November 23, 2010
For years I'd read that standing cornfields were a detriment to deer hunters, with the idea being that all those standing stalks would keep deer -- and bucks especially -- from coming out into the timber during daylight hours. In reality, there is at least some merit to this suggestion.
In fact, I'd read plenty of articles over the years bemoaning standing cornfields as the reason that certain hunters, and especially bowhunters, weren't harvesting deer in and around the rut. Unfortunately for me, I believed all the information that I'd soaked up over the years and because of this, I'd been missing out on some fantastic hunting opportunities. I pretty much stayed away from standing cornfields entirely. Big mistake!
On Nov. 12, 2006, I was forced to hunt a stand surrounded by standing corn as a last-minute option. Running out of morning darkness, I ditched my decoy at the head of a fencerow and climbed a tree stand that I didn't have much faith in. After I climbed the tree and got settled in, I also realized something else: there weren't very many shooting lanes cut out around it.
Now I was doubly upset because I felt I'd be wasting a prime morning by sitting in a worthless stand during the primary rut, surrounded by several hundred acres of corn. Little did I know that this would turn out to be the most amazing three hours of hunting I'd ever experienced!
By the end of that three-hour period I had three different bucks come out of the corn and file by my position. The first one, a bone fide giant, came right up underneath my stand, but I couldn't shoot him. The other two weren't necessarily shooters, but they both approached within range. Needless to say, my view about hunting standing cornfields took an about face right then and there!
LIVE AND LEARN
Life itself is a combination of making mistakes and hopefully learning and gaining valuable insight for the future. In some ways, deer hunting mirrors real life. My avoidance of standing cornfields was a big mistake, but I now recognize the error.
Due to the corn/soybean rotation in one of my hunting areas, I wasn't able to exploit my new tactic until the 2008 season. Corn would once again be planted in my primary area and yours truly was going to try to kill a buck using my newfound tactic.
I knew from previous experience that I'd be in one particular tree stand once the pre-rut neared its end. The plan for the ultimate cornfield hunt went into effect long before deer season even got close.
Like many modern hunters, I set out my Cuddeback No Flash trail camera during the summer just to monitor the activity and to get an inventory of what type of bucks might be present there.
Sure enough, on July 21, 2008, I got some pictures and short video clips of an interesting buck that sported a heavily forked G-2 on his left side. In fact, I accidentally bumped him and his bachelor group right after I set the camera up the evening before.
That rascally buck came right up to the Cuddeback the next afternoon and smelled it. I got one neat image of him and an excellent 20-second video up close and personal. I remember thinking that the buck was a good one, but that he might need another year before being considered for harvest. I'd seen a handful of better bucks and didn't necessarily think I'd target that particular buck should he present himself for a shot.
I sent the image to my friend, Mike Hanback, and he nicknamed the buck "Sniffer" due to his olfactory sleuthing of the Cuddeback back in July. The name stuck and I actually glassed Sniffer off and on all summer in a soybean field in the area. There was no mistaking his rack; he had the forked G-2 and his left brow tine curled up and in a bit.
As fall approached, I once again prepared myself and all of my gear for the upcoming season. I would have three straight days off starting on Halloween Day. I had to be ready to score in that time frame, so I made sure I played my cards correctly.
What I'd learned that fateful day back in 2006 was that bucks were utilizing the area between the timber and the first row of corn as a travel corridor and as a serious scrape line. In fact, I'd actually stumbled onto several fresh scrapes along the edge of the timber and corn that morning. After I thought about it, it made perfect sense.
In my early hunting days I wrote off scrape lines as great places to kill a mature buck. However, I've learned that scrape lines laid out on the edge of standing cornfields and timber lines are a different breed of scrapes. Bucks feel safe in those areas.
The key is not to ruin those areas before the pre-rut ends and the primary rut begins. I've come to learn that if the deer are not pressured in those areas, they will stick to those corridors like clockwork.
You absolutely must not traipse all over these areas during the early season, ruining these special hunting locations before the best part of the season.
FIND THE SPOT ON THE SPOT
From years of experience I've learned that deer -- and often love-struck bucks -- will utilize the same general travel routes as they move from timber lot to timber lot in my home area of Indiana. Walleye fishing legends Jim and Al Lindner referred walleye fisherman to fish the "spot on the spot" -- or the exact location on a great area -- where people could expect to consistently catch loads of walleyes.
I've adopted this concept to my deer hunting as well. Hunting an area for several years allows hunters to observe travel routes of bucks, especially during those magic days leading up to the primary rut. I've gotten pretty good at pinpointing the exact tree that I need to be in. I'll then go in and set up stands and clear shooting lanes months before the season and wait for the right time to hunt them.
Bucks will use these same routes year after year if no changes are made to their habitats. This pattern plays out whether the fields have crops in them or not. I'm assuming that you realize this as well, but understanding the importance of knowing exactly where to set up shop is key in this standing cornfield strategy.
I've also gained real knowledge about patience and not ruining those spots until the end of the pre-rut period. The last several years I have begun to absolutely love the period between roughly October 20 and Halloween. From my experiences I believe this time frame is the absolute best time to see cruising bucks, especially in an area where woodlots or other types of fragmented habitats are present. You may not see the absolute stud of your area, but then again, you just might.
