How Does Bow Hunting Deer in Agricultural Areas Rank?
Imagine a hunter sitting in a tree stand bow hunting deer. As the hunter perches above a field edge, you can see deer after deer entering a beautiful soybean field. The deer happily graze the last few green leaves as harvest season approaches and the beans are drying out. Among the herd, a giant velvet buck
raises his head, oblivious to the hunter only 30 yards away. Everyone who watches outdoor television can probably relate to this familiar scene. For those who don’t have access to agricultural land, it’s likely a dream to be in this situation. What is it about big “farm country bucks” that holds our imagination so much?
Before we get into that discussion, let’s define what we’re talking about. Agricultural areas are very different than wooded wilderness areas. For the purposes of this article, we’ll define farm country as anywhere where agriculture makes up at least half of the land use. That means lots of human disturbance on the landscape, and lots of open areas. Compare that to remote, densely forested wilderness areas, and bow hunting for whitetail deer is a whole different ballgame. So why is hunting farmland so appealing and are there any down sides to it?
Challenges of Bow Hunting Deer in Farm Country
One of the best things about hunting whitetails in agricultural areas is also one of the hardest parts. Each year, there is a seasonal abundance of food. During the summer and early fall, deer can graze away at corn, soybeans, or hayfields until they’re absolutely full. This can make patterning bucks a little difficult when there is similar quality food everywhere. Similarly, once harvest season comes and farmers head to the fields, all of this food disappears almost overnight. Thousands of acres of high-quality, carbohydrate and protein-packed crops literally turn into bare soil and wide-open exposures. At this point, usually in late fall, bow hunting deer can get really hard without an alternate source of food around. Whitetails still have to eat. In fact, rut-weary bucks need a major amount of calories to gain back some weight and make it through the winter, so they will seek food out wherever they can.
Another issue with hunting farmland whitetails is access. Many public hunting lands consist of forested tracts or open grassy areas. But there are very few publicly-available agricultural properties. Some state agencies will plant food plots for deer and other wildlife, but it’s definitely not the norm in most places. So unless your family owns some crop land or you have some generous relatives or friends, you’ll likely have to lease a property or get permission from a land owner to hunt. Depending on where you live, this could be tricky.
One other challenge with farm country bucks is stealth. Because crop land is so open and exposed, having some variety of tree cover or topography is important for bow hunting deer. Without that kind of cover, it can be hard to sneak into and out of tree stands without deer spooking in every direction. For example, you might be able to sneak into tree stands for bow hunting on a corn field in the afternoon. But try sneaking back out in the evening with eyes watching you from potentially every direction. All you’ll accomplish is educating the deer herd on your intentions. And that definitely won’t help you out.
Rewards of Bow Hunting Deer in These Areas
Though we’ve touched on the potential setbacks you could have with farmland whitetail archery hunting, there are a lot of rewards with it too. As we already mentioned, deer in these farmed areas have an amazing seasonal abundance of calories. Row crops like corn and soybeans are most commonly planted in these areas, but longer-lasting alfalfa/clover hay fields also provide a lot of forage throughout the year. They use these foods to grow larger bodies and antlers than many other deer across the country. That’s why states like Iowa, Wisconsin, and Illinois have consistently high entries into the Pope and Young records. And if you’re hunting deer in agricultural areas, you could stand a chance at joining this crowd.
Another nice thing about bow hunting deer in these areas is that the open exposures allow us to keep an eye on the deer herd throughout the summer. Why is that important? Well, many bucks form summer bachelor buck groups and travel together often. If you get a bachelor group of bucks on your property, you can pattern them and keep tabs on their activities from a distance (say, from a county road using a spotting scope). If your bow season starts early enough, you just might be able to take advantage of this long-distance deer scouting to put you within bow range of a good buck. This isn’t an option in wooded areas with no main focal feeding point. Of course, once the corn gets tall enough even in farm country, this approach is no longer possible. So use it while you can.
How to Hunt Deer in Farm Country
Now that we’ve talked about the ups and downs of hunting bucks in the country, let’s discuss how you could do it this fall. The first thing you’ll need to do is gain access to hunt a farm property. This process should not be taken lightly. First, spend some time looking for potential areas on an aerial map to find farms that could be good to hunt. Look for promising bedding cover adjacent to hidden farm fields or anything that might set up for a successful bow hunt. Later on, you can get more specific about where to hunt deer on a smaller scale. Then get yourself a plat book and contact the land owner. See if you could arrange to meet them in person so you’re not just a voice on the phone.
As far as how to ask someone to hunt on their land, it’s a delicate process. Be aware that most farmers have heard about a hundred different pitches and they’ve maybe even had some bad experiences with hunters. So don’t be surprised to get far more “no” responses than “yes,” and don’t take it personally. If they say no, simply thank them for their time and be courteous. As with anything in life, authenticity and respect make a difference. If you’re very respectful to them and perhaps even offer to trade some chores or venison meat for the privilege to hunt on their farm, you will stand a better chance at getting to a “yes” as fast as possible. From that point on, make sure you do whatever you say you’re going to do. Nurture the relationship by extending a helping hand or sending a card on Christmas. It will help you stand out.
As much as you’re able to, take some time and scout the property from a good vantage point over the summer. Whether it’s from a road, a hayloft, or in an observation tree stand, glass the fields with binoculars or a spotting scope in the evening to find out where the bucks are entering to feed. Try to piece together a pattern from their activities and try not to enter the woods until you absolutely have to. While deer in farm country are fairly used to tractors and four wheelers driving by, they still get very suspicious when a human walks through their territory on foot. Another way to keep tabs on the herd to know where to hunt deer is to use trail cameras on the field fringes. Be sure to only check them during the day when they are unlikely to be nearby, and pay special attention to scent control to hide your presence. If there are no suitable trees, such as in a hedge row, use the dual camera ground mount to cover a couple directions.
Hopefully by the time archery season comes, you’ll have developed a hunch as to where to hunt deer on the farm. The next step is to find a location where you could hunt them without them knowing you’re there. Wooded corners (outside or inside) bordering agricultural fields, hedgerows with some mature trees, or isolated forest islands are all good deer hunting stand locations you might want to try. If the landowner allows, using box blinds for deer hunting is a great way to stay comfortable.
But the single biggest predictor of success is how hidden you can stay throughout the season. If you notice that the deer aren’t traveling where you can hunt them, you shouldn’t just toss your bow hunting deer stands up and hope for the best. Instead, you need to get creative. For example, a ground blind covered in corn stalks and tucked into the rows can become nearly invisible. Make sure you’re overlooking a cut portion or you won’t have much of a shot available. Or an especially deadly tactic for hayfields is to use a hay bale blind that’s hidden amongst other round bales. After sneaking into one of these in the afternoon, you can wait in concealment until the deer pass by your location.
And as we mentioned above, even farm properties can become barren places after harvest season. Suddenly the typically larger deer herd has to compete for far fewer available calories. For that reason, either planting a food plot or negotiating with the farmer to leave some row crops standing are both beneficial. They concentrate deer in one area and can drastically improve your odds of putting a buck on the ground.
Should You Bow Hunt Deer on the Farm?
If you can find a good property in “farm country” with a willing landowner, you should definitely try hunting it at least once. There are challenges, as with any hunting. But the potential reward of seeing a mature and healthy “corn-fed” buck that could land in the record books far outweighs the challenges with hunting them.