By Lynn Burkhead
In the combined eight decades Missouri brothers Mark and Terry Drury have chased big whitetails in the farm country of the Midwest, they’ve learned a few things — some the hard way.
“Really, you don’t learn until you make a few mistakes,” says Mark, the younger of the brothers. “Truth is, we’ve made just about every mistake in the book. Whitetails tend to do that to hunters. The guys who minimize those mistakes most often are the ones that kill the most mature deer on a consistent basis.”
The first lesson they learned was simple: A whitetail is still a whitetail, no matter where it lives.
“A farm-country buck in the Midwest is the same animal as a buck in the Southern U.S., Texas or out West,” Mark notes, “just in a different location. The things they deal with on a day-in-day-out basis are what make them react differently, though. At the end of the day, wherever you find them, it’s all about their stomach, their diet and their need to breed. It’s literally a feed-to-bed, bed-to-feed relationship until the rut comes into play.”
Mark says farm-country bucks offer some unique challenges because of the agriculture and native foods they rely on, not to mention the mix of habitat types: rolling, tree-lined hills, open fields and dense creek bottoms. And of course, you must factor in the habits of people working and living on the land. All these variables impact where big bucks are and when they move.
“Because their food sources and bedding areas are often so close in certain areas of farm country, it does make it more difficult for hunters to intersect with the travels of a mature buck,” Mark says. Now add in the changing seasons, crop rotation, livestock, domestic animals, predators, human workers and other intrusion into the deer’s back yard. Finally, factor in the element of different buck personalities within a deer herd, and daytime deer movement easily can be suppressed.
When that happens, key points the brothers have learned over the years serve as their bedrock hunting principles. And in the breadbasket of America, one of those factors is obvious: food.
As the season progresses, harvested corn crops and other ag fields frequently come into play, as do acorns and other native foods. On farms the Drurys carefully manage for deer, food plots also are highly important to hunting success.
“When you can reduce how far a deer must travel to fill his belly, you’ve almost won the game, in my opinion,” Mark says. “Now, the palatability of certain foods will change as the different phases roll along, so variety can be a key. For me, the one that wins the day most often is clover, which usually turns out pretty good even during drought conditions.”
While large destination feeding areas such as early-season green fields and late-season bean fields serve their purpose, the Drurys feel something smaller is often a big key.
“You want some destination fields like the bean fields for late season,” Mark notes. “But you also want some that are not so big it becomes difficult to hunt over them. That’s why a lot of our fields are the size of football fields (roughly one acre). For killing deer, we’ve discovered that’s the optimum size for a food plot many times. I love sitting on the 50-yard line of a kill plot with the wind in my face.”
Another key to the Drurys’ consistent success has been their focus on the weather, being especially aware of conditions that get bucks and does onto their feet. In fact, the new DeerCast app the brothers have developed (see below) relies heavily on how current weather influences deer.
“If it’s warm down in Texas and conditions are poor for deer movement, the app is going to predict that for you,” Terry claims. “Conversely, on the same day the temperature might be 42 up in Minnesota, and deer movement could be off the charts.”
That will often be true when a cold front rolls through the part of farm country you’re hunting.
“I always say, ‘Don’t miss any cold fronts,’” Mark advises. “At the end of the fall, you’ll see that every time the bottom falls out of the temperature and the wind turns to the north and northwest, you can almost circle those dates on the calendar as the times when the biggest bucks get killed.”
The Drury’s Thirteen show on Outdoor Channel certainly bears out that strategy. The day leading up to a frontal passage, as well as the day of passage and the day after, can be a good time to see whitetails on their feet.
“Cold fronts turn the wheel because deer are slaves to their stomachs,” Mark explains. “Cold fronts make them move, although how good a particular cold front is can be different in different phases of the season.”
Closely related to the passage of cold fronts are the effects of barometric pressure. The Drurys say the best deer movement generally occurs on days with higher pressure readings. Ditto for the first day of moderating temperatures after a cold front has come through.
“That first day when the wind is back out of the south and you get a bump back up in temperature, that can be magic and one of the best days to hunt, in my opinion,” Mark adds.
While food and weather of course influence deer movement in farm country, the one most hunters dream about all year long — the rut — is one of the most obvious variables.
“The rut certainly affects them,” Mark says, “and many of the biggest bucks will develop almost a total disregard for their surroundings when the does are coming into estrus. But as a general rule, I much prefer hunting in October and December to hunting in November. We like to get on certain deer and try to tag them, but expectation can turn to hope around the rut. That being said, the largest deer I’ve ever shot I shot in November. The rut can be great — it just requires more diligence and some different tactics.”
If all this sounds too complex, Mark says, simply learn all you can, use the best tools at your disposal, and go out for an enjoyable day of deer hunting.
“Don’t let it become mind-numbing,” he advises. “Put the wind in your favor, get where you can see, and go hunt.”