Monday, September 13, 2010

Bowhunting Cornfield Bucks

© By Othmar Vohringer

On a cold and blustery November morning in 1996 I sat in my tree stand located on a narrow bench of a steep slope from where I had an excellent view of deer activity. At the base of the slope was a large cornfield. The deer would feed all night on the corn and in the morning headed towards the top of the ridge passing by my stand and eventually into a thicket of young pines. It was the perfect set up for a morning hunt.

At around 7:30 am I saw movement down at the edge of the cornfield. A look through the binoculars revealed three does and a good buck moving onto the trail that would bring them past my stand. Instantly the numbness in my body from the hours of motionless waiting disappeared in anticipation. Quietly I removed an arrow from the quiver and put it on the bowstring, then attached the release to the bowstring. I was ready for the deer. Since the buck was still a small fork horn I decided to take the first doe that passed under my stand.

The deer were about a quarter of the way up the slope when they heard a sound and stopped dead in their tracks. I heard the sound too and it sounded like the shuffling of a person, perhaps another hunter The sound came from quite a distance but the deer are alert at this time of year and have grown very wise due to the immense hunting pressure in this area. The lead deer, a mature and wise doe, flicked her ears back and forth in an effort to pinpoint the exact direction the sound came from. Meanwhile the deers noses worked overtime, sucking the air in to detect the slightest scent molecule that would alert them to danger. After about five minutes of listening and sniffing the air, the deer seemed convinced that there was no imminent danger but deemed it prudent to turn back to the security of the dense cornfield.

After that brief encounter I sat in my stand for another hour without seeing any more deer. Since the deer had decided not to come to me I knew it was time to set plan B into action- I would have to stalk them in the cornfield. The numbing cold that seeped back deep into my bones contributed to that decision and I looked forward to do some walking and stalking just to warm up.

Cornfields are not only a favourite food source for deer but also offer shelter and security. I have observed many times that deer spend all day in a cornfield, especially big bucks, when the hunting pressure gets to them. Deer have learned that in most cases hunters do not venture into cornfields and thus they feel quite secure in these large fields.

While it is certainly not easy to stalk upon deer in a cornfield it is not impossible to do. The biggest problems for a hunter attempting to stalk deer in a cornfield are noise from brushing against dry cornstalks, limited visibility in the thick cornrows and wind direction. Lets look at the above problems in detail and see how we can overcome them.

The two biggest challenges a bowhunter has to overcome are the animals keen senses of hearing and smell. To camouflage the sounds of clothing and gear brushing against the dry corn stalks it is best to wait for windy weather. Deer don’t like wind because it makes it difficult for them to hear and smell so they will usually just bed down and wait the wind out. For the cornfield stalking hunter wind means that his sounds will be muffled amidst all the sounds of rustling cornstalks.

As I said above windy weather will muffle the noise you make but in a cornfield wind currents can be very unpredictable. This is not so much an issue when the winds are strong and thus eliminate any unpredictable breezes that carry your scent where you don’t want it to go.

Limited visibility:
Cornfield deer hunting can be very exciting because visibility for both deer and hunter are very limited. It is possible to stalk almost to within touching distance of a deer. Careful stalking and long observation times are necessary to avoid deer spooking or you being surprised by a deer. Because of the short distances involved hunting inside cornfields is perfect for bowhunters. A bow is much easier to maneuver around in the dense cornfield than a rifle or slug gun. Shooting ranges are often so close that the use of pin-sights is superfluous. Bowhunters can learn to shoot instinctively at distances of up to 20 yards, as there often will not be enough time to sight the target with a pin and peep sighting system. Practice shooting fast, as many shots will be short and fast at alert deer.

How to successfully stalk deer in a cornfield:
Cornfields consist of single cornstalk rows. Deer usually feed, travel and rest in the narrow lanes between standing cornrows. The best way I have found to stalk a cornfield is by starting at one corner of the cornfield on the downwind side. Good camouflage from head to toe including hands and face are essential. The bow, without and arrow on the string, should be held against your chest in a vertical position so that the bow doesn’t brush against cornstalks as you cross the rows. Begin with your eyes and ears on full alert at the downwind side of the cornfield. Slowly sneak across the cornfield from row to row, cautiously peeking up and down each row before you move on to the next row. After you have reached the far end of the cornfield, walk down as far as you can see within the cornrows – 40 to 80 yards depending on the density of corn leaves and ground weeds. Now cut back across the rows in the opposite direction as described above, again slowly moving from row to row peeking up and down each row for deer. Never try to move the whole body at once through a row of corn. First move your head into the row and slowly move it to either side looking for deer. If the coast is clear slowly move one foot and then the other into the row. Continue this back and forth pattern until you have covered the whole field – or you spot a deer.

If you see something that looks like a deer in the field but aren’t quite sure take a look at it with the binoculars since dirt, clumps of weed or crunched up cornstalks can look from a distance like bedded deer. Also make sure you look not only to the sides of each row but also in front of you and behind you before you move on to the next row, it could well be that a deer is right ahead of you or has moved behind you while you where busy watching your sides.

You see a buck bedded down in the cornfield- now what?

If you have identified a deer as legal game you can take the shot immediately if the deer is within your confident shooting range and you have a clear shot at its vitals. You also can stalk closer to the deer but before you begin your stalk use your binoculars to check the surroundings and the intended stalking route for any other deer that may be nearby. Spooking a deer will ruin your stalk and hunt for that day. If the coast is clear do the following:

Quietly backtrack 10 to 15 cornrows; the idea is to put enough standing cornrows between you and the deer to block its view. Now comes the most difficult part of the stalk. Slowly and quietly sneak down the cornrow in the direction where the deer is bedded. Don’t rush your approach and be as quiet as possible, any slight mistake you make now will result in the deer jumping up and being gone. Remember deer always sleep with both ears at full alert and one eye open. When you have closed some distance to the deer you’re faced with the difficult task of stalking back across the intervening cornrows. Again check frequently with your binoculars for hidden deer and your targeted deer. Should the targeted deer suddenly become alert, freeze on the spot - don’t move as much as a muscle until the buck relaxes again. Once you have closed the distance you need and have an open shooting lane - take the shot.

Going after bucks in standing cornfields is a tough task but lots of fun too and you should give it a try, especially in areas where deer are under heavy hunting pressure. In such areas deer will seek standing cornfields as sanctuaries so be prepared to see lots of deer in a cornfield. Before you attempt to hunt on croplands make sure you get permission from the landowner first.

Back to my standing cornfield hunt on that blustery cold November day: Just a few minutes into the stalk I busted a bedded doe, she jumped up and sounded the alarm. Within seconds the cornfield came alive with deer running and jumping all around me. Although I didn’t shoot a deer on that day it made me realize that cornfields can be real hotspots for deer, holding big bucks you never thought exist in your hunting area.

Image courtesy of Shawn Moretti

This blog post has been brought to you by Othmar Vohringer Outdoors

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