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Deer Hunting Cornfields

Deer Hunting Cornfields

How to hunt standing cornfields for whitetail deer

The following topic may be an area surrounding whitetail deer hunting that I have avoided addressing as it is one of the trickiest some areas present. While I have heard many deer hunters complain about the Moon or the October lull and known they were bogus excuses for failure, deer hunting cornfields that are standing unharvested present a true obstacle to success. Especially to the early season whitetail archer. Throughout the course of this narrative we will discuss both a negative and positive sides of deer hunting cornfields that have not been harvested. We will also take a look at the composition and nutrients that corn supplies to the whitetail deer herd. Further we will take a serious look at advanced whitetail deer hunting strategies that need to be employed when any whitetail deer hunter is forced into hunting under this situation.

Wild plants have usually no more than 10 - 12 percent protein. When you offer wild animals a food source that provides significantly more protein they will favor that source over others. The protein content of corn is approximately 55 to 60% escape or bypass protein. Escape protein is protein which is not fermented or degraded by the ruminal microorganisms, but is digested and absorbed by the animal in the small intestine. The remaining 40 to 45% of the protein in corn is rumen degradable protein. Rumen degradable protein is required by the ruminal microorganisms for use in growth and protein synthesis. Most research with corn indicates substantial benefit to providing rumen degradable protein in diets containing corn. Like all cereal grains, corn is low in calcium and relatively high in phosphorus. Corn is a useful food source for whitetail deer. It is high in energy. Thus as we can see above corn is an important part of the whitetail deer’s ability to thrive and produce huge antlers. This is the reason no whitetail deer hunter should frown upon deer hunting cornfields. Corn literally contains more protein than barley, wheats, oats, and soybeans.

Have you ever wondered or realized that one year a farmer will plant corn in his field but the following year he will plant soybeans. This occurs on purpose in the Midwest. You can bet that if a field was corn last year, its gonna be beans this year. This is a successful way to be able to predict when you will be forced to deer hunt cornfields. Here is the agricultural reasoning behind this rotation process. Crop rotation is the practice of growing a series of dissimilar types of crops in the same area in sequential seasons for various benefits such as to avoid the build up of pathogens and pests that often occurs when one species is continuously cropped. Crop rotation also seeks to balance the fertility demands of various crops to avoid excessive depletion of soil nutrients. A traditional component of crop rotation is the replenishment of nitrogen through the use of green manure in sequence with cereals and other crops. It is one component of polyculture. Crop rotation can also improve soil structure and fertility by alternating deep-rooted and shallow-rooted plants. Crop rotation avoids a decrease in soil fertility, as growing the same crop in the same place for many years in a row disproportionately depletes the soil of certain nutrients. With rotation, a crop that leaches the soil of one kind of nutrient is followed during the next growing season by a dissimilar crop that returns that nutrient to the soil or draws a different ratio of nutrients, for example, rice followed by cotton. By crop rotation farmers can keep their fields under continuous production, without the need to let them lie fallow, and reducing the need for artificial fertilizers, both of which can be expensive. Rotating crops adds nutrients to the soil. Legumes, plants of the family Fabaceae, for instance, have nodules on their roots which contain nitrogen-fixing bacteria. It therefore makes good sense agriculturally to alternate them with cereals (family Poaceae) and other plants that require nitrates. An extremely common modern crop rotation is alternating soybeans and maize (corn). In subsistence farming, it also makes good nutritional sense to grow beans and grain at the same time in different fields.
Crop rotation is a type of cultural control that is also used to control pests and diseases that can become established in the soil over time. The changing of crops in a sequence tends to decrease the population level of pests. Plants within the same taxonomic family tend to have similar pests and pathogens. By regularly changing the planting location, the pest cycles can be broken or limited. For example, root-knot nematode is a serious problem for some plants in warm climates and sandy soils, where it slowly builds up to high levels in the soil, and can severely damage plant productivity by cutting off circulation from the plant roots. Growing a crop that is not a host for root-knot nematode for one season greatly reduces the level of the nematode in the soil, thus making it possible to grow a susceptible crop the following season without needing soil fumigation. While I know this is a rabbit trail we are chasing when talking about deer hunting corn fields I found it to be very interesting.

Let’s look at some strategies for hunting whitetail deer in cornfields. Some I suggest while others I am opposed to.

Spot and Stalk Hunting Whitetail Deer in Cornfields (I oppose this strategy but let us visit the nature of this strategy.)

