R__ut Reporter Scott Bestul is a Field & Stream’s Whitetails columnist and writes for the website’s Whitetail365 blog. The Minnesotan has taken 13 Pope & Young-class whitetails and has hunted, guided for, and studied deer in the north-central region all his life. States covered: IA, IL, IN, MI, MN, MO, WI.
The extended stretch of balmy weather in the region may have largely stymied deer hunters, but it’s certainly made farmers a happy lot. With grain prices at record highs, all farmers needed was decent weather to get their crops out and (in my neighborhood at least), they’ve had over a week of near-perfect conditions.
The removal of crops like corn and soybeans has a huge impact on deer hunting in agricultural areas that comprise much of the upper Midwest. Naturally, deer will enjoy a short window of spectacular feeding, assuming ultra-efficient combines like the John Deere (pictured above) leave significant waste grain. But it won’t be long before tillage equipment visits these same fields, and any remnant grain will be buried in dirt and no longer available to deer.
But corn serves as far more than food for ag-land deer; it’s also cover. I’ve heard more than one regional biologist refer to corn as “the tree of the prairie,” and the analogy is spot-on. Whitetails adore bedding, feeding, and living in certain corn fields, and when those fields disappear deer are forced to find other habitat.
This, of course, can be a good news/bad news affair for hunters. I hunt one farm that has almost no timber, but enjoy decent success in the early season, when bucks are utilizing big corn fields as habitat. Once the harvest is complete, the hunting on this tract is largely over for me, as deer retreat to wooded properties nearby. On other hunting grounds, just the opposite is true, with deer that hadn’t lived there all summer suddenly pouring into wooded and brushy cover.
We talk a lot in the space about the need for keeping up with new and changing food sources as the season progresses. The fall harvest may be the most dramatic example of these changes, and successful hunters from across this region will be shifting stand locations and hunting strategies to adapt.