The biggest bucks we could ever dream of hunting could be hiding out virtually right next door in our neighbor's back yard.

Most hunters will assume that statement was not meant to be taken literally. However, given the population explosion of the white-tailed deer in America, especially in the south and particularly in Mississippi, big bucks lurking out in the neighbor's yard might actually be a reality more than a fantasy.

In fact, in many suburbs and small towns across Mississippi, citizens are experiencing more and more deer moving right into residential and commercial areas in counts as numerous as one might expect to see out in the woodlands across the state.

On the one hand, this city-deer situation creates a lot of problems, but it also opens up a number of opportunities for hunters willing to test their stealth skills.

Hunting right on the edge of civilization can be a tricky proposition. The big question is, though, will cities eventually allow deer hunting in town?

Urbanized deer

Last season driving to work in Raymond from my house in Clinton - only eight miles - I counted a half dozen deer lying dead on the side of the road killed from vehicle collisions. One of them was a nice buck, too.

Another dead deer was a doe lying just outside my neighborhood gate right in the middle of the road. I stopped to drag the deer off to the shoulder, and nearly got run over myself in the process. The real problem here is the issue of too many deer in town.

"One morning I was driving to work from Brandon on Interstate 20 when a nice buck ran out from a wooded area alongside the highway right into the pathway of traffic. It didn't make it to the middle white stripe," says John Cochrell, an avid bowhunter who has collected a number of nice bucks within or near the city limits of various communities. "City deer are not always that easy to hunt, but what we really need is more cooperation with municipalities to open up deer-hunting opportunities. This problem is real, and hunters have one solution."

City hunting

The State Farm Insurance Company has reported that there were 1.5 million vehicle-deer collisions in the United States last year. These accidents resulted in vehicle replacement and repair expenses in excess of $1.1 billion. These accidents resulted in 150 deaths and more than 10,000 injuries.

The same situation occurs in Mississippi. In fact, it literally struck my own family when a deer jumped out of the dark on Interstate 20 east of Brandon. The total repair bill was more than $4,000. Vehicle-deer collision expenses in Mississippi tally well over a million dollars a year, according to insurance company estimates. More and more collisions are occurring right inside incorporated municipal areas. These are deer that could be and should be hunted.

"Between November and February each year, roughly 35 percent of our business is repairing vehicles that have hit deer around the Jackson area. Some of these wrecks happened right in town. The average repair cost is around $4,500, but with today's expensive luxury cars and SUVs, the cost can easily run over $10,000," said Chris Harrison, a former collision adjuster with Barnett's Body Shop in Flowood.

The obvious threat to life, limb and property caused by vehicular contact with deer is plenty justification for allowing hunting inside a city's limits. Many cities and small towns are beginning to recognize this situation as a growing problem.

In some cases, hunting groups have stepped up to lobby for rules and regulations governing town hunts. When enough property owners and hunters get together, they are often able to curtail some of the negative impacts of too many deer roaming around in town.

Clinton's case study

The city of Clinton lies just a few miles west of Jackson. It's an old and historic town situated right along the route of the famed Natchez Trace, which is now classified as National Park land. Actually, the land encompassed by the Trace is one big whitetail habitat, and hunting is not allowed.

A cruise along this roadway in the early evening most any time of the year will guarantee sightings of deer grazing on the shoulders and fields along the way. These deer also move into town.

"Deer season had not been open two weeks when I was driving down the Parkway at dusk," said Jason Pope, who lives in Clinton. "I spotted several deer grazing in the open commercial lot across from the shopping strip mall. Cars were whizzing by, and the deer never paid any attention to them. I was thinking it sure would be a good place to bowhunt. I also thought that where there are does, the bucks would be around, too."

Several years ago, this situation must have begun to approach critical mass because several times at city council meetings citizens made comments about too many deer in town. After a time of consideration, the city council approved archery hunting within the city limits. This was a first for hunters in Clinton.

The provisions of the decree were pretty simple. The hunting was limited to archery only. The hunting seasons would remain the same as those set by the state division of wildlife. These seasons certainly give plenty of opportunity to nock an arrow with the early season beginning in October, then the special primitive season in December, followed by the late archery season in January.

Of course, when gun season rolls around, many deer hunters forget that archery gear can be used throughout the entire deer hunting season. So technically, bow hunters have four months of deer hunting to work their skills on these citified whitetails.

The only other caveat applied by the city was the requirement to purchase a $25 city hunting permit.

So, at least in the city of Clinton, the stage has been set for deer hunting in town - maybe in your own backyard or a neighbor's. Are there special tactics needed to deer hunt in town? Here are several considerations to keep in mind as you plan your hunts close to where people live.

Preliminary groundwork

We assume hunters interested in taking on a little different challenge of hunting within city limits already knows how to handle archery gear or other hunting weapons that might also be legal in different municipalities.

First and foremost, deer hunting in town demands a unique kind of finesse. Basically, all hunting in areas congested by other people needs to go as unnoticed or conducted as secretly as possible. This is not implying some dark-cloak, clandestine operation, but just some simple precautions to avoid drawing attention to yourself and your hunting activities.

Even though you may be functioning completely within the law, some people just don't like the whole idea of having folks sneaking around in camouflage clothing carrying a bow or gun. This is just routine common sense.

Just last season, a friend of mine parked off the side of a county highway to enter a section of land we lease not a half mile from a particular city's limits. A man from a nearby homestead was driving by, stopped and confronted him about hunting so close to occupied dwellings. He threatened to call the county sheriff. He never did, as far as we know.

However, my friend was standing there on the side of the road, dressed in camouflage from head to toe and carrying a lever-action rifle. What would you think if you just happened to drive by a guy like this? See what I mean? So be careful how you hunt in town, and keep your circle of friends who you want in the know very small and discreet.

Scouting about town

Selecting likely hunting spots in town is not unlike scouting more remote areas. In this case, however, the habitat is considerably different in its makeup and layout. Acquiring any and all types of city maps is a good start. Aerial photographs are even better, and today can be easily procured. A variety of resources are available for obtaining good topographic or satellite photographs of geographic land sites. Try for one source.

Street maps and other layout depictions of the town you hope to hunt will expose all of the isolated woodland areas, streams, creeks or other types of habitats where deer like to hide out before exposing themselves in public for feeding or traveling. No matter how populated or well-developed a town may seem to be, these little islands of woods and fields are everywhere. Be sure to identify power-line utilities, sewer or other types of rights-of-way crisscrossing through city areas. Any of these places are potential hunting spots.

Aerial photographic information can then be matched with a city street map to provide a good layout guide for initiating the scouting process. The next step is to cruise around these areas and streets at the appropriate hours scouting for signs of whitetail habitation. Note any deer sightings in a sort of journal for future reference. Make repeated drive-bys to areas where deer have been sighted previously to confirm it was not just a one-time happenstance. Eventually, with some luck, you may be able to narrow down several likely hotspots.

Also, if you should be so lucky as to see people out in these areas, you must be the outgoing, engaging type to take advantage of the moment to stop to make inquiries. If enough contacts are made, eventually permission may be granted to hunt some of these sites without arousing too much attention.

When you secure a site, then proceed to scout the vicinity and set up the hunt as any other. Slip in quietly to set up hunting stands as well as conducting the hunts. Should you score, use extra precaution in getting the deer out of the area. This is to protect you and the landowner who issued the permission from any overt form of harassment since other neighbors may not have the same appreciation for hunting.

Too many deer in town can mean more hunting opportunities for the enterprising hunter. Remember that somewhere among all those does feeding along the roads in town there just might be a record-class buck waiting back in the shadows. He could even be hiding in your neighbor's backyard.