As we all know deer hunting cornfields that have not been harvested present an obvious problem for whitetail deer hunters. Yes I’ve seen many television shows and videos were so called professional hunters spot and stalk through standing cornfields and successfully harvest great whitetail bucks. However don’t be fooled as much of what we see on the outdoor television programs are really filmed within the confines of high fences with tame animals raised by deer farmers. However if you insist on attempting to spot and stalk whitetail deer in cornfields apply the following principles as a precaution. Prior to presenting this information remember my belief is that this strategy does more harm than good, because you spook many whitetail deer from the area. But as aforementioned hear the principles that one would apply when attempting such a feat as spot and stalk hunting standing cornfields for trophy whitetail deer.

I have heard a number of bow hunters state that they really hate the early archery deer season because of all the standing cornfields. This is a common complaint because most deer hunters realize the deer can hide all day long in the safety of the standing corn. This does not indicate that the deer are not approachable or not huntable, but you need to know how to stalk the standing corn. Allow me to share some tips for this technique.

When I start considering ideal conditions for stalking standing cornfields, I prefer a rather windy, breezy day. This will, of course, cause the standing cornstalks to rustle and rattle together, covering most of your stalking noise. It is always advisable to have the wind blowing in your face, but I have often noticed the breeze inside the standing corn has a tendency to swirl. I concentrate more on a very, slow, deliberate approach. I highly recommend stalking across the rows instead of stalking down the rows. It is also an advantage to be familiar with the topography of the cornfield. You need to know for sure the direction and approximate size of the field. You should also have a dependable compass with you and know how to use it. It is possible to become very disoriented in standing corn.

As I begin to stalk, I normally walk along the outer edge of the standing corn for a few yards. Then I slowly begin to walk across the rows through the field. I never enter the row of corn entirely. I slowly stick my head into the row and slowly look to the left and to the right. Only then will I allow my entire body to enter that particular row. If I do not see any bedded deer, I continue to the next row and repeat the procedure. Do not get in a hurry! If I cover the entire width of the field without detecting any bedded deer, I again silently walk the edge of the field for maybe 30 yards. Then I re-enter the field and repeat the slow, deliberate cross-row stalking back to the opposite side of the field. (You must remain confident. You will eventually encounter deer activity.)

Temporary Edge Hunting (This strategy I feel is effective for deer hunting cornfields that have not been harvested.)

Any hunter who lives in the cornbelt and knows how to hunt deer understands the important relationship between corn and deer. A good majority of those hunters tell others how to hunt to take advantage of this treasured food source. Finding a deer trail entering or exiting a corn field, spending time on these deer travel routes, or placing a deer stand near these travel lanes are widely used strategies. Corn provides valuable deer habitat as a food source and as cover from late summer through harvest. Deer use the corn for a bedding area or they find refuge during travel from bedding to feeding areas, watering areas, or other bodies of cover. These are key considerations when deciding the location of your corn plot or when using corn in other plots as an interface.

Research has shown that in areas of high hunting pressure deer can spend much of September, October and early November in the corn, venturing out only at night. These temporary cornfield edges are an integral part of the deer habitat because of the security standing corn provides. As other hunters are out schlepping around in the woods, a good number of deer realize the refuge they find in the corn.

While cornfield edges certainly aren’t hard to find, the right one can be. I’m not specifically referring to the corn/woods edge so common in farming country. A good number of deer are harvested in these areas each year, but I’m referring to the cornfield edges that create a temporary funnel area from one body of cover to another. Some of the best deer stand locations are those funnels and edges which are more difficult to identify. Why, because a good number of hunters overlook them.

Due to cropping rotations and field boundaries, some of these temporary funnels are only available for one season. You may have to scout them out each year. It can be worth the effort to find these areas as most other hunters simply aren’t hunting them.

So, where do you start looking for that temporary edge so you can hunt deer there? Ideally get an aerial photo. Make several copies of these maps to accommodate field notes, crop planting sketches, water, food sources and deer travel routes. Look for any standing cornfield edge connecting two bodies of cover. Alternatively look for one body of cover linked via corn to a hayfield or seasonal food source on the other side. A body of cover may also be linked to a water source via a corn field. Make sure to note of all the water sources and areas with a history of good mast production. Topographic features; such as wooded ridges running somewhat perpendicular to the cornfield edge are also worth recording.

