January 29, 2016
Due to the high amount of rain in southern Oklahoma in December 2015, the author’s hunting lease turned into a swamp. Even with the flooding, the Moultrie trail cameras kept taking pictures and the feeders continued to spit corn until they were empty. (Photo courtesy of Lynn Burkhead)
As I looked up at the clouds swirling by overhead on the strong southerly breeze, I glanced down at the work my two boys were doing and realized that the race was on this particular day.
To both beat an impending rainstorm – the Biblical kind that inundated my home range of northern Texas and southern Oklahoma over and over again during the El Nino plagued year of 2015 – and to get a new hunting stand set up quickly with minimal amounts of disturbance and human scent left behind.
While hunters in some parts of the country frown on the use of feeders, they are a fact of life in the portion of the Southern Great Plains my family calls home.
And in many areas, they are a necessity to lure a buck out into the open long enough – from the thick acres of impenetrable brush that fills the state – to make a harvest decision and a clean shot.
Since whitetail food resources can be scarce in my part of the world – a fact made even more pronounced last year when flooding rains caused havoc with carefully planted food plots – tossing a few golden nuggets onto the ground can be the difference in getting a good shot off at a trophy buck.
Or in seeing a "grip-and-grin" photo down at the local feed store of a hunter on a neighboring property who was able to seal the deal and put an arrow and broadhead combination into the buck's boiler room.
With little time for such cerebral gymnastics, I collected my thoughts and went back to work with my two teenage sons as we tried to beat the rain and get a Moultrie Pro-Lock Feeder up and going.
Putting the 30-gallon feeder together was easy enough, a task that took minimal work and no tools to get the quick-lock barrel and legs assembled. In fact, in well less than a half-hour's worth of time, we had the feeder up and running, quickly and quietly.
The assembly of a Moultrie Pro-Lock deer feeder can be done in the field, quickly without the use of any tools. (Lynn Burkhead photo)
When my 6-foot, 4-inch son put his height to good use and poured the corn into the tapered hopper (made of UV-resistant plastic), all that was left to do was to set the digital timer and attach the Moultrie M-990i Gen 2 trail camera.
At that point, with the feed times and amount of feed we wanted to dispense set on the timer, our mission was complete and our "food plot on legs" was up and running as we quietly slipped out of the area.
Do such feeder set-ups work and serve a purpose (in states where they are legal, of course)?
At least one top deer biologist I've visited with over the years happens to think so.
"I think it’s pretty effective," said the state wildlife biologist (who because of his official position shall remain nameless in this particular piece).
"Deer have a keen sense of smell and often have a craving for corn."
While most hunters tend to think of hunting over a feeder as a means to kill a trophy buck – and it can certainly be that – the set-up also is particularly useful as a management tool.
Especially where the chance to harvest surplus does for the freezer is concerned. And ditto for inferior bucks, the so called "management bucks" herd managers want to remove from the gene pool.
The first key to effectively using a corn feeder in the above scenarios is to start off with good, clean corn.
"Make sure that you use good corn that has been tested for aflatoxin," says my biologist pal. "Get your corn form a reputable source because aflatoxin can (certainly) hurt quail, turkeys and songbird populations."
Fortunately, most box stores and outdoor super marts – in states where the use of feeders is legal, that is – sell clean bags of corn. Ditto for local agricultural feed stores in small farming and ranching communities.
But when in doubt, ask and/or check the label to make sure. And if you have to pay a little extra to buy aflatoxin free corn, do so.
And second key to consider is to remember that just putting a feeder up and pouring good, clean corn into the barrel isn't enough.
"There is some indication that bucks tend to dominate permanent feed stations, so corning a (ranch) road (around a feeder) can spread things out," my biologist pal told me.
"It can get the animals out in the open more and there’s a better likelihood that you’ll see more does in that scenario."
In other words, make sure the feeder's funnel and spinner plate combination is positioned to spread the corn across a generous area, dispersing the deer as they come in for a few bites to eat.
A third key is to ensure the feeder unit spreads the corn out in areas of good visibility.
In the case of the Moultrie Pro-Lock my boys and I put up this past fall, we had to do a little extra work to ensure a flat, vegetation free area existed for the golden nuggets to fall upon.
While not as important a task for rifle, shotgun or muzzleloader hunters, clearing any surrounding brush and weeds is important for a bowhunter (our preferred method of hunting) to make a quick, clean shot.
And if you don't think such thick stemmed vegetation can deflect an arrow in flight, think again.
A fourth key is to dispense the right amount of corn. You want to use just enough to lure a deer in long enough to nibble on a few nuggets, providing a hunter with the opportunity to make a few sound management decisions and to make a good clean shot.
If hunting around feeders is legal in your state, bowhunters will want to clear the ground to reduce the possibility of arrow deflection from vegetation. Clearing the area around the feeder also will give a visual confirmation on feed density and spread distance. (Lynn Burkhead photo)
"If you’re going to use it as a tool to get animals out there (in the open), if you spread it too sparsely, it’s going to be gone too quickly," said my biologist friend. "At the same time, you probably don’t want a golden (filled area) either."
Another corning trick in Texas is to sweeten the pot up just a bit – literally, I might add.
"Sometimes, this will draw more hogs in than deer, but I’ve found that by adding anything that tastes and smells like a strawberry – snow cone syrup or a box or two of Jell-O mix are a couple of examples – the deer are really attracted to it,” said Randy Walker, a former deer hunting guide in North Texas.
Aside from such strawberry scents, other commercially available products are available from a number of manufacturers incorporate the attraction of acorns, sugar beets, molasses, etc.
Simply follow the directions, mix in the proper amounts with a bag of corn and sit back to watch the results.
A final method to effectively using a corn feeder as a hunting tool is in order to get a crack at the oldest mature bucks in a herd, hunting away from the feeder just a bit is often necessary.
Since these gray beard wise guys will often come in a hundred yards or more downwind of a feeder set-up to scent check for does in estrous, putting a stand away from the feeder in a staging areas can pay big dividends.
"In my area, we like to hunt big mature bucks away from the feeders," South Texas guide Jerry Gonzalez once instructed me.
"We’ll corn long stretches of roads, use a decoy and doe-in-heat scent and if one (a big mature trophy buck) comes out, we’ll rattle and grunt to try to get the buck close to a ground blind."
Keep in mind that like any other hunting method one can think of, using a corn feeder isn't an end-all trick, even in the whitetail-rich state of Texas.
But used properly, it can be an effective way to manage a deer herd, lure in animals for a closer look and on occasion, to make a clean shot to take a trophy buck.
And sometimes, even as a rain storm threatens to inundate the area, if a hunter corns them just right, the deer will come.
Especially when there's a Moultrie Pro-Lock Feeder in the mix.