Hunting Around The Harvest
Knowing how weather effects maturing alfalfa, corn and soybean fields is the key to finding big bucks all season long in the Midwest
Thanks to some glaciers and a huge river system, the Midwest is covered in near-perfect topsoil. That rich, black dirt is used year in and year out for agricultural purposes. The fields planted each spring and harvested each fall are integral to not only feeding the world but feeding a world of whitetails.
While there are plenty of different crops planted each year, the big three are alfalfa, corn and soybeans. On many farms, all three will be planted in the same year, and all play a role in deer movement from the season’s opener on through to the end.
Learning how to read the changes in the Big 3 agricultural food sources (alfalfa, corn and soybeans) as the weather and season progress through the deer season will help keep you ahead of where the deer will be all season long.
Typically dairy farmers will plant some alfalfa for their cows, but deer benefit as well. There is nothing quite as vibrantly green as a field of alfalfa in the beginning of deer season and bucks will munch there consistently. It gets even more consistent if the early season features plenty of hot weather.
Of course, since they plant it for the cows, farmers are also prone to cutting alfalfa a few times each year. Once fields are cut and bailed, deer will often feed in other places until it grows back to at least four to six inches in height.
Whether alfalfa gets cut and how often will depend on the weather, but rest-assured if there is even decent plant growth, deer will hit it all fall. If you should have an early snowfall, or early freezing temperatures, the sugar content in the clover will increase.
Deer are well aware of this and will concentrate on the sweet leaves.
If the timing is just right, so that the alfalfa doesn’t get cut before a decent amount of snow falls, you know that under that blanket of white will be green leafy goodness.
The deer will paw their way through and focus heavily on the alfalfa until it eventually browns. Some of the best December hunting you’re likely to ever run into will occur on alfalfa.
The verdict on alfalfa is that as long as it’s growing, you’ll be able to see deer feeding on it from the bow opener through gun season, and right into the late-season in many cases.
One of the best deer magnets is corn and it will draw deer from summer to winter. Unlike humans who have to watch their carb intake, deer are free to load up all they want. And load up they do.
When corn is first growing, deer often ignore it. Then around the end of July or the beginning of August, the cobs will be in their milky stage.
Depending on how far north you live, this stage might last through the opener and deer will greedily rip cobs from stalks and chomp them like candy (black bears also absolutely love the milky cobs as well).
When that stage passes and the corn begins to mature, it starts to dry out. Deer will continue feeding on corn throughout the season, but not as aggressively as they did in the summer.
This might have more to do with other food sources, like hard and soft mast, which become available, than anything else, but feeding trends will change. It also depends on the weather, with hotter days curbing a buck’s desire to snack on carb-filled corn.
Conversely, cold fronts can bring on a feeding frenzy.
As the fall progresses, cornfields will start to be picked or chopped. A chopped cornfield will look like a three-day beard growth of stubble, and is one step above worthless for hunting.
There might be some cobs left in there right away, but there won’t be as much waste grain as those fields that are combined. And a freshly combined cornfield is something you want to set up on immediately.
When the temperatures really start to dip, you’ll notice a definite movement as deer vacuum up every kernel of corn from the fields (think carbs again).
This will happen throughout the winter, but is especially poignant on fields that aren’t chisel plowed. If your cornfield goes from yellow to brown, you know it has been plowed up.
Much of the available food will be turned into the earth and the drawing power for deer will drop significantly. If the field doesn’t get plowed, hunt it until you’re out of season—and then shed hunt it. Again, corn can be a draw all season long, but it tends to really start to attract deer later in the season as Halloween gives way to the rut.
Bowhunters and gun hunters alike can find success hunting around corn through much of the season, but you should focus your efforts on the back half of the season.
I’m of the humble opinion that soybeans are to deer what pizza is to humans. They love it, and will eat it in a variety of ways any time of the year.
Soybeans start out green and leafy, and the deer will browse their way up and down the rows nibbling leaves and snipping off stems. They love green soybeans.
As bow openers approach across the Midwest, there is always a game to be played. If the soybeans are still green, hunt them. If they are starting to mature and turn yellow, you might want to seek out other food sources.
Of course, not all beans yellow at the same time, and even in one field you might find a shady pocket that stays green while the rest of the field yellows. This is a “hunt-it-right-now” scenario.
Fortunately, the yellow stage is short and soon enough, the soybeans will grow brown. The clock is always ticking at this stage, and you should hunt soybean fields any chance you can. If it rains, that’s even better. There is something about brown soybeans and a nice drizzle that brings out big bucks.
Most soybeans are harvested well before the rut. A picked beanfield can still be dynamite, but the early harvest also means that the field is more likely to get plowed under.
When this happens it’s pretty much game over. If it doesn’t happen, or if for some reason wet weather keeps the farmer from picking his beans, you’ll find dream-quality hunting for the remainder of the season.
I really don’t believe there is a food source that deer like better overall than soybeans. Use that to your advantage whenever you can whether you’re a bowhunter or a firearm’s hunter.