“Ten years ago, we discovered a secret, a secret that was hidden in plain sight in the suburbs of Atlanta,” says the narrator of a deer-hunting video from a Brookhaven-based outfit called Seek One Productions.
The secret: Backyard bow-and-arrow killing of supersized suburban bucks that is perfectly legal in such cities as Dunwoody and Sandy Springs.
“They call it urban archery,” says Sgt. Eric Brown, the supervisor of state game wardens for Fulton County. “They’ll hunt virtually a quarter-acre tract.”
Thanks to publicity on social media and in Georgia’s hunting press, the long-camouflaged practice of suburban bowhunting is growing in popularity, game wardens and hunters say. Like all hunting, it sparks some disputes, but they can flame hotter due to the close quarters of cul-de-sacs and office parks. Some people like hunting; some people hate it. Some people like deer; some people consider them pests. Arrow-wounded deer often run onto property where hunting is not allowed. Poachers trespass in yards and roam in parks.
Marie Brumbach is among those who aren’t fans. “By word of mouth, this area has been targeted by poachers and bowhunters,” she says of her cul-de-sac off Spalding Drive in the wooded panhandle of Sandy Springs along the Chattahoochee River. She has stories about arrows and wounded deer found in yards and hunters lurking in tree stands. She thinks bowhunting is “disgusting and appalling.”
The deer bowhunting season in DeKalb and Fulton counties ended Jan. 31, and Brumbach would like to see it gone from Sandy Springs before the next season arrives in September.
“How can we be a progressive city while allowing bowhunters in our back yard?” she asked. “I don’t want to sit on my deck and watch a bowhunter next to me try and kill deer with arrows. I encourage all citizens of Sandy Springs to put pressure on [the city] council members and get this stopped immediately. We live in a city!”
State law broadly allows licensed hunters to stalk deer on private property with the owner’s permission. In the northern suburbs, firearm deerhunting is banned for safety reasons, but bowhunting is allowed, and there’s no limit on getting close to houses, game wardens say.
Some cities say they have found ways to indirectly ban bowhunting. Buckhead may have been named for a deerhunter’s trophy, but shoot an arrow in Atlanta today anywhere outside of an archery range and the cops may lock you up. Brookhaven bans shooting a bow except in defense of life or property. Roswell requires a permit, weapons training and certain safety standards for bow use. Dunwoody and Sandy Springs, on the other hand, don’t restrict private-property bowhunting.
Illegal hunting can be a problem, both on private land and in such parks as the Chattahoochee River National Recreation Area. “We have several [poaching] incidents that are in the investigation stage,” said Bill Cox, the national park’s supervisor. Brown said state game wardens are also investigating a poaching incident this season near the park, though he could not say which city it was in. Cpl. Chad Cox, a state game warden responsible for the Sandy Springs area, said he made no citations or arrests in the 2017-18 season.
The lack of legal hunting in some northern suburban cities means more and bigger deer. That means more hunters attracted to the neighboring cities that do allow it. Hunters can find really big deer – a buck that “doesn’t look real, it’s so huge,” says Brown.
“In my opinion, the biggest deer in the state of Georgia are within [Interstate] 285,” said Brown. “They’re well-fed. They eat everybody’s pansies. People feed them.”
Among the hunters attracted to the big bucks is Lee Ellis, who makes videos of his hunts under that Seek One Productions banner. According to state records, Seek One is registered at an address is Brookhaven and Ellis’s address is given as a Sandy Springs cul-de-sac off Johnson Ferry Road. Ellis did not respond to an interview request.
Last fall, Ellis took possibly the biggest buck killed with a bow in state history somewhere in the northern suburbs, an enormous 15-pointer he had nicknamed Zeus. As reported by Georgia Outdoor News, controversy followed, as Zeus was a beloved visitor to the back yard of a resident who fed the buck and who denied Ellis permission to hunt on his property. Ellis killed the deer elsewhere and the resident claimed, apparently falsely, to have raised the buck as a baby and at one point given it a bell collar. Ellis’s parade of big-buck kills also drew scorn from some rural hunters who suggested that suburban hunting is like shooting fish in a barrel.
Some of the Seek One videos are available on the company’s Facebook page. The page describes suburban bowhunting as a “lifestyle,” and the videos show it is certainly complex, time-consuming and challenging.
“It’s opening day of bow season 2016 and we are headed to the ’burbs, baby!” Ellis proclaims at the start of a series of videos about the 2016-17 hunting season.
The videos never reveal exactly where the hunting happens, though Ellis says it is around the Chattachoochee River and its tributaries, which the deer follow. Ellis and friend Drew Carroll are shown laboriously knocking on doors to gain permission to hunt the “giants of the suburbs” and strapping cameras to trees to track targeted bucks, sometimes for years. The videos suggest that a special challenge of suburban hunting is the relatively small chance that the buck will pass through yards and lots where the hunters have permission to be.
The videos depict some of the controversial points about suburban hunting. On opening day, the hunters encounter an apparent poacher in a lot behind an office building. In one episode, Ellis shoots a deer, which then flees the property, leaving Ellis to wait for hours to see if it reappears on property he has permission to hunt. The hunters also visit a Peachtree Corners City Council meeting to stave off a proposed weapons law that could have affected bowhunting.
Suburban deer populations likely need to be controlled, including by hunting, says Brown, the game warden. For residents who don’t want to attract hunters or poachers, they may want to keep deer sightings to themselves.
“Even people taking pictures [of deer] in parks and putting it on Facebook – people see that and they want to go hunt,” said Cox, the game warden.