Author: James L. Bruner
For many this may sound like a no-brainer simply because of the sheer numbers of deer that abound on your average farm that plants nearly any crops. And that statement rings fairly true especially when the crop is corn, pumpkins, cabbages, and gourds. Not to mention numerous grains that deer devour like candy. But we’re not talking about just knowing deer are there or for that matter seeing deer. I’m talking about the hunting of these animals that already have an abundance of food, ideal cover, and a plethora of trails that lead to and from the immediate woodlots.
I’ll jump back in time here to a day when I met a country girl that lived in the middle of farm country and her grandparents owned 160 acres of property that more or less had never been seriously hunted. We’re talking deer central here and the deer seemed as though they were oblivious to human presence. Maybe it’s because they had gone so many years without any encroachment into their core areas except for the occasional stroll from a family member. In any event it was a daily occurrence to see whitetail in the field, walking the edges of the woods, browsing in the center of the fields, or walking in and out of the corn. New to hunting farm country, but not new to hunting deer, I thought this would be a cake walk. Think again. I got schooled the entire early archery season by a bunch of deer that I thought weren’t even paying attention. But that’s alright because now I can come back and be the teacher with the lessons I’ve learned.
First of all you can identify a major food source right off the bat so that alone takes some of the work out of the equation but don’t expect that this food source will always be the main source. Depending on what’s in the field this could easily be a secondary food source. Either way you have a point of interest and concentration. The problem here is it’s a big point of interest by way of sheer size. If you’re an archery hunter this can be a huge hurdle as you’re limited to the distance you can effectively shoot a deer and the field may be 100 acres or more in size. Since these hurdles will represent more archery hunters than firearm hunters we will tackle many of these from an archer’s standpoint. Let’s start with gathering some information, and maybe instructions, from the farmer or landowner.
Before you begin your hunt ask the farmer when the expected harvest will take place. You really don’t want to get setup and hunt a single day or two only to find the crop gone the next day. After all once the crop is gone so is most of the food source as well as the cover and the deer will change their patterns. Also ask the farmer about what types of blinds and scaffolds are allowed. Most farmers don’t want you digging holes for ground blinds due to the fact that these can create a hazard for their tractors. Some farmers will not appreciate the use of screw-in tree steps so a climbing stick may be needed or a climbing treestand if suitable trees exist. Any permanent structure is typically frowned upon so unless you secured permission don’t bring ground blinds or start building blinds. Ask the landowner if there are any areas that are off limits or if certain days or a specific time of a day may be unsuitable for you to hunt. You want to be respectful of the opportunity you have been given. Offer to help the landowner with some chores and some fresh venison once the hunt is over. Above all don’t walk away from the conversation without asking where the landowner sees the most deer or if he has any good advice on where to hunt. These are the people that live here and watch the deer every single day. You won’t find a better source of information to begin your pre-scouting.
If the crop field you are hunting is a grain that has some height to it you may be able to set up a portable ground blind within the crop itself. The ground blind is going to be very limiting and to be effective the best strategy would be to use natural elements such as the crop itself to make the ground blind melt into the surroundings. If the crop is corn you may have better luck as you will have the height and enough density between rows of corn to effectively breakup your outline. Keep in mind that corn also provides security for whitetail deer. Often you may find that you will need to go in and push the deer out during the firearm season if the farmer has let the corn stand. This can be done by either driving the deer from the corn to the waiting shooters posted outside the corn or you can still hunt through the corn looking for bedded animals.
In most cases you are going to find yourself hunting the edge of the field and often that means you will have a good line of sight for a large area where deer are traveling. This is probably going to be your best option for deciding where to move your stand next simply because you will most likely be moving…a lot. This may sound like it goes against the grain of traditional archery deer hunting, or any deer hunting for that matter, but adjusting to deer movement tends to be the norm in this style of hunting. Deer change their feeding patterns often especially when a crop field is beginning to decline or come to a peak in it’s growth cycle. Although it all may look the same to us the deer know instinctively which is the most nutritional and that’s where they will be. When you have an open area of field to witness these changes in deer movement it serves your best interest to change with the times. Don’t be surprised when you move your treestand and find that the deer have also moved possibly using the trails you were just hunting the day before. It can seem like a cat and mouse game at times but your attention to daily deer travel patterns will pay off. Obviously this situation will reflect less on a firearm deer hunter so take notes if you plan to hunt the same area for an upcoming firearm season.
As mentioned earlier it may come to the point where you want to push the deer from the cover or taller crop fields like corn. Whichever method you chose to use you will find that a lot of clues can now be realized while inside the areas of corn or similar crop. Since you previously steered clear of disrupting the feeding and sometimes bedding area there was no confirmation as to where the deer were feeding the heaviest. Now that you’re going in gather as much information as possible because some of the deer will be back and they will pick up right where they left off. Besides looking for area of travel you will also find areas of bedding. You might be surprised to see where large areas of corn stalks appear nearly mowed down like the deer had carved out a room for themselves. Check the ears of corn as you move along looking for evidence of feeding. When you find numerous ears of corn that have been fed on in a small area it’s highly likely that the deer will return to this same spot to proceed once the coast has cleared and your scent has dissipated.
Once the crops have been harvested the game is going to change in a major way but not always right away. For instance a harvester cannot effectively gather every kernel of corn or every grain of wheat. Hence there will be some food left behind and the deer will return to eat whatever they can easily access plus the natural grasses which are still green and full of moisture. Expect the deer to be on edge during this initial return visit. The deer will also make better use of the surrounding natural cover and become wary during their approach into the field possibly even staging further back in the wooded areas until just before dark. This is the time where you want to once again move your treestand.
It’s time to break back into traditional hunting methods and head further back in the woods or into a more defined location such as an outcrop of stones, a fenceline, a small ridge, or a simple line of trees. The deer will now use any cover they can to breakup their silhouette and detract from their movements. A simple example of this was a farmland field I was hunting many years back that had recently been harvested. Deer were still hitting the field every evening but they began using a simple barb wire fence as cover during their approach into the field. The fence allowed the grasses to grow taller which also enhanced the ability to mask the movement of the deer. After several evenings of watching the deer enter the field via the fenceline, one being a very nice 10 pointer, I decided to take a gamble and situate myself on the ground with my back to the fence which would put the wind at my face and the deer about 20 yards away.
I couldn’t have asked for anything more perfect with the exception of the fact that hunting is often a sport of unknowns. As predicted the deer followed the same route as they had for several nights. They came right down along the edge of the fence and broke off into the field to my right about 50 yards away. In total there were 4 does out in front and each passed by right around the 20 yard mark but the buck stayed further out and off to the right leaving about a 35 yard shot. With the added distance and the wind coming through the field I simply wasn’t comfortable with the shot and, for reasons unknown to me, all the deer trotted back into the woods and disappeared. I still have a perfect vision of that buck’s thick beams of antlers and the sheer body size of that buck burned deeply into my memory. I hunted the next three evenings before the firearms season specifically targeting that buck but each time he seemed to sense something wasn’t right. The last glimpse I caught of him he was standing atop a small knoll about 75 yards away looking in the opposite direction stomping it’s hoof into the ground. Never to be seen again I wonder how many more years that big farmland buck lived.
I settled for an oddball 7 point buck in the same field during the firearm season and during the late archery season connected with a nice doe for the freezer. There was a lot learned in that first full year of hunting farmland whitetails and subsequent years afterward began to make sense as the pieces of puzzles fell into place. With a little understanding of your deer’s daily movements and patterns you can often turn the tables in your favor. You never know when you’re hunting farm country as those pieces of the puzzle can be re-arranged at a moment’s notice.