My Urban Hunts in Duluth: Helpful Research, But Not a Wilderness Experience

In America’s sprawling suburbs, we’ve created a new type of habitat that’s perfect for deer.  They’ve adapted to this new terrain and exploited it in ways that ecologists are only now beginning to fully understand. They arrive in the night, silent and invisible. Once they’ve moved in, their numbers increase rapidly.  Sooner or later, their welcome wears thin.

Although we might wish otherwise, deer translocation, contraception, and sterilization schemes have time and again proven ineffective, expensive, and problematic in a variety of other ways.  For that reason, many communities find themselves resorting to lethal control measures.  Some hire sharpshooters using suppressed rifles, while others conduct highly structured “managed bowhunts.”

During my research for DEERLAND, I learned more about the second option by attending the Arrowhead Bowhunter’s Alliance (ABA) orientation night in Duluth, Minnesota.  Later, I also tagged along with ABA board members on two urban hunts. After all…  It’s not always enough to interview experts and take careful notes. Sometimes to really understand a subject, you need to climb up a tree and experience it yourself.

My first hunt was out in the suburbs, and it seemed like a relatively “normal” hunting experience.  We were 20 feet up in an aspen tree, and we were out in the middle of the woods.  True, the woods were only a three or four-acre patch in between two cul-de-sacs lined with homes that were only 60 or 80 yards away on either side of us.  We were, however, out in the woods.

But it was a very small patch of woods, one we didn’t want wounded deer escaping from before they expired.  Although it has happened, hunters participating in these managed hunts tend to choose their shots carefully.  Most deer don’t make it more than 20 or 30 yards. Patient hunters often kill more than one deer in a single encounter. They wait silently, shoot again, and wait once more. With minutes, as many as three deer might be down in one lawn or vacant lot, and all within a 50-foot radius.  When I saw how small some of these designated hunt zones are, it really opened my eyes to the lethality and effectiveness of modern bowhunting equipment.

That was even more true on my second hunt, which was at an urban hotspot just three blocks from downtown.  The ABA generally requires hunters to use a treestand so they’ll be shooting safely toward the ground.  This, however, was one of those rare spots with no suitable trees but way too many deer.  At times, these homeowners had seen as many as 16 of them milling around on their tiny lawn.  So there we were in the ground blind pictured up above.  It was not a wilderness experience.

That evening we didn’t see any deer.  But from our hillside vantage point, we did have a lovely view of the harbor, the lake, and most of Duluth and Superior spread out below us.

© 2012 Al Cambronne

Author: alcambronne

Retired photographer, author, and cancer survivor living in northwest Wisconsin.

4 thoughts on “My Urban Hunts in Duluth: Helpful Research, But Not a Wilderness Experience”

  1. We definitely need more of this at the outer edge of the suburbs both from the point of view of ecology and venison in the freezer for hunters. The problem is landowners. Some are cool with hunting, some not. I have a spot like this, and the neighbor to the guy who lets me hunt there hates gut piles cuz of his bird dog smelling it and getting blood all over. He’s a hunter, but NIMBY as far as very ecologically needed deer hunting. That means you can’t always hunt the best travel spots.

    I think state governments need to get some more tools. Like easements with $ attached for these landowners and get some people knocking on doors or going to community meetings explaining why you need to let people hunt there. Hunters could kick in a couple bucks too, like the walk-in programs they have in agricultural areas that are largely for pheasant hunting. But these same legislators who are making too big of a deal about wolves hurting the deer population in some parts of the state probably wouldn’t vote for such a thing.

    This spot is not my favorite hunt. I like it the convenience, but I definitely notice the evening rush hour traffic when I sometimes leave work early to hunt there. But, any evening hunting is better than, well…most anything.

    1. Interesting. I’ve heard some of these same sentiments from the hunters I talked with in Duluth. Great to have a spot close to home where they can hunt for a few hours after work on a weeknight, but every now and then they still need to get out in the big woods for a more “normal” hunting experience. And these hunts are far enough into town so there’s no field-dressing on site. You have to haul the deer home and do that. As strange as that may seem to us, maybe someday it will become a new cultural norm for many hunters. I understand that in England, that’s just how it’s done. No gut piles. For British deer stalkers, this whole “field-dressing” thing would be a foreign concept.

      1. In Laos they bring the whole thing home. Keeps the meat clean until they get there plus the entire insides get used. The temps are so warm that any exposed meat can be damaged by flies. What’s not eaten by dogs is eaten by pigs, everything. Skin has hair burnt off and is sliced thin.

        I think these edge zones are important to be hunted. When you think about it a hundred years ago it would have been fairly impossible to have deer around houses. Too many knew where food came from. Around here the line between forest and town has become too blurred, deer enter town to escape cats and cats follow them all the way in. It feels unnatural to me.

      2. Interesting. Another good example of cultural differences when it comes to hunting practices we take for granted. And you’re right. A century or two ago, deer wouldn’t have been bedding down under people’s back porches. Would have been a lot riskier.

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