I have heard plenty of hunters complain about hunting in areas with lots of active walking trails. They find it discouraging to have the deer they’ve followed run off because of some businessman’s power jog. It might seem like these people are trampling over our suburban hunting paradise. In reality, they’re a huge asset for anyone looking to hunt walking trails.
Suburban deer possess a tolerance for human traffic in their woods. This stems from the fascinating process of conditioning, a fundamental subject at the core of my book The Urban Deer Complex. Because of conditioning, whitetails can differentiate between threatening and nonthreatening human behavior.
Plenty of us have witnessed a deer from a tree stand be casually alerted to some outdoor enthusiast’s presence. I’ve written a lot on the topic of hunting on walking trails as a kind of modern still hunting adapted for urban camouflage. But in this article, we’ll look at walking trails as a non-invasive way of accessing tree stands.
There are a couple things you need to consider when using heavily-used walking trails for tree stand access. Not having to worry about wind directions during walking to and from stand locations is one of the major advantages. Whitetail deer, even mature bucks, have come to expect the scent that blows off walking trails. They even find some measure of comfort in knowing where we are.
I try to position my tree stand in a place with the least amount of invasive access to virgin ground. Virgin ground is the soil one step off the walking trail. In the eyes of a whitetail, any human here is seen as a predator and not a mere outdoorsman. So if I have to walk an extra half mile on walking trails, so be it. At that point, all I am to a whitetail is a member of the spandex-clad circus they get to watch as they chew on acorns.
Also remember that these heavily-used walking trails do not actually impact a whitetail’s movement like a road might. A whitetail will stop to let a human walk by, but eventually cross the trail and continue on their way.
More than once, people walking on trails have made it possible for me as a bowhunter to draw back on my prey. This distraction is one more unique weapon in the arsenal of the suburban hunter. It is one that can make the difference between harvesting the buck of a lifetime.
Yes, people who walk on trails can break the silence of a calm wilderness. But remember that outside of preventing a measure of serenity, there are benefits to hunting on walking trails. We should consider them an advantage for tree stand setups, distractions for drawing our bows, and a vicious cover for aggressive still hunting tactics.
A.J. DeRosa founded Project Upland in 2014 as an excuse to go hunting more often (and it worked). A New England native, he grew up hunting and has spent over 30 years in pursuit of big and small game species across three continents. He started collecting guns on his 18th birthday and eventually found his passion for side-by-side shotguns, inspiring him to travel the world to meet the people and places from which they come. Looking to turn his passion into inspiration for others, AJ was first published in 2004 and went on to write his first book The Urban Deer Complex in 2014. He soon discovered a love for filmmaking, particularly the challenge of capturing ruffed grouse with a camera, which led to the award-winning Project Upland film series. AJ's love for all things wild has caused him to advocate on the federal and state levels to promote and expand conservation policy, habitat funding, and upland game bird awareness. He currently serves as the Strafford County New Hampshire Fish & Game Commissioner in order to give back to his community and to further the mission of the agency. When those hunting excuses are in play, you can find him wandering behind his Wirehaired Pointing Griffon in the mountains of New England and anywhere else the birds take them.