A Time of Plenty … For Deer, Not Deer Hunters

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Checking trail cameras this weekend, I was struck that this must be a great time of year to be a hungry deer. Biologists talk of ice-cream plants—the nutritionally dense foods that game animals seek above all others because they offer the best nutrition available at a given time. Right now, there seems to be a lot of ice cream out there. White acorns are falling on the oak ridges I hunt, and the early abundance suggests this year might actually top the massive fall of hard mast I saw last year here in northeastern Kansas. Walking the edge of a soybean field on another farm, I came across thickets of wild plum so laden with fruit (see the photo above) that the branches hung down over soybean plants still dark green and palatable to deer. Those plums and a bumper crop of apples on another landowner’s farm are a reminder that soft mast can be just as enticing to whitetails as the hard stuff. Maturing corn gives deer yet another high-protein food source.

That plenty is great—if you’re a deer. If you’re a hunter, it can make early season hunting a challenge. When food is everywhere, deer can be anywhere too.

That’s the case in Auburn, Nebraska, where Martin Kelsay runs Hunters Headquarters (402-274-5165), the local one-stop shop for bow, blackpowder and rifle hunters. “There’s so much cover, deer can walk 50 yards and get food and a drink, so they don’t have to move much,” says Kelsay, a bowhunter of 48 years who has been taking advantage of Nebraska’s new Sept. 1 start. He has heard of only one hunter taking a velvet buck, and that window of opportunity is rapidly closing. After seeing lots of young bucks still in velvet the first week of the season, he spotted four small bucks last weekend while hunting in a tree he’s had a stand in for 25 years: All were newly shed, one with blood-red antlers. The summer bed-to-feed pattern is still holding, with deer hitting soybean fields at dusk and dawn and bucks still tolerating each other’s company. “That will change soon, as they get hormoned up,” Kelsay says, “but right now it’s not too late to hunt field edges at night and off the field on trails leading to beds in the mornings.”

For hunters in North Dakota (where bow season opened Aug. 29) and Nebraska (Sept. 1), now’s the time to focus on field edges. In Kansas, where bow and muzzleloader seasons open Sept. 15, and South Dakota, which kicks off its bow hunt Sept. 27, there’s still opportunity to scout open fields with good glass in hand. I know I’ll be watching a certain soybean field this week, just in case a plum buck should come along.