Fumbles and Fixes With Farm Country Whitetails

Just when you think everything is good on the farm — for pursuing whitetails — beware because it can go to pot in a hurry.

Fumbles and Fixes With Farm Country Whitetails

I prefer arriving to a whitetail location early to allow time for the area to settle after my disruption. That’s the afternoon scenario I set up for on this particular farm country hunt. I’d arrived shortly after lunch to sneak into a hilltop ambush site. It overlooked a sprawling hayfield below, but more importantly, it held great shooting potential for whitetails following a narrow, creek-bottom that paralleled the field on the side I overlooked. The sun was beginning to sink and temperatures were bearable. Everything was set — until cows invaded my world.

Not only did the farmhands push the cows and calves through the suspected bedding cover of the local whitetails, they did it twice. For some reason, the horseback duo nudged the cows through the timber and then reversed direction and took the entire cow clan back to where the John Wayne horror story had started.

There was no time to move to another location and set up before sunset, but I definitely reached out to the landowner and inquired about any future plans for filming the intro to a 1950’s Western movie.

The majority of us don’t own our hunting grounds. And in whitetail country, the majority of us do hunt private property. Approximately 60 percent of America is privately owned. A www.HunterSurvey.com poll from 2015 revealed that 38 percent of respondents hunted on family land or the land of friends at no cost. Those who hunted primarily on public lands accounted for 28 percent of respondents.

If you fall into the higher percentage, you realize you’re at the mercy of landowners. Even if the land is owned by family as the previous survey suggests, you understand that even family relationships aren’t strong enough to stop economic activities just so you can hunt without disruption. Blood isn’t thicker than bills.

So, what can you do to avoid farmland fumbles during the game? Listed below are some common occurrences you encounter while hunting whitetail farm country and ways to recover.

Few issues arise when the crops are standing, save for the fact whitetails disappear in them like an unattended toddler at an amusement park.
Few issues arise when the crops are standing, save for the fact whitetails disappear in them like an unattended toddler at an amusement park.

Harvest Time

America is the breadbasket of the world, and that’s no gripe if you wish to continue quick and economical visits to the grocery store to stock your pantry. For 2018, the U.S. Department of Agriculture estimated there were approximately 81 million acres of corn, 89 million acres of soybeans and nearly 48 million acres of wheat planted across the nation. At least one of those fields could present a thorn in your side during a deer hunt this coming fall.

Few issues arise when the crops are standing, save for the fact whitetails disappear in them like an unattended toddler at an amusement park. It’s when they mature and dry that those fields have the potential to make you fumble the ball on a whitetail play.

For several days or more, weather dependent, fields may bustle with harvesting equipment, grain-hauling vehicles and a crew of several people who have no reason to converse in hushed tones. The harvesting activity may continue 24 hours per day until a field is bare. There’s no hiding the activity from deer, and in most situations you can expect them to fade into the background, or take up temporary residency elsewhere.

Before you bristle and take on your farming uncle regarding harvesting corn during the whitetail rut, think twice. Harvest time represents the economic culmination of a season’s worth of work for operatives of the land. Even if you pay a lease fee to an individual to hunt a property, it likely doesn’t hold a candle to the cash value of commodities headed to market for the typical farmer. You have the right to be frustrated, but keep it to yourself.          

Instead of fuming, it pays to have a backup plan. You may not even notice harvest activity if you hunt in a weekend warrior manner. Harvest could be completed midweek. But you could also have a 4-day vacation planned for a rut hunt, only to arrive to the congestion of crop removal.

The best plan of attack is to forget the field edges and have pre-scouted interior ambush sites set and ready. Ample research exists that proves whitetails maintain a homebody attitude even when disturbed. Take that evidence to heart. Mature deer have likely experienced the commotion in the past. Inexperienced deer will likely follow the lead of older deer to avoid the hubbub until it resides.

By scouting ahead of time, you might locate ambush sites leading to and from refuge cover. Deer could switch food sources and instead of hitting your field, reverse course and visit the neighbor’s field. A network of treestands and blinds covering those conduits can help you avoid the harvest time blues.

A last plan of attack would be to think ahead and establish a food plot away from the main croplands. This plan would attract deer throughout the hunting season, and give you a go-to location when the main edges smell of diesel fumes.

Before you abandon ship on a bustling ag field, especially a cornfield, consider what I’ve witnessed on more than one occasion in the Heartland. Whitetails, comfortable with the cover of standing corn, oftentimes won’t run from a field even when the combine is cutting cornstalks just a few rows over. Several times I’ve used the cover of the noisy machine combined with the dense cover to slip in range of whitetails that simply hopscotch a row or two over from the machine. I’ve yet to arrow one of them, but I have no doubt it’s possible in the busy environment. I can dream about it anyway.

Depending on weather, crop fields will bustle with farmers and harvesting equipment for a few days each fall.
Depending on weather, crop fields will bustle with farmers and harvesting equipment for a few days each fall.

Fall Field Work

Once the combines and grain carts disappear down the gravel road, your edge advantage could return — or not. Spilt grain from harvest activities immediately becomes an overnight attraction to area deer. Whether poor farming practices come into play, Mother Nature or an accidental spill, grain on the ground gets gobbled up by nosey whitetails. Even a field minus its crops has the ability to lure deer back from another food source due to the ease in gleaning a meal.

Unfortunately, heavy equipment could return quickly to the landscape. Stay in touch with the farmer regarding tillage schedules. To prepare for spring planting, some farmers work ground soon after fall harvest. This helps break down stalks and opens up the ground to increase the amount of water able to infiltrate back into the soil from precipitation. This rumbling process will likely be quicker, but could decrease the amount of grain on the ground, as well as disrupt deer patterns for several days.

