How Deer Will Fare After the Drought

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We're about to kick off another deer season in the Mid-South. Kentucky's archery season opens September 1, and Lord willing, I will be logging some hours in the stand. Here's where we stand right now.

This summer has been brutal--and unusual. The photos here illustrate that. The velvet buck was photographed in a bean field a week ago. Notice last year's wheat stubble is higher than the bean sprouts. Most corn fields (below) have produced nothing more than stunted ears with few kernels this year. Many have already been cut.

June and July were hot and dry right out of the gate, putting much of the Mid-South into a severe drought, particularly the western side, where I am. Although it's still dry, August was comparatively cool and rainy. That's been enough to save a few food plots (mine included), but many of the crop fields are a lost cause. Farmers have been cutting corn--what little there is--for weeks already. Much of it has just been for silage. I hear that most of the major farmers in this area filed crop insurance claims this year.

The drought no doubt affected the mast, too, but maybe not to the degree you'd expect. I'm hearing reports of good isolated mast crops in some areas. Personally, from spending time in the squirrel woods this past week, it seems spotty. A few acorns are falling already, and many of them are stunted, with empty hulls. But some of that falls early every year, so the coming weeks will reveal more on the mast.

And now on to the deer. Bucks are still grouped up tight in this area, and though I've heard a few reports of hard antler, most are still in full velvet. Bean fields are the major draw in the evenings. In contrast to the corn, most beans are way behind schedule this year; with the late August rains, quite a few fields are still bright green, and a few are only just now flowering. One field is no more than a few inches tall, and will likely be a total bust from a yield standpoint. But those tender bean sprouts are like a lush food plot to the deer. Such fields will provide a few extra weeks' worth of opportunity during the early season this year.

Some dates to keep in mind:
Tennessee bow opener: Sept. 22
Virginia bow opener: Sept. 1 (special antlerless and urban season in select counties; Oct. 6 statewide)
West Virginia bow opener: Sept. 29
North Carolina bow opener: Sept. 8 (Sept. 10 in the western zone)

Rut Reporter Will Brantley of Murray, Kentucky, knows the region well. He spends 40 to 50 days each season in the Mid-South whitetail woods. Brantley shot his first deer at age 10 with a sidelock muzzleloader. States covered: KY, TN, WV, VA, NC.