September 22, 2010
While the exact origin of corn is unknown, archaeological studies indicate that corn was cultivated in the Americas at least 5,600 years ago, with strong evidence suggesting American Indians were growing corn extensively long before the discovery of these continents by Europeans. Today, in the United States alone, field corn is grown annually for grain on from 55 to 60 million acres.
From breakfast cereal to ethanol, livestock consumption to paper, crayons to lipstick and countless other products, corn is a valuable and necessary component of everyday life in America. Come fall each year, corn also provides an invaluable and major food source in deer country.
Any hunter living in the Corn Belt understands the important relationship between corn and deer, and a good majority of those hunters know how to take advantage of this treasured resource. Finding a well-used deer trail entering or exiting a cornfield and spending time on stand near these travel lanes is a widely used hunting technique.
It's also common knowledge that since deer are edge creatures, hunting cornfield/woods edges has long been a popular and productive way to hunt. In fact, standing cornfields create some very specific edges and ambush locations that are often overlooked by hunters.
On any given farm, there are permanent topographic, biological or manmade features that make deer travel more predictable. Since these locations tend to deviate very little from year to year, the places we sit often remain constant, too. Well, guess what? Mature whitetails know it! Another disconcerting factor sometimes enters the mix as well. On much of the land we hunt, we never know when some other hunter might start traipsing around in our hotspot!
If this common problem is something you contend with each year, it may be time to try something different. Hunting the permanent features may not be your only option, especially in agricultural country where hunting pressure may just send deer hiding in the corn. While most funnel, bottleneck and edge areas are permanent and popular hunting locations, there is a temporary edge created by standing corn that may help diversify your approach.
In addition to being an important food source throughout the Corn Belt, corn is also important to deer as a source of cover from late summer through harvest. If deer are spending a good amount of time in the corn, so should we. Yet many of the best funnels and edges are those that are the most difficult to identify by hunters. While cornfield edges certainly aren't hard to find, the right ones can be.
I'm not referring to the corn/woods edge so common in farming country, even though a good number of deer are harvested in these spots each year. I'm referring specifically to cornfield edges that create a temporary funnel area from one body of cover to another.
The reason these cornfield edges can work to your advantage is because of the security that standing corn provides. As other hunters are out schlepping around in the woods, a good number of deer seek and find refuge in the corn.
Research has shown that some deer spend much of September, October and early November in the corn, venturing out only at night. This is especially true in areas where hunting pressure is high.
For those deer not actually using the corn for a bedding area, the safety that corn provides as a travel route from bedding to feeding areas, to watering areas, or to other bodies of cover is significant. And while many of the field boundaries remain permanent, there are some that change from year to year depending upon crop rotations. Pay close attention because these are the ones that can pay really big dividends!
Any standing cornfield edge that connects two bodies of cover, or one body of cover to a hayfield or seasonal food source on the other side, or one body of cover to a water source, would be well worth further investigation. More than likely, that edge would be an excellent stand location.
FINDING THE TEMPORARY EDGE
Several years ago, my dad shot a dandy early-season whitetail that was using such a cornfield edge. The field was planted over the top of a long ridge, and the outside edge of this cornfield connected the two wooded hillsides on each side of the field. Dad's buck was using this edge to travel from his bedding area on the south-facing slope to a pond and hardwood ridge on the other side. After placing his stand in the one lone, gnarly oak tree yet standing on the field edge along an old fence line, Dad shot the buck his first night out.
After the corn was harvested, the tree he had used appeared to be right out in the middle of nowhere. Dad simply had taken advantage of a temporary funnel created by the cornfield. That same location offered no travel route whatsoever once the corn was gone.
Keep in mind that temporary funnels can change from year to year, depending on cropping rotations. And even in those cases where the adjoining cover remains permanent, the travel route edge only exists until the crop is harvested.
If you don't already have an aerial photo of the farms you hunt, get one. Make several copies to accommodate field notes, crop planting sketches, water and food sources and travel routes. Soon after planting, say in late June or early July, walk the farm and sketch out how the fields are planted. The cornfield edges will be obvious.
The next step is to find those cornfield edges that connect two bodies of cover. Also note those fields that will create an edge between a woods and a different food source, a water source or a CRP field. Be sure to make note of all water sources, areas with a history of good mast production and all topographic features such as wooded ridges running somewhat perpendicular to the cornfield edge.
Any or all of these areas may be good spots to scout later, as any deer using the cornfield as a bedding area will gravitate toward these locations after exiting the standing corn.
Other travel routes worthy of documenting and monitoring are the grassy waterways and/or ditches cutting through standing corn. If you do much shed hunting, you know that these waterways are areas where you often find sheds. Deer use these waterways as travel routes, and if you find the right one, it'll be used consistently. So it is certainly worth your time to make note of and even sketch out these waterways.
In fact, any edge containing any vegetation, whether it be a grass waterway or a soybean or alfalfa field edge, that bounds a standing cornfield and connects to a woods or other body of cover, is worthy of your attention. These edges can be extremely productive stand locations before any corn is harvested.
MAKING THE PATTERN WORK
If pre-season scouting is more of a luxury than an integral part of your hunting strategy, these locations can be a great place to start your early-season hunting. A good majority of the local herd is using the food source anyway, and you won't be out gallivanting around in the woods spreading your scent around. This setup also allows for in-season scouting while glassing other parts of the field.
These edge areas are typically best suited for evening hunting, as you can approach through the open soybean or hay fields, allowing minimal, if any, disturbance to bedding areas. The best places to set up are generally those staging areas inside the timber where the edge of the field joins the woods in a perpendicular angle.
This location creates that "inside corner" deer feel most comfortable using. If you are lucky enough to identify such a travel route, hanging stands on both sides of the field should accommodate not over-hunting one stand location and may accommodate varying wind directions.
The drawback to hunting field edges, depending upon stand location, is leaving the stand unnoticed. If you opt to stay until final shooting light, you may spook deer in the field.
Repeated missteps like that will cost you. If you are hunting a particular buck and dark is creeping up on you, it may be best to get out of there early or be willing to stay until much later, in some cases an hour or two after dark.
Hunting these spots in the morning can be a challenge. Deer feed and bed in the open fields all night and any attempt at crossing the open fields will spook deer. You may be able to approach undetected if you can access the stand through the woods or by sneaking through the corn four or five rows in.
Even though these edges are predominantly early-season locations, the "chase" phase of the rut typically begins before the crop is harvested. As the boys are out trolling for the girls, they want to cover as much ground as they can. These corn edges connecting two bodies of cover can be a great location to intercept a roaming buck.
GIVE IT A SHOT
Good bowhunting requires a mix of being both passive and aggressive. If other hunters are hunting on the same farm, you may have to be more assertive. For instance, when glassing a field, if you notice a buck using another edge or accessing the field from the same spot a few nights in a row, make a move on him before someone else does.
While it pays to be passive and non-intrusive on those farms where you are the only one hunting, it may burn you on those farms where you're not. Someone else may move on the buck or tip him off. Move on him before the pattern changes.
Hunting temporary edges created by standing cornfields is a tactic you can employ from opening day of bow season until the crop is harvested. What's more, hunting those temporary edges/funnels may help you diversify your approach and give you more hunting options. How? By putting you within range of those deer that other hunters cannot figure out how to get close to!