By Mike Koper
This year, corn is everywhere, even in fields that were dormant and untilled are planted in corn. Powered by the ever growing appetite to fuel our newly designed automobiles with ethanol, corn has been popping up everywhere. Today’s corn isn’t the corn your Grandpa used to plant; the hybrid corn of today grows up to 8 feet and produces massive sized ears with large kernels. Yields can exceed 200 bushel to the acre and today’s planting methods incorporate 30 inch rows, and sometimes narrower, when new methods such as “Zone tilling” are used much of the organics material from previous field uses remains on the ground, with heat and lack of rain the organics becomes crunchy. This can inhibit the hunter from stalking up on deer, when such conditions exist; pop-up blinds with corn stalk camouflage are just what the hunting gods ordered.
Cornfield deer hunting can work for the archer to bag the buck of a lifetime in the 2008 season. But right now is the Bowhunting pre-game warm-up time with less than sixty days to go; Seeking hunting spots is paramount and with luck there is no sound more profound from a hunting buddy than, “I hit a big buck.” At 11:00 AM on November 11, 1999, I heard those exciting words. My forty year old hunting buddy Brian and I were hunting a cornfield using a proven stalking method, of peek and step. Early on, Brian walked to within 20 yards of several does. He did not shoot at them, because he wanted a buck. Conditions of the hunt were ideal. It had rained most of the night, leaving the ground in the cornfield just damp enough to walk on quietly, but not too wet to make it a mucky sloppy sticky mud pit. Brian and I were in the woods each posted at our stands one hour before daybreak. I was sitting in my ideally placed tree stand and admiring the beauty of the woods with the wetness scent in the air. I had hunted three or four times during the year but had not seen any deer. I decided to put on my scent control head mask. As I finished this process and adjusted the eye holed for optimal vision, I picked up my bow and looked down my cleared shooting lane. There at about 50 yards stood a nice buck, big bodied with a good sized rack. I never shot. He saw my movement, and turned, and loped away in a half circle quartering in to the wind. He made two distinctive “coughs” that sounded somewhat like a coughing wheezing noise. He took a few more leaps, stopped and wheezed/sneezed twice more at about 75 yards. Last I saw of him his body was vanishing into the swamp and the north end of the cornfield. This was the first time I had heard of a buck making that wheezing noise.
At about 10:30 AM, I got a little cold, so Brian and I returned to the pickup and headed to the local gas station for a cup of coffee. After one cup, because that’s all we could handle of the burnt coffee, Brian said, “Lets hit the West most cornfield. You can walk along the edge while I stalk.” I was anxious to try this because he’d been very successful walking up on deer this way, so we did.
On this particular morning, the wind was coming from the West to Southwest at about 15- 20 mile per hour. I walked slowly along the north side of the field and headed straight West. The rows of corn were planted East to West, Brian left me and headed straight South (across the rows) through the heart of the cornfield. Once in the corn, he moves very, very slowly in order to remain quiet. He usually leaves his right hand on his bow string and uses his body to push aside the leaves on the corn stalks, by stepping cautiously and slowly and by moving sideways thru the rows, he seldom touches or steps on any noisy leaves. His real secret is peeking through the rows with his head only, looking both ways then stepping into the corn row. One unique thing he does is holding all arrows in his quiver before it’s needed. Therefore if he happens to identify a deer during the peeking stage, he can step back, notch an arrow and slowly sneak down the corn row closer to the game. By estimation, he pulls the bow back, looks parallel to the corn and peeks his head over, steps into the row and fires an arrow.
After Brian had stalked about 80 yards, he slowly stuck his head thru a row of corn and looked to the left down the empty row. Nothing’ Then he looked to the right and saw a large bodied deer, bedded precisely in the center of the open row and facing southwest (into the wind). Brain took another quiet cautious step to get out of the corn row and into the 30 inch gap between the rows so that he’d be in position to pull his 60 pound Matthews.
Brian, being the choosey hunter he is, looked for antlers but did not see any. He took about five slow steps toward the deer and stopped when he saw the deer slowly start to turn its head and look in Brian’s direction, Brian froze every muscle in his body, as both the deer and Brian stared at each other for about five seconds. Now the big buck’s rack was very obvious, and Brian’s heart started to beat only how hunter’s hearts do when a sizable buck is looking in your direction, don’t blink. Then the buck moved its head to the right and slowly back to the left. Brian knew that if he moved only the slightest bit, the buck would bolt; and the buck only needed to jump about two feet to be safe. The strong wind in the cornfield was blowing the corn leaves were like flags and this would somewhat obstruct the buck’s line of sight. Brain’s full desert camouflage also helped disguise him, coupled by the strong wind removing Brian’s scent. So the big buck did not sense that Brain’s whereabouts was only about 40 yards away, the deer was lying on a slight raised hill where he could view many different directions of about four acres of corn and a small marsh. From his ideal vantage point, the buck could watch for does in estrus and could see about seven of his rubs in the marsh field. As he layed contented at ease the buck watched his familiar domain, Brain drew his bow and released. The arrow missed, luckily short, but the deer didn’t see it. However, he heard the arrow ripping through the leaves of the corn making the buck raised up and become edgy. The buck turned and looked at Brian for about five seconds and again, Brian again did not move a muscle. When the buck looked away, Brian quickly unclipped an arrow, notched it and drew another arrow taking careful aim, then he released. He was using a sight pin set up for 40 yards. He heard the arrow whack the deer, but as it often happens with shooting deer; Brian did not see the hit. The deer jumped up and began running in stride all in one motion; Brian did get a glimpse of the arrow sticking straight- up out of the buck’s back as it ran toward the swamp. Brian ran to where the buck was laying to see if he could find any hair or blood. He could not find blood and was afraid that he’d made a bad hit and only wounded the deer. This has always been a point of concern with Brian and me. We strongly disapprove of losing wounded game.
