Deer hunters dream of big bucks year round just waiting and hoping for that moment when ol’ mossy horns makes a mistake. The million dollar question is where is that big buck at? There is an old adage that says the key to a man’s heart is through his stomach. This same theory goes for deer. For 11 months of the year deer are slaves to their stomach and in order to figure out where they are you have to know what they are eating. For this week’s piece, we are going to look into what deer eat and when they are most likely to do it.
Agricultural fields are a huge part of a deer’s diet. The big three sources of agricultural fields in our area are soybeans, corn, and winter wheat. You will also see milo and alfalfa in places. All of these are fantastic ambush points for deer. Each one of these crops have times in which they are more productive than others.
Corn is king and the deer love it. They will eat it when it is first sprouting, off the cob, but it seems to be their favorite to pick up the spilled or waste corn in the fields. Often times deer will feed heavily on a picked corn field soon after the combine leaves. They will also continue to use the field throughout the season. When the weather turns cold the deer turn to the corn as a source of carbohydrates. On that frigid December day you should think about claiming a stand overlooking a corn field.
Soybeans could quite possibly be my favorite food source. They are fairly easy to plant in a food plot and do not require much maintenance. Soybeans add protein to a deer's diet as soon as they germinate. Deer love to eat the new growth on soybeans. If a field is too small there will be minimal growth due to overgrazing. They will continue to eat the plant until a fall frost turns the leaves from a deep green to yellow. At this point you should abandon your soybean stand and look for a different food source. Soybeans will rival corn as a late winter attractant. Although the deer left the yellow leafed soybeans, they will return for the bean pods. If you are fortunate enough to have permission to hunt a standing soybean field during the Kansas rifle season you should be in business!
Winter wheat is also a great food source, but does not pull as many deer as soybeans and corn in a heavily farmed area. On the other hand if you put a winter wheat field in an area that does not have any agriculture for miles you may see an unbelievable amount of deer. They will travel for miles to get to the best dinner around. There are not many things prettier than a green winter wheat field against the brown background of winter. Start checking on winter wheat fields about the time the soybeans turn yellow.
Alfalfa is amazing, but harder to find than the big three. It is mostly found near river bottoms. Alfalfa + river bottom = Success! Alfalfa is lush and green when it is healthy, thus creating the wildlife flock to it. You need to be looking at it in the earlier parts of the season. Youth/Disabled, Muzzleloader, and Archery seasons will all create great opportunities around alfalfa. Pay attention to the farmers hay cutting schedule and the weather. A few days after the first rain at a fresh cut alfalfa field works best. Deer love new growth on all kinds of plants. When fall turns cold, those cold nights change to frosty mornings, the alfalfa will shift from green to yellow and you should move on.
Milo is the last agriculture field for this article. It is not as prevalent, but is still out there. The poor man’s corn is what it is often referred to by food plotters. It will have a similar effect to standing corn or soybeans during the later part of the season. You will also see a surge in activity right after a milo field has been cut. Be on the lookout, because you may also see many dove.