November 05, 2020
By Terry Madewell
Food is a powerful force for driving movement of southern deer in the fall. The appeal of a buffet of home-grown groceries in a concentrated area pulls deer from long distances. Agricultural fields are common throughout the South, and they attract deer in big numbers, including big bucks. To borrow a phrase from a movie, "if you plant it, they will come."
Even though I understood the principle that "good food attracts deer," I vastly underestimated the drawing power of ag fields the first time I hunted a large soybean field. My host advised me to expect "scads of deer" to enter the field before dark that evening. I figured seeing multiple deer was plausible, but that "scads" was likely an exaggeration. It was not.
The secluded beanfield I'd posted up on had multiple points and pockets around its perimeter. An hour before dark, deer began entering the field, does first. Then, shortly after sunset, assorted bucks began slipping into the beans.
The landowner had advised me to be patient and wait until nearly dark before selecting a target. With literally dozens of deer feeding within a couple hundred yards of my well-hidden rifle stand, I kept a running inventory on the bucks as they entered the field. With only a few minutes of light left, three big bucks stepped into an isolated pocket about 125 yards away, one of which ended up being my best buck that year.
That long-ago hunt taught me the value of ag fields and just how great they can be during the early part of the season.
THE LAY OF THE LAND
Many varieties of crops attract deer. Among the most popular are soybeans, corn, peanuts, sorghum and cotton. It's important, though, to realize that not all crops attract deer equally, and each has different peak times of attractiveness. As hunters with access to a variety of ag fields know, you can rotate among the various crops and keep seeing deer there throughout the fall.
Despite having the potential to attract a lot of deer to a specific area, consistently harvesting deer on agricultural fields is not a given. The truth is, deer don't randomly show up and walk into a bean or corn field to feed.
Understanding the travel routes a deer takes from its home areas surrounding the field to the feeding ground itself is crucial. When devising a hunting strategy, consider both the field and the area around it when determining where deer are likely to enter. Where is the bedding cover? Where are the security areas? Where do deer water? And, of course, what spots provide protective access to the crop field? Satellite maps are an invaluable tool for identifying these habitat features and should be used to determine likely travel corridors.
Verify your digital recon by physically checking the field edges on foot or on an ATV if ample space exits between the woods and the crop. If hoofing it, use rubber boots to be scent free and walk the perimeter during the middle of the day when deer are less active.
Oft-used entry points are easy to identify as they are well-worn in most instances. In addition to entry points, look for heavily browsed areas in beanfields and other leafy crops. These are easily visible and can be prime areas to hunt the day you find them.
By October, the pre-rut and rut period are pending, and the woody borders of ag fields that does frequent are prime spots for bucks to make scrapes. A stealthy stroll around the field edge will help you identify these areas.
Late-evening windshield scouting (scanning fields with binoculars while driving to check distant corners and pockets), will help you verify deer-use areas prior to hunting. Knowing where deer enter the field and the location of scrapes or other deer sign provides you with target areas to watch when planning stand sites.
There are several things to take into account when determining just where to hang a stand. Stand placement must be relative to where deer naturally enter the field, of course, but stealthy ingress and egress routes and the prevailing wind in the area are crucial factors to take into consideration.
The first thing to determine is whether a stand will be used primarily for bowhunting or rifle hunting. If bowhunting, you've got to be close to where deer enter and feed in the field. Select a stand site with wind, sun angle and concealment in mind. The prevailing wind shouldn't blow past you into the woods where deer are holed up prior to feeding time, nor should it blow your scent into the field itself. Ideally, the sun will set behind you while you're in your stand and the tree will offer ample concealment for a stealthy draw of your bow.
If using a rifle, you'll likely be able to effectively hunt a much larger area. Keep in mind that bucks prefer to enter fields from isolated areas that offer them good visibility and the option for a quick retreat to safety if things don’t seem right. Preferred entry points include secluded "U-shaped" pockets of the field and remote corners or "L-shaped" bends in the field. Ditches and depressions leading into the field also offer great travel routes for bucks bent on remaining out of sight, as do thickets, hedgerows and old fence lines.
The bottom line for hunting an agricultural field from any stand should be choosing a spot that enables you to focus on an area of known use, all the while remaining inconspicuous to the deer as they enter the field to feed.