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Corn Country Bucks

Corn Country Bucks by TR Michels
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In much of North America white-tailed deer can be found in and near cornfields. In the Midwestern Corn Belt a majority of the whitetail’s habitat may be corn. With the large size of these fields, and with the lack of wooded areas whitetail deer, including trophy bucks, travel, feed and bed in the corn. Because these fields offer security, bedding cover and food the deer spend all day in the corn. The often move out of the corn only at night as they go to water and search for clover, alfalfa, soybeans, winter wheat, grasses in CRP lands, and berries or nuts small hedgerows, ditches, fence lines, creek bottoms and woods.

One key thing to remember when trying to locate cornfield deer is that they like to have access to water. Although deer will drink from rain filled puddles, stagnant ponds and dry creeks they prefer to drink from larger ponds and lakes or nearby running water. If there is water within two or three miles deer will travel to it. But, unless they can get to the water while staying in the corn or other cover they will travel to the water at night. Because deer are crepuscular (their major movement times are dawn and dusk) this is normal for them.

While deer normally move at dawn and dusk hunters often equate this movement with feeding. In fact deer often move to nearby water at midday if there is available cover. They also move to water at dusk and dawn. On one of the farms I used to hunt, the deer could get to the four nearby lakes while remaining in or near woods and thick brush. Therefore they drink during the day, before moving into the alfalfa and hay fields in the evening. They drink again in the morning on the way back to their bedding areas. When the deer bed in the corn they can’t get to the water during the day without exposing themselves. So they move to water under cover of darkness.

In areas where deer use corn as daytime bedding areas the trails they use going from the bedding area often lead, not to food sources, but to water. In this case when you are trying to Pattern deer remember that any rubs you may see on brush and trees in the area are probably going from a buck bedding area, which may be in the corn, the middle of a CRP field, where you swear a deer couldn’t hide, or in any patch of cover the buck can find, to a staging area where does gather before going to water. Deer in corn country often travel extensively because of limited habitat and water, which causes the does to use large home ranges and spread out. In order for the buck to breed with several does he must travel to their widely spaced home ranges. A veterinarian in Iowa, who is also an avid archery hunter, reports seeing a buck five miles from its core area during the rut. He sees very few rubs and scrapes because of the lack of trees in the area, and he seldom sees the buck during daylight. This nocturnal behavior is to be expected. Because these deer live in the corn, and with the lack of large wooded areas that offer security the deer are not necessarily nocturnal, but they don’t move far in open areas. Instead they move freely in the corn during daylight, where they can’t be seen. They move in open areas to other food and water under cover of darkness. The habitat and this travel pattern makes it extremely hard to hunt cornfield bucks. If there are no wooded areas with mast crops, or large trees to hang tree stands on how do you hunt them?

During the pre-rut, cornfield bucks seldom move outside the corn during daylight hours. Even when they begin rubbing and scraping these bucks usually move at dawn and dusk. One of the few times during the year when these bucks act stupid and move during daylight is during the time the does are in estrus. When the deer are bedding in the corn, you can either setup in the corn or nearby cover along the trails the deer use as they come and go dawn and dusk, or you can stalk the deer in the corn.

To successfully stalk deer in the corn, either with a gun or bow you need to know the lay of the land within the field. You can do this either by walking the field prior to the season or by using a topographical map to locate any wet areas, depressions, gullies and grassy hills where corn doesn’t grow. All these areas are used by deer as bedding areas depending on the weather. If you see rubs and scrapes in doe use area during the prerut, but the bucks are nocturnal, you may see them during the breeding period, near the does use areas in daylight. The corn may be down by this time. With the lack of suitable cover to archery hunt from you may have to pursue them with a gun.

During the breeding period the bucks will travel at all hours of the day but because of the low numbers of deer per square mile few bucks may be seen. The best way to hunt corn field bucks during the rut is by locating the does and their bedding and feeding areas. If you know where the does are sooner or later the bucks will show up.

