Many of us, myself included, do not own hunting land or even live outside of city limits. In fact, 52% of American households are classified as suburban, while only 21% of households are considered rural! I am currently a suburbanite, but this has not stopped me from pursuing North America’s favorite game animal – with a few modifications.
When I moved far away from home, I also moved far away from my family’s hunting property where I had unlimited access. Now, living in a residential neighborhood has challenged me to find alternative means to hone my shooting skills and prepare for processing my own venison. Maybe my solutions will be useful to you in your suburban home or apartment.
Practice makes perfect (or at least better)
Proficiency with your weapon is crucial in taking ethical shots when that magic moment presents itself. I live nearly an hour from my main hunting property, which limits my ability to practice archery after work or on weekends when I’m preoccupied with the honey-do-list. My house sits on a whopping 0.2 acres, and my backyard accounts for a fraction of that. Not quite the shooting range you would hope for, but you’d be surprised at the possibilities.
On a whim one day, I decided to chat with my neighbors about practicing archery in the backyard, which helped build a positive relationship between us. Next, I made sure I was cognizant of the backdrop behind my target and confirmed that my arrow would not fully penetrate the target. I set it up against the fence, which backs up to a small patch of woods. After counting off the maximum distance, about 20 yards, I ensured that I am in no way putting my neighbors at risk. I stood on my back porch, drew back my bow, and let ‘er rip. It may not be ideal and will surely ruin an arrow if I miss, but it has undoubtedly changed the frequency and consistency that I practice, resulting in more accurate and ethical shots this fall.
Clearly, I’m unable to shoot firearms in my yard, but there are options right around the corner. If you live in a large metropolitan area like I do, there are a multitude of indoor and outdoor private ranges you can visit for a fee. Many state wildlife agencies also have public shooting ranges you can use at your leisure, and some of them are free! In college, there was a free, unstaffed public shooting range just minutes from my apartment, and I used it frequently to make sure I was fully prepared for deer season. I encourage you to use The National Shooting Sports Foundation’s awesome portal to find a shooting range near you.
Another challenge I faced was finding a place to skin a deer without upsetting neighbors, but a garage or a backyard deck may just be the perfect solution. You can easily mount a small pulley in the studs of your garage ceiling or under your deck away from street view. During quarantine last year, I converted half of my garage to a home gym. Now, my squat rack not only helps me prepare for dragging a deer out of the woods but also doubles as a skinning station. With a small pulley, rope, and chain, I can temporarily convert my rack to a makeshift workstation. It may not be perfect, or even great for that matter, but it enables me to hoist the deer high enough to work comfortably, all for $23 at the local hardware store. Be sure the rating on each piece is strong enough to support the weight of a deer!
In my early twenties, I started processing my own venison. The notion that only one set of hands, mine, handled my deer from the field to fork is refreshing. Sure, it’s easy to simply drop it off at a processor, which I have certainly done, but I find it relaxing to do it myself and fill my freezer almost immediately.
Home processing starts with the proper tools and equipment. Having quality tools on-hand makes a world of difference while preparing the meat for packaging. The first thing I did was buy a heavy cutting board, a professional boning knife, and freezer paper with tape. These simple items can help anyone get started for a relatively low cost and is exactly what I needed at the time in my small apartment kitchen. Over the years, I’ve added to my arsenal of equipment and will likely add more gadgets to my kitchen in the future, but starting with the basics and keeping it simple allowed me to dive-in and learn at my own pace.
There is no better feeling than obtaining your own high-quality protein through hunting, and processing your own takes it one step further. I hope the information above will persuade a hesitant, potential hunter to take the leap knowing that whether you live in the country, city, suburbs, or college, a little innovation will provide you with the resources necessary to harvest a deer and process the venison in the comfort of your own home.