Brian’s deer ran across the standing rows of corn taking down a wide swath like a motorcycle had driven through the corn. I heard a crashing noise and waited for something to break out at the edge of the field where I was standing. Finally, a big doe came busting from cover directly toward me in a frantic state, then turning sharply only ten yards from my position. About 20 short yards further west, Brian’s buck crossed, but I could not see it clearly because a small dip swale was in the way. The doe must have been bedded close to the buck. I started walking west when Brian yelled “Hey, I hit a Big One.” I yelled back to let him know my location. When he came out of the corn, he was on the bucks trail. We took a 30 minute break reviewing what had just happened. He had tracked it for about 70 yards before he finally found a couple spots of blood. I told him that since we had wet clay soil, we had an excellent chance to track and find the deer if we did not give up. It was now 1:00PM, and we had all day. We stood there and talked about different does that Brian had stalked in cornfields this season. Strangely enough, most of these does ran out of the corn and circle right back into the cornfield. Corn-loving deer have a false sense of security in a cornfield. Brian reminded me; however, that he has several things going for him that help put him in favorable position for stalking:
- He uses moleskin inside of the quiver and on his bow handle at the arrow rest. This is essential to prevent the arrow from hitting the plastic or metal composite riser and making a loud “clang.”
- He wears quiet cotton or wool outer clothes. Vests and coats made from nylon or similar fabrics are too noisy for use in cornfields.
- He spends many weeks scouting, the areas around the intended farm, He checks on bucks progress, and there is hardly a trail or a blade of grass on our hunting ground that he is not familiar with.
- He practices shooting his bow on a year-around basis from both ground shooting and raised platform shooting.
- He stays in outstanding physical condition and can walk or stand for hours at a time.
- He wears a light-green colored or desert patterned camo suit while walking in the corn.
We moved from where Brian first saw blood. He took the lead and started moving fast. We found a good blood trail that crossed a small wood lot and went into a dense thicket of thorn-apples. Exactly, where I dislike having to track deer, thorn-apples are dangerous to both flesh and eyes; I prefer to wear a set of safety glasses if I have to track in a thorn-apple thicket. At times, Brian and I were following the trail on our hands and knees under thorn-apple trees and heavy brush. We saw lots of rabbits and we found where the buck had bedded down. There was a large amount of blood there but not as much as we’d expected, Somewhat disappointed, we tried to pick up the track and discovered that the buck circled around a large thorn-apple tree about 15 yards and then went north again toward the swamp. We had already trailed him about 300 yards, and now there was just a trickle of a blood trail. We soon lost his track and started making circles in that brush to try to locate it again. All of a sudden Brian said, “Hey, there’s my arrow.” The arrow had only penetrated 9 or 10 inches deep into the buck. In any case, we again had a trail. We stopped there to rest about 10 minutes. Now we were only seeing a little blood every 70 or 80 yards, on a few leaves here and there, indicating the hit was high. We followed him through the woods and down a hill. I circled to the left and Brian followed the track. Shortly, the deer jumped right in front of Brian and headed west, parallel to the swamp. Neither of us got a shot at it. Brian was extremely upset because he thought he might have unnecessarily wounded the deer severely enough to kill him but not severely enough to find him. I say search until your arms and legs fall off before giving up.
Again we had an extremely tough time following the bucks trail, we both would make big circles of about 100 yards in size through this swamp and stuck an arrow with a piece of toilet paper on the tip at the last spot of blood. We looked for blood, No luck. Brian finally found what he thought was a deer track on the road. It led off the road to an old fence line of broken down popples. It appeared that another deer (or probably the doe) jumped the fallen logs. The buck was wounded enough that we doubted it could jump over some of the fallen timbers, so Brian walked to the end of the timbers where the fence was down. He found a speck of blood and followed the trail another 50 yards and saw some more blood, so he knew we were back on the right track again. Then Rick yelled, “Here he is, here’s my deer!” He was a beauty. He had died in a on the edge of a clearing in the high weeds. Our work had paid off, Brian slapped me on the back a couple of times as he exclaimed, “Ya, We did it!” He began to field-dress the deer, as I got out the rope to drag the beast back to the truck parked on a nearby trail. The next night our taxidermist scored it at 121½ points.
Both Brian and I experienced thrills on that hunt that are unexplainable. Now as Brian and I gaze up at the big rack on his recreation room wall, we both know which sport we prefer…bowhunting.
Hunting corn fields can be a very effective hunting strategy to bag that buck of a lifetime, be cautious and wait for the wind and rain to make best use of this cover.
With this years heavy plantings of corn, its time to employ some bow hunting ingenuity, try stalk hunting and ground blind hunting as two possible techniques to get near the deer, and when the wind quiets in your mind and everything seems to stand still as the buck offers a clear shot, it then time to release of the arrow.
The author offers a free buck tracking flowchart and fieldnotes pocketguide to those who request it by email at firstname.lastname@example.org