Riding south down Interstate 95 and looking east I see the towering skyline of Jersey City and farther in the distance, Manhattan, hardly the sights you associate with deer hunting. As we drive farther south and west the skyscrapers grow fewer and smaller among the urban sprawl. Mega malls and shopping centers gradually give way to strip malls and homes with barely enough yard to park two vehicles.

But as we exit I-287 and start southwest on Route 202 the buildings grow smaller, fewer and farther between. Ornamental trees give way to small patches of woods and suburban lawns gradually turn to pasture. Convenience stores and strip malls are replaced by the working dairy farms and small corn and soybean fields. Had I closed my eyes before leaving Maine and not opened them until we arrived at our destination, I could easily be convinced we were in upstate New York, southern Michigan or southeast Ohio.

The image that comes to mind when you mention New Jersey to most Mainers is the urban blight they see from the Jersey Turnpike. But you need only travel a dozen or so miles west before that slowly melts away and development eventually yields its dominance to some surprisingly beautiful country. By the time you reach the Delaware Water Gap you see rolling hills dominated by agricultural fields and hardwood forest teeming with game.

We stopped short of that, in the rural residential region near Flemington, where we met up with Dave Sichik of Garden State Guides. Like the state he lives in, Dave is not what you might expect of a Jersey boy, and could easily fit many folks’ description of a typical Mainer. In addition to guiding, he does taxidermy and property management – whatever it takes to pay the bills while allowing him as much time outdoors as possible.

I had two companions. Chris Cobbett is marketing director for the company that makes and sells the Tink’s line of deer lures, attractants and scent-elimination products. He and Dave are also longtime friends and Chris often makes several trips to Jersey each fall. Chris’ lady friend, Missy Atkisson, is also an avid bowhunter, but has been frustrated by her lack of success and opportunity back home, and was hoping to change that. I too was looking forward to what I knew from experience was a target-rich environment, and maybe a chance at a decent buck.

Before the hunt began, I had a chance to talk with Dave about his operation. He admitted this is not a trophy hunt. “That’s not what we’re trying to promote,” he says. “I hesitate to share trail camera photos with my hunters because I don’t want them to get unrealistic expectations. Sure, we have some nice bucks but this is more of a meat hunt.”

It’s that, and more.

Just a six-hour drive from Portland lies a bowhunting paradise. Both rural and suburban areas are literally overrun with deer to the point where the Garden State allows bowhunters to harvest an unlimited number of does in many areas. Land ownership patterns and abundant posted unhuntable properties create a mosaic of tiny sanctuaries. Those deer frequently spill over onto adjacent huntable properties like the ones Dave secures for his hunters.

In addition to filling the freezer, it’s a great way to gain experience. Our hunt didn’t go so well, thanks to Hurricane Joaquin; but if the weather cooperates, you should expect to see plenty of deer and possibly have multiple shot opportunities on every morning and afternoon hunt. Just being able to spend time observing deer at close range is worth the experience and being able to shoot several can help build your confidence for future bow hunts.

Compared to other states, a guided Jersey hunt is quite affordable. Dave runs five-day hunts for $1,000, not including meals and lodging. What you’re paying for is opportunity, local knowledge and, more importantly, access to otherwise unhunted private land. We weren’t able to experience that the first few days as sometimes heavy rain and winds kept the deer movement down, but when the weather broke on the last day we finally got to see Jersey’s potential, and secure some fresh organic protein.

While local knowledge and access are invaluable, you certainly don’t need a guide. New Jersey has ample public (state and federal) land including 70 wildlife management areas and state parks, five national wildlife refuges and the 104 square-mile Delaware Water Gap National Recreation Area. Each has certain restrictions but all allow hunting.

If you’re frustrated by your lack of success or merely lack of encounters at home, consider taking a short trip down the turnpike, past the towering monolithic structures of the East Coast’s largest cities and out to the wilds of rural New Jersey where you’ll see more deer in a day than in an entire season in Maine. Just remember to bring plenty of arrows. You’ll need them.

For more information on guided hunts, contact Dave Sichik of Garden State (908) 894-0355 or check out the Facebook page. For information on public land or hunting in New Jersey, visit www.NJFishandWildlife.com.

Bob Humphrey is a freelance writer and registered Maine guide who lives in Pownal. He can be reached at:

[email protected]