Hunting the Harvest in Farmland
Bowhunting farm country can sometimes be viewed as less of a challenge than pursuing whitetails in the deep swamps or big woods. Access is usually less remote, and locating destination food sources certainly doesn’t take a genius. Furthermore, deer are visible in food sources during the summer months and establishing an inventory of target deer can be an easier task. Still, there are plenty of unique challenges involved with hunting farm country deer. Cover is, at times, limited and deer can bed so close to food sources that it is hard to enter stand locations without bumping them. Parcels are often smaller in size and the most strategic access routes can be limited by boundary lines.
In my opinion the biggest challenge to hunting farmland is often overlooked by many hunters. Although it occurs every Fall, rapidly changing food sources in agricultural areas is something that seems to be an oft ignored factor in predicting likely deer movement and habitat shifts. When corn begins to come off in early fall, especially if taken for silage instead of grain, large pieces of cover and food disappear overnight. Soybean fields begin to yellow and become less and less attractive and October frosts slow the regeneration of alfalfa fields. Those same frosts cause the production of sugars in native browse and brassica plots and the deer begin to turn to other food sources. Throw in the availability of mast crops, both hard and soft, and by mid October everything you thought you knew about deer movement in the area seems to be null and void.
Some lament this seasonal change and the challenges that it brings for farmland hunters, while others fall victim to a lack of observation and continue to hunt the same spots long after they have dried up and they lack consistent success because of it. I have probably fallen into both of those categories at some point in time, but lately I have tried to put myself into a third group. The hunters who are having success during these times of changing or depleting food sources are the ones who have prepared for it. Understanding peak attraction times during the year for the food whitetails prefer is an important part of keeping yourself in the game all fall.
There are plenty of ways that the harvest of agricultural crops can help you. For one, when there is so much food available, the deer have near endless options. As fields are harvested, it makes the remaining standing crop that much more of a draw. Stands around these food sources can heat up as the Fall progresses. Furthermore, hunters who are able to plant food plots may be able to hold deer on their properties after harvest by planting Fall plots that begin to have a draw at the times you want to be in the woods hunting- October and November. Winter Rye, Wheat and Oats fields can be favorites of deer from September all the way through late season; while Brassicas are another great food plot species that can peak in attraction after a few good frosts, or in other words, at about the time most of the crops have been removed from the surrounding ag land. If you have put in the work during the summer to establish these food sources, you can hold deer on your property often easier than before the harvest occurred. Establishing plots in areas where you can hunt the travel corridors and staging areas between bedding and these food sources is important so that you do not pressure the deer you are trying to hunt with your entrance and exit routes to your stands.
In other circumstances, crop fields can have a huge draw right after they are harvested. In particular, the waste grain left in corn fields by combines each fall is easy pickings for the local deer and a few days after the corn is taken off present significant opportunities for hunters. This draw seems to diminish as time goes on, and while a picked corn field may have a few deer in it each night of the season, nothing quite measures to those first few days post harvest. Likewise, once the cover of the corn is removed, a buck who might have been bedding in a grassy island in the middle of the field is going to move to another bedding area where he might be more huntable an a savvy archer can take advantage of this shift.
Keeping tabs on the changing food sources in farm country is almost as important as keeping tabs on an individual buck. Even during the rut, doe movements will be altered by available food, which will in turn affect where you will find buck travel. Instead of hunting the same stands from the beginning of season until the end, consider adjusting with the changing availability of food and cover, if you aren’t already doing so. The deer do, and so should you.
Email me at CommonGroundBowhunter@gmail.com