Other deer travel routes worthy of documenting and monitoring are the waterways cutting up through standing corn. These waterways are used as deer travel routes. Any vegetative edge, whether it be a waterway, soybean or alfalfa field edge, which shares a border with a standing cornfield and connects to a woods or other body of cover are worthy of your attention. These are very productive deer stand locations up until the corn is harvested.

Setting up your deer stand along the edge provides you the opportunity to hunt this funnel. These edge areas are typically best suited for evening deer hunting, as you can approach through the open soybean or hay fields allowing minimal disturbance to bedding areas. Setting up your deer stand along the edge provides you the opportunity to hunt this funnel. These edge areas are typically best suited for evening deer hunting, as you can approach through the open soybean or hay fields allowing minimal disturbance to bedding areas. This can often times be the key to your success when deer hunting cornfields.

The best places to set up are generally those staging areas inside the timber where the edge of the field joins perpendicular with the woods. This location creates that “inside corner” deer feel most comfortable using. Even though these edges are predominantly early season locations, the chase phase of the rut may begin before the crop is harvested. As the boys are out trolling for the girls, they want to cover as much ground as they can. These corn edges connecting two bodies of cover can be a great location to intercept a roaming buck. The drawback to deer hunting field edges, depending upon stand location, is leaving the deer stand unnoticed. If you opt to stay until final shooting light, you may spook deer in the field. Repeated missteps like that will cost you. If you are hunting a particular buck and dark is creeping up on you, it may be best to get out of there early. Hunting these spots in the morning can be a challenge. Deer feed and bed in the open fields all night and any attempt at crossing the open fields will spook deer. You may be able to approach undetected if you can access the deer stand through the woods or sneaking four or five rows in the corn. Predicting deer travel routes is the basis of good deer stand placement. Rather than hunting that same deer stand location year after year, try hunting the temporary edges a standing cornfield creates. Hunting the temporary edge may be just what it takes to diversify your approach and get that trophy whitetail you have been waiting for.

Cornfield Acorn Setup Strategy (This is my favorite strategy to employ when deer hunting cornfields that have not been harvested yet.)

The Cornfield acorn setup strategy is one that I simply made up myself. Thus this is a strategy you may or may not have heard of. As whitetail deer hunters we are all fully aware that big bucks often times hold up inside the wood line on the outskirts of a food source just prior to dark. In those hang up zones we have learned to position tree stands in hopes of taking a monster whitetail buck. When do this as we know whitetail bucks will leave their bed area in the evening and travel to a grain field to eat. We also know that these whitetail deer are smart enough in most states to not enter the wide open agricultural food source until just prior to dark. Instead they hang up just inside the woods. With this basic concept in mind I began to research and collect statistics on a strategy surrounding deer hunting cornfields which I call the Cornfield acorn setup.

When you are hunting a location where you are forced to hunt a farm with a Cornfield that has not been harvested you can assume that mature whitetail bucks are usually not utilizing dense thickets as bed areas. The big bucks and most other deer are literally bedded in the standing Cornfield instead. Therefore the advanced whitetail deer hunter must now play the game as if the Cornfield is a bed area and not a food source. In other words process has now been reversed as what we look upon as a food source is really a bed area. The deer are bedding in the corn field. Since the process is reversed the hunting strategy should be reversed. I will scout the outer edges of the standing cornfields in search of two things. Number one I seek heavily traveled deer trails that are coming forth out of the corn and into the timber, always keeping my eye out for big whitetail rubs. As I find the most heavily traveled deer trails I will quietly stop at each location to determine if a colony of white oak trees is producing acorns there. I know from years of hunting whitetail deer in cornfields that a healthy group of white oak trees throwing acorns to the ground is enough to entice the biggest of whitetail bucks out of the corn to forage in that area. Thus in review any Cornfield acorn setup should consist of hunting just outside the perimeter of the standing Cornfield, near a heavily used deer trail, where a group of oak trees is currently dropping acorns. In these locations I will set up tree stands to intercept the biggest of whitetail deer. Over the course of 1358 whitetail deer hunts my statistics show that Cornfield acorn setups presents whitetail deer hunters with a whopping 43% increase in success rates for the early season archery hunter.

Whitetail deer, like cattle, are ruminants, with four-chambered stomachs. Ruminants are able to consume large quantities of low-protein foods quickly, and then chew and digest them slowly. This permits deer to limit the amount of time when they must let down their guard against predators and feed in relatively open places.