By setting up stands ahead of time in the areas that you know bucks will travel past in their pursuit of the ladies, you improve your odds of harvesting one of those mature bruisers later, during the prime time of the hard pre-rut.
SWEETENING THE POT
I've also begun to utilize mock scrapes to sweeten up my areas as well. By now everyone who has ever read any of my articles knows I utilize Mrs. Doe Pee's Buck Lures in many of my hunting set ups, and I have a blast using them and fooling deer with them.
On October 17, 2008, I took a shower and slipped on some freshly laundered field clothes and then went out with my Cuddeback and a fresh bottle of Mrs. Doe Pee's Continuous Scrape Set. Approximately 30 yards to the west of my chosen stand site I took a stick and pawed out a smallish scrape on the very edge of the cornfield. I dumped about two ounces of the buck and doe urine/glandular blend in it, and then filled up a scrape dripper with it. I then tied the dripper above the licking branch.
Next I set up the Cuddeback to monitor the activity at the scrape. I was very careful not to touch anything with my bare hand, using a pair of cheap cotton hunting gloves throughout the whole process so that I could ensure that. I also used a recently washed pair of rubber boots to keep my ground scent to an absolute minimum as well.
I wiped down the camera, turned it on and scooted on out of there knowing I probably wouldn't get to hunt the carefully placed stand until Halloween; I bided my time by carefully hunting other locations.
Finally, Halloween approached and I was ready to hunt the stand location. The pre rut was coming down to its end and it was time to hunt. I woke up to a southwest wind -- perfect for my stand.
I drove to my area in the pre-dawn darkness reeling with anticipation. The slightly warm fall breeze covered any noise I made while traversing the tall corn stalks. Once I made it to the corner of the woods and fencerow I broke out my flashlight and my bottle of Fresh Doe in Estrous urine.
I tied a freshly laundered drag rag to my rubber boot and sprinkled a little urine onto it and began walking the edge of the field and woods line. As I expected, I came across several freshly worked scrapes and saw plenty of rubs and even saw many destroyed saplings. Once I made it to my mock scrape, I nearly fainted!
The deer had turned it into a bathtub-sized scrape and I realized at least one buck had been working it. I stopped, squirted some fresh estrous in the scrape and hit my drag rag. I then walked all the way to my stand, hung my bow and pack on my tow rope and walked past the location and hung the drag in a nearby sapling. I then walked back to the stand and climbed up.
After all of my gear was ready to go, I had a bit of time alone in the tree before legal light approached. Everything was perfect. I sat and wondered which buck -- or bucks -- had been hitting that scrape. It was the first time I'd been back to the area in 14 days.
Legal light came and I didn't have long to wait until the first two bucks of the morning came from the west and followed the estrous trail right to where I hung the rag in the tree. They stayed around for a bit, but then melted into the corn and traveled away from me. They were both yearlings, so they weren't in any danger.
Several minutes later I noticed another young buck come from the corn and work his way over towards the mock scrape. I couldn't actually see the mock from my stand. I'd set it up more or less to keep deer in the immediate area, trying to create a hub of activity and to monitor the activity with the trail camera.
That buck melted out of my view and I thought about how awesome the morning had been so far, even though I hadn't seen any mature bucks yet. Then I heard the corn out in front of me rustling. I could hear what I thought was one animal chasing another one. I hoped it was a big buck.
A bit later the rustling and activity started up again and I got my binoculars up just in time to see what I thought was a fair-looking antler tine, but it was hard to tell with all the corn stalks still standing. Then it stopped again. Things were really starting to get interesting.
I looked toward the direction of the mock scrape and the rustling started again. This time, when I looked out I could hear the snapping of stalks and see the corn moving right towards me. I stood up, grabbed my Hoyt and hooked up the release. At that same instant I noticed a rack emerge in a small clearing in the corn and immediately saw the forked G-2.
"Sniffer!" I thought to myself. He had morphed into a big-bodied brute, and I knew immediately I would take him if he kept coming my way. Sniffer was walking straight to me and I was at full draw. I nearly panicked because I didn't know if he was going to turn broadside.
He started to quarter just slightly away from me. I centered the peep, found the light green pin, tucked it up in between his shoulder and rib cage, and touched the trigger. From there the Gold Tip and Montec 100 passed through him with ease.
The arrow stuck in the mud, and I could see it was covered with blood. The buck barely made it 40 yards before tipping over. There was a tremendous crash in the corn and then all went silent. I was then overcome with such a feeling of elation, because so many things came together perfectly for me that morning.
Later on that afternoon I went and retrieved the CF card out of my Cuddeback. I downloaded more than 35 different images (and 20-second video clips) of bucks at the scrape. Most of them urinated in
it, a few of them worked it feverishly and a couple of ornery bucks even got up on their hind legs to try to get the scrape dripper.
WRAPPING IT UP
Standing cornfields are indeed awesome places to kill good bucks if they are hunted wisely. I have since begun to view standing cornfields as friend instead of foe. Find the exact travel routes that bucks utilize while traversing their domains and set yourself up to intercept them as they move from standing cornfields to stands of timber. Be patient, and understand that bucks will use the corridors between the first row of corn and the timber edge to move about as well.
Mix it up a bit by utilizing a mock scrape with authentic deer urines and give those bucks one more reason to frequent the immediate area.
Then, when the timing is right, just before the primary rut, execute your plan and kill a buck on the first time out. The satisfaction will be unforgettable.