The Keys to Access & Hunt Farmland Deer
October 29, 2014
Searching for a prime deer-hunting spot? Don't overlook the rich farmlands scattered throughout whitetail country. Many sportsmen confine their hunting to wooded areas year after year, drawn back to the forests by a strong sense of tradition. But the farmland alternative also is worthy of consideration, and for many good reasons.
The Farmland Incentive
Agricultural foods are important components of the whitetail diet, especially during winter. One recent study determined that 5 of 10 preferred deer foods were farm crops: winter wheat, corn, alfalfa, grass and lespedeza.
Farm crops also have high protein content and produce deer bigger, healthier and fatter than the woodland animals. A whitetail thriving on corn, soybeans, alfalfa and other farm crops can stay in good physical condition year 'round. Woodland deer, on the other hand, may experience good times and hard, especially when mast crops are poor.
Other studies have determined that deer concentrations can be up to 10 times higher in the vicinity of agricultural crops than in more remote wooded areas. Deer disperse when food is gone, but in many areas, winter wheat, waste grain and other farm foods are available throughout winter. In farming areas, deer may remain concentrated on agricultural lands long after hunting season ends.
Finally, because most farmlands are privately owned, access is limited. That gives resident bucks time to gain that part of the big-buck equation most often missing: age. Older bucks are bigger bucks.
Finding a Farm to Hunt
Herds of deer often live near farms and visit the farmer's fields. Quite often they join right in with the cows and feed alongside them.
That probably won't bother the farmer because, usually, there's plenty of grass to go around. But deer don't stop there. Almost all other farm products appeal to deer. Soybeans and corn are relished. Green vegetables are delights. Hay fields attract deer, as do patches of lespedeza and alfalfa.
The piece-de-resistance is fruit. Peach and apple orchards, grapes and more attract deer concentrations. Because damage caused by deer is often extensive and expensive, most farmers welcome hunters who exhibit responsible behavior.
Use Your Local Game Warden
When looking for farmland to hunt, check with your local game warden. Those professionals often know landowners suffering crop damage caused by overabundant whitetails.
On a farm I once hunted, the landowner showed me 40 acres of freshly sprouted soybeans eaten by deer. Damage was so great, the farmer received a deer depredation permit from the state wildlife agency allowing him to shoot a number of deer in order to minimize crop destruction. The owner, eager to reduce financial losses, happily allowed me to hunt deer on his land several days each season. Orchard owners often experience similar problems. Deer can wipe out groves of small fruit trees. Befriending farmers trying to reduce deer damage is a great way to pinpoint farm-country deer hotspots.
You may find additional farmland hunting areas on public grounds by inquiring with your state wildlife agency. Many publicly owned properties encompass agricultural lands that are part of the overall management plan. Hunting pressure tends to be much greater on those areas, however, and special permits may be required to hunt. When other options fall through, public lands provide opportunities that might otherwise be missed.
Etiquette is Key
Serious whitetail hunters know it's best to start the search for a hunting area well before the season. When seeking private-land hunting opportunities, don't drive up to the door on the first day of the season and ask if you can hunt the woods behind a farmer's house. Visit the landowner well before the season starts. If you can prove you're a responsible hunter, you often can get permission to hunt, perhaps even on land that is posted.
Treat the farmer's property with respect, and don't overlook other courtesies that will assure you'll be welcomed back. Time and time again, I've heard farmers complain that hunters never think of them until deer season. A Christmas gift, birthday card, some flowers for the wife, a present for the kids or an offer to help with farm work aids in cultivating good hunter-farmer relations.
Share your success with the farmer, too. Most landowners take an interest in the hunt. Even if he doesn't want any venison (make sure to offer a share anyway), the farmer has probably watched your deer while working his land. It's part of the farm; sharing your success with the owner makes him feel appreciated.
How to Hunt Farmland
Big bucks often rest long hours and feed at food sources near their bedding areas. As winter begins, the bucks feel a pressing need for nourishment before the hard times they know are ahead. Gradually, their daily routines shift. They venture out farther and farther from their core areas in search of quality food. If preferred agricultural crops are available, bucks will feed there.
Emphasis usually should be placed on hunting deer trails between bedding areas and crop fields. To find bedding areas, look for and follow well-used trails leading away from the perimeter of crop fields. It's best to enter these areas alone and quietly. When you reach dense cover, you're probably entering the bedding area, especially if you jump deer while scouting. It's not a good idea to push the deer because it might spook them from the area. So when you jump deer, back up and leave.
How close you set up to a bedding area should be determined by when you'll be hunting. If you plan to hunt mornings only, stay close to the bedding area. That way you can catch deer coming back from feeding areas. If you set up too close to the feeding areas in the morning, you will only see deer when it's too dark to shoot.
If you plan to hunt in late afternoon, stay close to the feeding areas. Don't hunt right on the edge of the field because you'll probably see deer only after shooting hours are over. Set up between bedding and feeding areas and catch deer coming out for their evening meals.
If, like many hunters, you prefer to hunt on the edge of a farm field rather than in the woods, select a spot for your stand near a main deer route to or from the field. Your first scouting trip around the edge of a grain or alfalfa field may reveal enough deer tracks to give you the shakes. But don't let that confuse you. Careful scouting will reveal a main route for entering and leaving the field.
It also is best to choose a hunting spot offering good cover going to and from your stand so that farmland deer won't be as likely to notice you enter and exit. Still-hunting can be effective if conditions are right. Hunt to the last legal minute of the day, and be in position in the morning before first light. Try to find bottlenecks or other physical features that help funnel bucks your way.
Woodland hunting will probably always be the mainstay for most whitetail fans, but if you are seeking a new tack to spice up your outings this year, give farmland deer a try. Prime farm country offers some of our nation's best hunting for big, healthy deer.
About the Author
With a resumé listing more than 3,800 magazine, newspaper and website articles about fishing, hunting, wildlife and conservation, Keith "Catfish" Sutton of Alexander, Ark., has established a reputation as one of the country's best-known outdoor writers. In 2012, he was enshrined in the National Fresh Water Fishing Hall of Fame as a Legendary Communicator. The 12 books he's written are available through his website.