During the summer months, deer forage on non-grass plants and leaves. When apples mature and drop to the ground, deer add fruit to their diets. They will also feed on farm crops, and suburban gardeners often wake to find that dining deer have devoured their plantings. However whitetail deer will forsake most other food sources for their favorite food, the acorns of the White Oak.

I learned a long time ago that to kill whitetail deer you must be creative enough to think like whitetail deer. Thus imagine with me the following scenario. You’re a giant whitetail buck. You’ve been hiding in a Cornfield that has not been harvested to prevent hunters from discovering were you are at. While plenty of food and drainage ditchs supply you a water source within the confines of the Cornfield, two aspects of your life drive you beyond the perimeter. You get tired of eating the same thing every day. In other words say to yourself, “I’m sick of eating only corn.” Another thing that would drive you beyond the perimeter of the standing Cornfield is boredom. Again say to yourself, “I hate staying here all the time.” Therefore when your favorite treat, begins to fall from high atop the oak tree branches you not only hear it dropping, but you also smell it. It lures you into the white oak colony in merit of your investigation. For under the oak trees you can not only find shade and a change of environment but you can also partake of your favorite food……………….the acorn. Again remember that a Cornfield acorn setup will increase your odds of success when deer hunting cornfields by a whopping 43%. This is a very effective strategy for whitetail deer hunting.

Deer hunting cornfields during late season.

I believe standing cornfields in late December and early January provide just as many positive aspects as negative ones to hunters and deer alike. Corn is enriched with carbohydrates, which allow deer to boost energy and bolster their strength to survive during the harsh winter months. Food sources become severely slim when snow plasters the ground and ice blankets atop. It truly becomes a ruthless battle for survival of the fittest. There’s nothing more palatable to a whitetail than a mouthful of kernels. Custom food plots hunters prepare during the fall season are usually torn up and devoured by this time, but not when it comes to hundreds of acres of corn.

Deer often bed, feed, and live in large fields of corn throughout the fall and winter months. Mature whitetails feel extremely comfortable and secure in the confinement of rows, especially if the field is “dirty.” Dirty refers to weedy or an overgrowth of vegetation inside the field. Thickly covered fields strangled in weeds attract more deer than clean and tidy ones. Deer always feel much more safe in dense and heavier cover. Hunters must make no mistake in finding high spots, wet areas, or places where the planter has plugged up to find the best bedding sites.

Slight changes in landscape such as slopes provide deer a vantage point to spot oncoming predators. It’s critical to focus on any slight alterations in the terrain when finding the hottest bedding sites. During the fall, when winter hasn’t frozen any open watered mud holes, find them! These places found in lower areas of the field work wonders when high temperatures scorch into the upper 80’s and 90’s. Deer will often stretch their legs during the midday to sip a cool refreshing gulp of water. Lastly, farmers often plug up their planter when lying seed on the ground. This makes a cluster of tall corn that masks deer while bedding. Animals use the same instincts in the corn as they would in the forest.

When much of the Midwest has stormed through firearm season and is now back to late season archery tactics. We must understand that many whitetails have adapted to the comfort zone of cornfields during this time. Deer drives, human sightings, and a huge elevation of hunting pressure drive many whitetail into standing fields. There have been a great number of giant bucks that made it through 2009 thanks to standing corn. They’ve used it as a hot food source and an overwhelmingly fantastic place to get some shuteye throughout daylight hours.

As the season dwindles into mere days, we must take full advantage of hunting cornfields. It’s important to keep an open mind during to this time of year to fill your tag. Look for sign, such as tracks, droppings, and trails to improve your success when hunting late season whitetail!

Deer hunting cornfields AFTER they are harvested.

Around 5.8 bushels per acre of corn is left on the ground for whitetail deer after a Cornfield has been harvested. Of course as you may assume this is easy pickings for whitetail deer. Without a doubt when deer hunting cornfields after they had been harvested success rates soar. Always keep an eye on the farmers activities so you can hunt field edges for whitetail deer immediately after a harvest. I will never forget the afternoon while hunting in pike county Illinois immediately after a Cornfield harvest when I saw 89 whitetail deer enter the field one after another. Just last year in Iowa one of my hunters in camp saw 91 whitetail deer on a harvested cornfield in an evening. 24 of which were bucks.

Now that I understand how to effectively deer hunt cornfields I no longer frown upon the site of a standing Cornfield, the rather smile in anticipation of what bruiser buck is using the location is a hiding place.

Darrin Bradley

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