Early Crop Harvest Alters Deer Patterns

The hot, dry summer has affected deer in ways I didn't anticipate. Perhaps the biggest is the insanely early harvest of the year's corn crop. Some of the region's farmers have taken out withered, drought-stricken cornfields as early as late summer; these extremely early "harvests" are required by insurance companies so that damage claims can be processed.

But in areas--like mine--where corn had enough rain to grow well, the annual fall harvest has already begun. My neighbors, who cash-crop corn and soybeans, started combining corn on September 6th. This is the earliest harvest date in their family memory. Early spring plantings have combined with a few timely rains and excellent drying conditions to push the harvest date ahead by a full two-three weeks.

The removal of standing corn from the landscape is always a big event in the whitetail world. Farm country deer literally live in standing corn fields, and once the crop is out, whitetails are forced into other covers. Timber is the most obvious option, but whitetails are equally comfortable in grassland, marshes and brushy creek bottoms. With most deer seasons yet to open, early season bowhunters may be forced to re-pattern bucks that had been using corn for some--if not all--of their cover.

This can be a good news/bad news scenario, depending on the property you hunt. One of my favorite early-season farms is 90% corn, soybeans, and alfalfa. Once the corn comes out, most of the whitetails seek cover in the nearest wooded property; which I can't hunt! Fortunately I have other areas, which I'm scrambling to scout as we speak. Other hunters in the region are noting similar early harvests and are preparing for the upcoming hunting season accordingly.

Rut 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.