Hunting suburban bucks is different, but it can be very rewarding.
Opening day of Georgia’s 2014 archery season started out like gangbusters for avid suburban whitetail hunter Lee Ellis of north Atlanta. Hunting a spot where he had obtained trail camera photographs of a huge 10-pointer, the morning hunt yielded a nice coyote, a feat not many archers can claim while sitting in a tree.
Lee had good reason to be excited about the spot he was hunting in early September. The previous year, he had retrieved photos of an impressive 3½-year-old, mid-130s buck. A year later, in 2014, that same buck had erupted into a massive 170-plus-inch, typical 6x5.
After shooting the coyote and leaving the woods, Lee returned later that afternoon. Just before dark, his dream buck came in, accompanied by a smaller 10-pointer.
“I was in a climbing treestand, and he came in right under me less than 12 yards away,” Lee said. “I was shaken up, to say the least, because he was huge. I made what I thought was a good shot. He took off and disappeared.
“I looked everywhere. I searched for a solid month, but I never found any trace of him. Later on, I started calling him Achilles of Trojan War fame. Since Achilles was invincible except for his one weak spot, his heel, I felt like he was immune to any arrow I shot at him.
“In mid-October, I put out several cameras in another promising spot,” Lee continued. “On Nov. 1, I got a picture of Achilles 7 miles from where I had shot him. Naturally, I started concentrating on that new area.
The buck was showing up every night on several of Lee’s cameras. He learned a long time ago that these suburban bucks often travel long distances, sometimes crossing three or four busy highways in the process. One night, his cameras got two pictures of Achilles 6 miles apart as the crow flies.
“I set up near a pinch-point where a gate had been left open on an old fence line. The deer were walking through this opening on a regular basis,” he said. “I hunted there for two and a half weeks, hoping to see him.
“On the morning of Nov. 19, I was in my climber well before daylight when I heard a deer come in and stop right under my stand. It was still black dark, but I could tell it was a doe. Then I heard another noise in the woods a few yards away. It’s got to be a buck, I thought.
“Ten minutes passed. The doe finally ran through the gate 30 yards away. I could see a buck in the growing light, but it was still too dark to shoot.
“Finally, after an eternity, it was light enough to shoot. I had two shooting lanes cut out, and he walked through the first opening without offering a shot. He stopped in the brush and started rubbing a tree.
“I came to full draw three separate times and had to let down twice before he offered me the broadside shot I needed. He was walking toward the doe,” Lee continued. “I grunted, and he stopped. That time, I made a good shot.
“He ran 30 yards and fell. One possible reason for losing him the first time was that I had been using an expandable broadhead, and the scar tissue revealed it never opened up after impact. Also, my arrow had hit a little high,” he added.
Lee got interested in hunting suburban bucks when he was a sophomore in high school in north Atlanta. Since those early days, he’s managed to put six bucks in the record book.
“I learn something new every year hunting these crazy bucks,” Lee says. “They’ll surprise you every time. A big buck can disappear in a half-acre privet bottom, and you’ll never know he’s in there.
“Every year, I start watching the same bucks congregate in a bachelor group around mid-summer. I put out numerous cameras, and I usually start getting good pictures in mid-July. Not unlike bachelor groups everywhere, they stay together until early September. Then, right about the time bow season opens, they begin dispersing.
“To me, the best time to hunt one of these bucks is during the first week or so of the season. It’s a very short window. Once he disperses, it’s much harder because he may travel as far as 10 miles away from the spot where I first saw him,” Lee said.
Lee is one of several bowhunters in north Atlanta who have been chasing suburban bucks for a number of years. His friends Drew Carroll and Kevin Carnes love these thin tracts as much as he does.
Each man has multiple, albeit very small hunting spots where he has obtained permission to hunt from homeowners. Often these spots are only one-half to 2 acres in size.
Although the hunters stay in contact and often compare notes about what they are seeing, mutual respect dictates that one hunter never encroaches on another man’s personal spots.
“Not too many people were hunting these deer when I first started,” Lee said. “Now, a lot more hunters are out there, and we’re seeing a good bit of illegal hunting.
“I have no qualms about calling in the game warden if someone is trespassing or hunting illegally. It’s hard enough to do it the right way.
“Some of the areas where we now hunt have contained deer for the past few years. They’ve slowly migrated into the north Atlanta area from outlying places. Since I’ve been at it for so long, I know where the deer are. And people who know I hunt often call me and say ‘I just saw a buck at such-and-such a location.’
“Many of these people are very supportive because the deer are eating their flowers, and they want the population controlled,” he said.
“It’s definitely a different kind of hunting. Often I’ll hear leaf blowers, lawnmowers or kids playing basketball when I’m sitting in a stand. Once, during the rut, I was sitting in my stand near some houses and there was a buck chasing a doe in the woods nearby. I overheard a father standing on his back porch, explaining the birds and the bees to his young son: ‘Now that’s a buck, son. And there’s the doe over there. This is the time of year they get together and mate ...’
“They couldn’t see me, but I could hear every word they were saying,” Lee added.
Kevin and Drew were hunting the same buck last season. They’d each nicknamed it — Kevin referring to it as Heart Attack, and Drew calling it Poseidon because of a trident-shaped trio of points.
Kevin wound up arrowing it on the afternoon of Jan. 14. Two months earlier, Drew sent a text to Lee, saying “Poseidon is unkillable.”
“His movements were random, so it was impossible to strategize against him,” he said. “I knew it would take a stroke of luck to kill him. Unfortunately for me, luck was not on my side.
“It was a humbling experience to be completely outsmarted by an animal of that magnitude, an animal that had relied on nothing but his rock-solid instincts,” Drew continued. “It didn’t matter how many trail cameras I had out, how many FPS my bow shot, or how many satellites were pinging back aerial images of his territory. That was his domain, and he had one simple goal: survival.”
This article was published in the September 2015 edition of Buckmasters Whitetail Magazine. Subscribe today to have Buckmasters delivered to your home.