Carefully Hunt The Hot Late-Season Food Source
_by Steven Hill _ Every winter, state wildlife agencies field phone calls from people concerned that there are too many...
_by Steven Hill
Every winter, state wildlife agencies field phone calls from people concerned that there are too many deer. “They see 50 deer feeding in a field and worry about overabundance,” a Missouri whitetail biologist told me. “What they’re seeing is one field with plentiful food that attracts every deer from miles around.” In other words, they’re seeing a “superfield.” You might have seen them yourself–prime agricultural food sources that draw hordes of hungry whitetails, transforming a widely distributed herd into something that resembles a crowd at a Miami grocery store before a hurricane. At first glance, superfields look like easy pickings. With dozens of deer in a single place, it seems as though your only problem will be picking out the nicest buck. In fact, big herds pose big challenges for hunters, says whitetail researcher Grant Woods. “Fifty deer bring 50 noses and 100 eyes to bust you with,” he says. “But that doesn’t mean you can’t score.” Below, Woods offers his advice for making the most of these prolific food sources:
Late in the season, whitetails commonly feed during the day, which means that locating a superfield can be as easy as driving around and looking for big groups of deer. Even this time of year, some cornfields will have patches of standing crops where flooded low spots prevented the farmer from harvesting. Those are prime spots to check out. Another good bet is an early stand of winter wheat. If the fields in your area have been completely harvested, however, look for the ones with the most waste grain. During lean years, this can be enough to attract lots of deer. And don’t hesitate to think small, says Woods, who has seen single-acre plots function as superfields.
Because big herds attract attention, the first person to contact is a regional biologist who takes calls from the public. If you can’t find a superfield on land you already have permission to hunt, keep in mind that when dozens of ravaging deer are involved, farmers can be very cooperative with hunters.
When you locate a superfield, scout it from far away. “If the deer catch your scent,” explains Woods, “you’ll have instantly turned that hotspot into a nocturnal feeding site.” Instead, glass from a distant high point or observation stand to pinpoint exactly where the deer are entering the area.
Then study a topo map at home and carefully check the surrounding area to locate a funnel or trail that leads toward the field. This is right where you want to set up your stand in order to intercept a buck as he’s on his way to the dinner party.
Once you’ve hung your stand downwind and within shooting range of the deer’s approach, it becomes a waiting game. Be patient. With a superfield in play, you have an enviable late-season setup. Don’t ruin it by hunting when conditions are less than perfect. If the wind isn’t ideal, wait for another day. “Better yet,” says Woods, “wait for plunging temperatures or an approaching storm. Both of these conditions stimulate deer to feed earlier in the day.” Combine this advantage with the dozens of deer heading your way, and you’ve got as good a shot at getting your buck as anyone.