By checking a topographical map before entering the field you can determine if there are gullies or strips of cover leading from the field to woods or other cover outside the cornfield. Deer use these areas when entering or leaving the field and you should check to see if there has been recent use there. The maps will also show you where the deer may bed in the field. Next scout the field itself. If you can do this before the season don’t worry about spooking the deer too much, by the time the season rolls around they will return to their normal habits. But, be sure to stalk the field as if you were hunting even if you can’t hunt. You want to try to find out exactly where the deer are bedded. To do this you want to be as close as possible when you do see and possibly spook deer. If they spook before you are close it will be hard to determine exactly where they were bedded. If your first scouting trip is during the season be sure to bring your gun or bow with you in case you get close enough for a shot.

When I stalk a field I concentrate on approaching the grassy or open areas, and hills or gullies, where I think deer may be bedded, from downwind and usually wait until after a rain or snow has gotten the corn wet and not as noisy as it is dry. I walk across the rows on a diagonal so that I can cover as much ground as I can. I carefully check each row before I enter, looking as far down the row. Then I step in, look farther down the row, and stick my head into the next row. If you have spent any time in cornfields you know that cornrows are not straight and are often clogged with broadleaf’s and grass. You have to look carefully along each row, and because the rows often curve you may not be able to see more than a few feet. Stalking a large cornfield may take hours, and demands patience and perseverance, but if you know there are deer in the field it can be a real challenge. When you see deer make note of where you saw them and check for sign that they have used the area on a regular basis. If you see stalks bent or broken, eaten corn cobs, lots of tracks, droppings, or beds, you can almost be sure the deer will be back later. Wait a few days until the conditions are right and try it again.

Camouflage is a must when hunting up close like this and I wear my own Field “Stalker” camouflage pattern in either the white or dirt colored background, depending on the conditions. Late in the season when the leaves are dried and gone, and when the skies are gray I wear the white version. Deer are often lying down in the field and when they look up they see lots of light open sky. Using the white version of Field “Stalker” helps to break up my outline better than the darker version or any other camouflage I might wear. Be sure to camouflage your weapon with tan camo tape and cover you hands and face.

There is one other way to hunt cornfield deer, with a hunting blind. Midwest hunters can use the same tactics used by Texas hunters, by using an enclosed tripod stand or enclosed platform stand. I have used enclosed wooden stands constructed of two by fours surrounded on all sides by camouflage material when hunting bears in cornfields. They work for deer too. The key is to set the blind up well in advance of the season and let the animals get used to it without being threatened. This type of blind works well in open brush or cornfields where you have to get above the vegetation to see the deer. There are a couple of problems with elevated blinds. One is that in farm country you are not often allowed to use a rifle, which restricts your choice of weapons to archery, shotgun or muzzleloader, and this restricts your shooting range. Because of this, these type of stands work best if you can rifle, shotgun or muzzleloader hunt.

Hunters can also use ground blinds to hunt cornfield deer. When I know bucks are crossing between two wooded fingers on either side of a corn, soybean or alfalfa field I place a blind within shooting range of the crossing and close enough to one side of the field that I have a shot when the buck shows itself. If the field is narrow enough I can cover both sides of it. I also like to set up a blind a few yards away from the inside corner of a field that is surrounded by trees. That way I can easily watch two sides of the field at the same time, especially the corner where bucks often seem to exit and enter the field, and where they often have a scrape. I set the blind up on a high spot in the field if I can, so that I can see as much of the field as possible. If the deer aren’t in range I move the blind closer for the next hunt. Moving the blind usually doesn’t bother deer in farm country, because they’re used to seeing cars, pickups, tractors, combines and grain wagons sitting in fields in the fall.

When you see deer sign near something that can be used as a blind take advantage of it. On one of the properties where I currently do deer and turkey research there are several trails and rubs within fifty yards of an old combine, and a large chemical tank used to apply liquid fertilizer to the farm fields. On another property the deer walk within five yards of an abandoned farmhouse, a broken down barn, and a VW bug. A hunter could easily stand in the hopper of the combine, cut a door and a shooting port in the old chemical tank, or sit in the old house, barn or VW and take a deer as it walks by.

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