Utlizing standing agriculture for more than just a food sources.
By: Dan Johnson
When it comes to the area of the Midwest that I hunt corn and soybeans are everywhere. That’s part of the reason deer thrive in the environment, have large bodies, and huge racks. As hunters, we look at those fields as food sources for the deer. It becomes part of that bed to food pattern that we all try to identify, and ultimately set up our tree stands and blinds on trying to find the perfect ambush point. But… what if I told you that we may have jumped to conclusions when labeling those agriculture fields as just food sources. Until recently, I did. That was until a random preseason scouting mission led me to think otherwise.
This summer, after a hot day of checking trail cameras, I was flipping through my pictures and I noticed that the number of deer on one particular camera was cut in half. Several scenarios ran through my head, including poaching and EHD. That night after I finished looking through all the pictures I decided to pull up Google Earth and take another look at the layout of the farm. Not sure what I was looking for as I pretty much know everything about the timber and the surrounding properties. Across the road from my main farm are several large agriculture fields that rotate between beans and corn every year. Most of the fields have terraces and buffer strips that run in and out of those fields. Then this idea came to me like a moment of clarity. My brain literally worked like the following:
There is corn in that field. Corn is tall. Corn is thick. You could hide in corn. Nobody just goes for a walk in corn. Deer could hide in the corn. I need to get a trail camera in that corn. I need to go for a walk in that corn.
After that brainstorming session, I took a pack with three cameras and went on a little scouting mission. This first thing I did was walk right through the middle of the field to one of the buffer strips. Instantly I started to notice deer sign in the form of beds, tracks, and droppings. The deer were definitely using this area a lot. My suspicion was again verified when further down the buffer strip I bumped 3 does. Now it was time to put together a plan. After jumping those deer I knew I needed to get a camera up somewhere to see if there was anything worth chasing. I hung the cameras and waited.
WHAT I FOUND
Because the cameras were on the far end of the field it was difficult to check them without putting too much pressure on the field, so honestly I just put them in the back of my head. When the season actually started and the rut arrived I was on a different farm where I ended up harvesting my buck for the year. So when I eventually pulled the cameras the fields were already picked and that drove most of the deer back into the timber. But it was what those trail cameras told me that got me excited for the next season.
It told me that there were 3 mature bucks that were showing up on those cameras on a regular basis, in daylight. This told me that they were comfortable in that environment. And I know that from experience that comfortable deer are much easier to hunt and kill.
Next season I am going to pay a little more attention to these fields. Between now and the time the season starts I have a lot to think about. How will the crop rotation change things? Where can I put a blind or stand? What will my access routes? Do I need to bring in more cameras? When will they harvest those fields? All I know is that as soon as the crops are planted I will be moving cameras in to the area as well as hopefully hanging some tree stands in hopes of encountering one of the deer from the previous years.
Needless to say, crop fields are more than just food sources, they can be considered bedding and core areas as well.