If there’s good news here, it leads to a possible backup plan. Any network of stands prepared for harvest will also provide you with hunting opportunities during tillage work. Plus, if you went the food plot route and have a hunting plot pre-established, it should become ambush site No. 1 to hunt. Diminished access to grain prompts most deer to move to the next buffet. Hopefully it’s your plot, and the focus of a small food plot is sure to increase close encounters for shot opportunities.

Roundup Time

With harvest over and no field work in sight your worries are over, right? Don’t get too comfortable in that treestand yet. Remember my John Wayne experience? There are more examples of livestock issues than space in this article to share them. A roundup is just one brief irritant.

You can’t blame a farmer for getting the most bang for his buck. Having cattle or other livestock as an investment offsets possible commodity crashes, plus allows more uses from a land asset. Rotational grazing is a distinct possibility in this scenario. After harvest, any field offers the benefit of grazing potential. Spilt grain, stalks, grassy waterways and fenceline edges all provide nutrition for a variety of livestock with cattle, and horses leading the charge.

Livestock grazing rotation may not stay in open fields. Oftentimes livestock producers also utilize woodlands for grazing and even more importantly, winter cover. Your little piece of briar-thicket heaven could be heaven for 12 steers and a miniature donkey with the opening of a gate.

The dude-ranch roundup may be over for the year, but critters could wander in and around your hunting area for the rest of the season. A buddy of mine in Kansas deals with this scenario frequently, as cattle annually end up in a creek-bottom he hunts. In addition to hunting disruptions from wandering livestock, their sudden appearance cancels the tactical advantage of bait without a barrier to keep out the hungry critters.

Like harvest time, it pays to have a backup plan in place for a cattle invasion. Depending on the longevity of the livestock internship program, you may be able to outlast the livestock, but there’s also a good chance you’ll have to use the fire escape. Before you leave the building like a hurried Elvis, look to the edges. You may be able to hunt an artery that the cattle ignore or are even fenced out of, such as an abandoned homestead. If you can’t dig up a micro-hunting locale, your only other answer is to hunt another property.

Whether you have to join the masses on public land or resort to hunting a 10-acre woodlot elsewhere, have options on the table. It’s not a guarantee livestock will run whitetails completely off a property. That depends on the density of the disruption. Still, most wildlife species don’t appreciate being nudged repeatedly from sanctuary. A backup property option can at least keep you in the field.

Think twice before complaining about meeting a landowner’s friend or family member unexpectedly in the woods during your deer hunt.
Think twice before complaining about meeting a landowner’s friend or family member unexpectedly in the woods during your deer hunt.

Forgotten Family Members

You probably wouldn’t expect this next landowner development, but it is as expected as a tax increase. At some point during the fall, you’re likely to see another hunter — or four — on the property. Inquire and odds are good they are guests of the deed holder.

Visiting family members, siblings on leave from college, old college buddies and others always seem to show up unexpectedly, and wouldn’t you know it, they want to hunt exactly where you do.

If you pay a lease or trespass fee on a property, then this is one detail that definitely needs to be worked out well before hunting season. It’s best to get the agreement in writing, but you can expect some balking on that from landowners due to liability. Even though cash under the table isn’t necessarily an escape from a lawsuit, it’s easier to defend than a signed document.

All legalese aside, if you’re hunting with a simple handshake, utilize your backup stands and bite your tongue. In the case of family members, blood is thicker than water, so raising a fuss could close the gate on you. Weigh every situation first before making contact with a landowner.

Set Up a Landowner Meeting

Before any land-use situation gets out of control and unbearable, it’s a good idea to discuss what’s ahead on the landowner’s chore calendar. Weather will play into the exactness of how land work plays out, but if you know what’s planned before hunting season, you can design a strategy to hunt regardless what’s occurring that day.

Sit down with the landowner during spring or summer. If money is going to be exchanged, this is the time to begin discussion of a written agreement. If you’re hunting on a handshake, enjoy a conversation about all fall work and approximate windows of occurrence.

During a recent hunt, I knew that cattle could become an issue. The landowner warned me he was moving a herd into a creek-bottom pasture that offered grazing potential. Instead of focusing my hunt in the lush bottoms, I adjusted to hunt uplands the deer used for travel as they moved from upper hayfields to the brush bottoms below.

My habit of getting into place early brought me face-to-face with the cattle that for some particular reason decided to bed on the high ground in the morning darkness. As daylight broke, the cattle herd surrounded me. Would they leave before the deer passed through on their daily journey to bed? Peering under cattle bellies revealed small groups of deer were passing across the flattops, but then, like the parting skies after a storm, the cattle also started to drift away. It was just in time as a target buck slipped through the tall grass my way. With no cattle in the way, I was able to shift my Bergara while in the prone position and plant a Hornady ELD-X bullet from 200 yards for a fitting farmland ending. Farming is important to America’s strength and economic sustainability in the world. Whitetail hunting is important too, but not quite as important

The author battled cattle daily before tagging this buck just as cows vacated an upland flat.
The author battled cattle daily before tagging this buck just as cows vacated an upland flat.

Sidebar: Lease and Legalese Assistance

The internet is a wonderful tool if you’re looking for land to lease or the legal form to create a hunting agreement. Simply type “hunting leases” or “hunting lease agreement” into your search engine of choice and the world will open. Popular companies such as Whitetail Properties, the Hunting Lease Network and Westervelt Wildlife offer inroads into finding lease opportunities easily. Many links offer state-focused searches to speed up your hunt.

Some of the companies include assistance with drafting agreements, and you can also utilize websites that specialize strictly in agreement forms. For the guarantee that your agreement is airtight, you may wish to have your own attorney draft an agreement, or review what you discovered on the web.

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