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.
Over his years of chasing whitetails, A.J. Downs of Conroe, Texas, has taken a number of big bucks with his bow. But none of the other mounts in his trophy room can match the size, or the meaning, of the freak whitetail that fell to his arrow shortly after daylight on opening day of the 2012 archery season.
Thirty-five years of bowhunting have taught Bill Ullrich a few things about chasing whitetails.
Several seasons ago, Bill had made up his mind to take off work early to spend an afternoon in the woods, and he knew exactly which tree he was headed for that afternoon. He was almost to the tree when something told him he needed to turn around and, instead, opt for a tried and true setup he had long-ago named the 'œgood luck tree.'
One hour and ten minutes later, he realized that was the best decision he had ever made, as he watched his arrow bury to the nock in the largest whitetail buck he had ever shot at.
Bill Winke has earned himself a spot as one of the best Midwestern whitetail hunters of all time with this massive double G4 Iowa giant.
The huge Iowa non-typical Bo Russell took is testimony to the rewards of smart scouting and hard work. Not to mention being adaptable enough to overcome some outside interference — including a crew of archeologists!
Russell\'s giant had a gross score of 246 4/8 inches and a net of 231 4/8. That made him the second-largest bow kill entered from the 2012 season.
After many years of chasing the same buck and coming up empty, Brian Hollands\' luck finally turned around. On a fateful morning two seasons ago, Hollands not only found a lost little girl wandering the back roads of Missouri, he also found the buck of a lifetime.
Brian Herron fought numerous obstacles and setbacks to eventually bag this 184-inch bruiser.
The 16-point Daigle buck, scored by Boone & Crockett measurer Lonnie Desmarias, grossed a whopping 197 0/8 inches gross and netted 191 0/8 inches as a non-typical, breaking the existing Massachusetts state record by seven inches, according to the Northeast Big Buck Club records.
In 2009, Dean Partridge started having encounters and getting trail camera photos of a small 4Ã—4 whose back tines were a little bladed. There was nothing out of the ordinary at the time, so Partridge and crew carried on filming that fall and finished off the season. The next summer, he was back in the woods, checking to see which bucks had made it through the harsh winter. And much to his surprise, the buck that seemed ordinary had grown into an extraordinary buck with a large droptine that he aptly named "Droppy."
You need only skim the pages of the record books to understand why the majority of hunters pick the November rut as the prime time to hunt giant whitetails. Mature bucks are never a pushover, but they are more vulnerable when their nose is glued to the ground trailing an estrus doe. Fred Swihart proved, however, that you can have success outside the rut — sometimes it\'s just a matter of persistence.
Whitetail fate played its hand for Arkansas'™ Shane Frost in the big-timbered, fertile ground of the Black River Bottoms in Clay County. The ancient oaks and sloughs, in all their years, had likely never witnessed a more epic bowhunting scene, which ended with a 216-inch trophy on Frost\'s wall.
Garry Greenwalt teamed up with North American Whitetail\'s Gordon Whittington to kill this amazing Washington buck, known to Greenwalt as "The Ghost." Greenwalt spent a good deal of time tracking down the amazing 172-inch Washington giant, but it was all worth it.
It was mid-afternoon on Nov. 13, 2009, and Gary Morris of Winslow, Ark., was heading south out of Iowa. Driven by a haze of internal frustration, he was headed back to Arkansas six days early. The last three years of planning, anticipation and excitement for his Midwestern hunt had been stolen by an encounter with a 170-inch behemoth buck and a blown 12-yard 'œchip-shot.' After his miss, Morris thought about giving up bowhunting altogether. But it\'s a good thing he didn\'t.
With the help of her husband, Kevin, Ohio resident Lindsay Groom scouted this buck for two weeks before coming across its path again. Lindsay shot the buck with her crossbow at about 10 yards, but was unable to locate the buck.
After watching the kill shot again on film, the couple decided to track it the next morning, finding the deer just 30 yards away from where they stopped looking the night before.
Jeff Iverson hunted this particular buck for three seasons. In 2010, when the buck was a six-by-six typical, he missed a shot at it with his bow but Iverson\'s persistence eventually paid off.
On Nov. 14, 2012, the wind was right for hunting, and Jason decided to sit all day. At about 7:30 a.m., he heard chasing over the steep hill in front of him. Then a doe came running up the hill and went past him. Jason could hear grunting from the cedars below. It was the buck he had named "Cyclops."
With the buck at only 70 yards, Jason cranked up his scope and looked at the buck closely. Immediately he saw the glassy eye, and he knew Cyclops was his. It was a chip shot for his accurate .270 Win. After the shot, the huge buck only went about 75 yards before he crashed.
After years of hunting other people'™s property, Schmeidler finally got his own in 2010, when he purchased a 750-acre property consisting of river bottom cover and cropland. He immediately planted multiple food plots, his favorite being milo, and two seasons later, nine straight days of hard, smart hunting gave Schmeidler his trophy.
Despite one of the worst droughts in history, in July 2012 Jim Cogar'™s expectations for deer season in central Ohio were as high as ever. Trail cameras were set, mineral sites were established, and other attractants were strategically placed throughout the farm.
After discovering a giant on his trail camera, that he aptly dubbed Conan, Cogar set out on a mission to bag Conan before the end of the season.
It was Super Bowl Sunday before the opportunity presented itself to Cogar. As Conan led two young bucks down a hill, a distraction opened the door for Cogar to bag his buck of a lifetime.
Joshua Earp\'s Georgia giant scored 187 inches green, weighing in at 235 pounds, and was a great October surprise.
'œI'™ve hunted 25 years for this," Earp said. "I give all thanks to God and my father for teaching me and introducing me to this sport I'™m addicted to.'
Lucas Cochren killed an amazing 238-inch Kansas trophy, but it all started with a blood trail gone cold. Fortunately, Cochren stuck to it and bagged the trophy of his lifetime.
Mike Moran\'s Saskatchewan buck was a dream come true for the hunter who\'d spent 27 years looking for a deer of that quality. He finally got his wish one Thanksgiving day, an experience he won\'t forget.
Payton Mireles, age 10, of Indiana, with her first buck: a 154-inch bruiser.
Having two years of history with this particular buck, Rhett Butler was able to track where he had taken pictures of "Hercules." The deer seemed to be ranging over 1-1.5 square miles revolving around a 100-acre alfalfa field.
When the buck stepped out, Rhett put the crosshairs onto the buck'™s left shoulder and squeezed the trigger of his Winchester .270 bolt action. At the crack of the rifle the buck dropped in his tracks and never even kicked. The hunt for Hercules was over.
Killing the buck that had come to be known to the Taylors as 'œBig Daddy' was Robert'™s primary focus in the fall of 2012. He arranged his work schedule so he could be in a deer blind most mornings and afternoons during the waning weeks of the season.
After a sleepless night and an unsuccessful afternoon tracking a blood trail, Ryan Dietsch was sure he\'d squandered the opportunity of a lifetime. He and friends went back to track the deer he thought he\'d hit, but couldn\'t find so much as a drop of blood. His luck all changed, however, and the rest — along with his 219-inch trophy — is history.
Stanley Suda with his Southern Ohio buck, estimated between 235 and 240 inches.
"The shot was perfect," he said. "I watched my dream buck run across the field and pile-up about 20 yards inside the wood line. This was definitely my finest moment in the treestand.'
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.