Eric Morken: Use standing corn as an advantage during archery season
Standing corn is often talked about as a detriment to deer hunters, to the point where some won't even go into the woods until corn is harvested. Eric Morken of Northland Outdoors details examples of getting on high numbers of does to big bucks around standing corn, along with specifics on how to hunt corn as an archer.
ALEXANDRIA — There is not much I remember about my only season ever bow hunting as a kid. I was maybe 13 or so, and a friend of my dad offered to take me out a few times.
He had a bow I could use. As I write this, I’m thinking it certainly did not fit me all that well, but I was just along for the ride. He picked me up, dropped me off at the spot I was going to hunt and then came back after last light.
The one hunt I really remember came when he dropped me off along the gravel road next to a standing corn field on a hot, early-season afternoon. Deer had been feeding in the bean field that bordered the corn, and my instructions were to walk the fenceline down a little ways and tuck myself a couple rows into the corn.
The mosquitoes nearly killed me that night. That’s what I remember most, but I also remember having four does appear seemingly out of nowhere. They were about 10 yards away, and let’s just say my next moves were not exactly stealthy. No deer were harmed in this hunt.
Fast forward to the 2019 season in North Dakota. Much older now, I was put in a situation where hunting standing corn felt like my only option. Fall flooding had made the timber all along the river systems obsolete.
I spent a morning scouting in late-October and the picture was very clear. The deer had almost entirely moved to the corn. Trails like I have never seen before were pounded down in the mud.
I set up for an evening hunt around the best concentration of sign on a corner where the corn, a weedy fence line about 10 feet wide and a bean field came together. A mature doe came within 10 yards of me in the beans as I was a few rows back in the corn.
With about half an hour of light left, a good buck trotted his way across the beans about 60 yards out until he got to a low area on the terrain next to that fence line. He stood there for 20 minutes, feeling completely safe down low between two hills with the ability to monitor a group of does that had come into the beans.
That same season in Minnesota, I hunted a community scrape area in October that had corn on the east side of it with oak ridges dropping down into a creek bottom surrounding the rest.
The scrapes here are on a flat, high area above those ridges bordering that field. There is a mixture of knee-high grass and scattered pines that offer fantastic licking branches each season.
With a west wind in my face, I set up a few rows deep into the corn looking over the scrapes about 30 yards away for an evening hunt. A big buck came in with 15 minutes of light left and started raking the licking branch with his antlers. I was suffering from bad target panic at that time and my arrow went right underneath him.
The lesson was still clear. Standing corn is something we can use to our advantage as hunters.
The pressure of gun season can drive deer into corn and make them more difficult to get eyes on, but it can be a different situation for archers when hunting pressure is limited and deer are moving more naturally. I have seen it time and time again.
I use corn all the time as a blocker for access getting in and out of spots undetected.
Deer will bed in standing corn during archery season, but they also use it as an edge to travel where they can disappear at the first sign of danger. With how narrow corn rows are today, I often feel bigger bucks might prefer traveling on the edge of corn instead of dealing with being inside the corn and having their antlers catching on the stalks when they are on their feet.
How to hunt it
It can be daunting looking at a sea of corn and wondering where to set up. Narrow your focus.
Low areas on the terrain where timber or other habitat cover meets the field can be good. Corners are often spots to look at. Think of where you know multiple trails lead from the adjacent cover into the field.
Deer will grab a bite of corn to eat right when they step into the fields and you can often see small areas of the corn that are beat down at these entrance points.
I hunted a spot just like this from the ground a few years ago and saw a dozen deer — does and small bucks — on one evening.
I entered perpendicular through the corn rows, tucked up against a big oak and some deadfall and had deer around me two hours before last light. They feel comfortable being on their feet here because they are surrounded by security cover.
Cover surrounded by corn
Look for other habitat features within the standing corn. Think a small woodlot, slough, narrow ditch, creek or a patch of overgrown weeds and grass.
The more habitat diversity you have within that area, the better.
One example from an area I hunt is a small slough within an ag field that has a mixture of cattails, reed canary grass, willows and a few mature trees. I have scouted this and found rubs and big beds on the northern tip of those willows.
Getting in here to hunt on bean years is nearly impossible to do without blowing deer out. The corn lets me get in undetected, and provides the deer with that extra sense of security.
A buck typically does not see hunting pressure in an area like this unless it's a deer drive during gun season.
This is a spot I am willing to hunt as long as the corn is still standing. I have a tree prepared on the west edge overlooking a trail where the canary grass meets the cattails. The plan is to get in extra early in the dark on an east-based wind for a morning sit.
This spot has potential bedding all around me, which sets up well to try light rattling sequences even early in the season. I have multiple pictures from game cameras over the years of young bucks sparring in September and early October before a mature buck enters the picture a couple minutes later.
I will wait for a west-based wind to hunt this area on an evening when I can’t get into that tree during daylight. The setup here will be on the ground within the corn north of the willows on the east edge of the slough.
A narrow strip of grass heads out of those willows and toward the main oak ridge along the river a couple hundred yards away. That’s where I anticipate a buck would move to after dark.
So many hunters think of corn as a detriment to seeing deer. That often keeps them out of the woods until after crops are harvested.
Find areas like this and use corn as an advantage to try to strike before the rut.