.
Dangling feeders can knock a buck’s antlers as he rises and falls while balancing on his hind legs to eat. While you can do recon by talking with your neighbors and listening to their gardening and bird-watching woes, deer are large animals and will make trails through manicured grass (also another food source) or snow. Look for sign like you would in the woods. As long as people refill their feeders, the deer will return.
These are also areas where animals will congregate and I’ve seen bucks chase does, fawns, and other bucks away from a full feeder well after the rut. Some contact with a hind end could pop an antler off.
I am not condoning the feeding of wildlife, only acknowledging that these habituated deer will eat all the millet your neighbors leave out for songbirds. Compost piles, evergreen landscaping plants, pet and livestock food, and many other common yard features can attract deer that might leave some bone behind.
Fence Lines A consistent shed spot for most horn hunters are fence crossings where deer either jump or crawl from one side to the other. While the urban landscape doesn’t have the wide-open rangeland or sprawling fields of the Midwest, they have a ton of fences. Deer moving from yard to yard are often met with 4 or 5-foot chain-link barriers. These don’t deter healthy whitetails, but when the animals land, that force might jar antlers enough to pop off. Walk alleys or green spaces like parks and soccer fields rimmed by fences.
Bedding Areas/Edge Cover The messiness of nature that creates good bedding cover is hard to come by in manicured yards where New Balance-clad dads try to keep their lawns cleared, bushes trimmed, and trees pruned. Because of the limited tangles, bedding areas are usually located in edge habitats that are full of briars, invasive species, and a few volunteers from the adjacent garden. These areas typically occur along walking trails, canals or creeks, small parks, or marshes.
There’s a drainage pond that’s dry eight months out of the year a few blocks from my house. The cattails provide some of the thickest habitat around. Does routinely hide their fawns there in the summer. In the winter, bucks will slumber in the reeds to stay out of the cold.
Private Land When you see that gnarled four-point shed propped up against the garage, don’t go sprinting past the fescue to grab it. Always ask permission. Homeowners in the 'burbs might get a kick out of someone finding an antler on their place more than a rancher who gets bombarded by access questions. And who wouldn’t love the neighborhood title of “The Shed Hunter?"