Hunting White Tails in Non-Wooded Areas
by Ryan Taylor
The land in which I hunt is mainly made up of non-wooded areas. There is a sixty acres of hayfield, sixty acres of grazing land (cows) and another forty in crop land. I also have access to fifty acres of heavily wooded land. For some reason, I tend to hunt the non-wooded areas much more often than the wooded. Why is this? Is it because of ease of travel to and from? Is it because the wooded land is hard to get to? Maybe the open land has good travel corridors that offer tale-tale signs of deer movement? All would be true in my case. When I first began hunting this large non-wooded area, I was stumped. I still remember to this day where I hung my stands and placed my blinds. Boy was I wrong! Today, I have a better understanding of deer movement on this land. Every year, the deer tend to use the same travel paths, the same watering holes, and the same crop field to eat in. So why waste my time in the woods, right?
Hunting wooded areas has its perks. I can think of nothing better than watching and listening to the woods waking up on a cold morning! Even the squirrels are entertaining. Hunting the woods, though, can be a real challenge. Picture yourself at the entrance of a large cornfield. If there is already a path made through it, aren’t you much more likely to use that same trail? Well deer are the same way. They use trails. The problem is identifying the deer trail and where to set up. The number of trails in the woods can be a little overwhelming to a hunter. That’s why I keep my hunting simple and easy. This is where I typically resort back to my non-wooded hunting area. Since my wooded area and non-wooded area touch, I try to study the wood line and follow any trails I can find until they make there way out into the open areas. Deer do no spend all their time in the woods like many people think, but they do spend much of their day hidden away in thick woods or brush.
When I bow hunt non-wooded land, I typically get myself set up and ready for the first light of the morning and the last light of day. During these times, deer are more than likely going to be on their feet and searching for food, water or bedding areas. Bow hunting non-wooded areas in the middle of the day, unless it’s the rut, is a waste of time to me. If I feel the urge to bow hunt during the day, I typically travel to the woods where I will have better luck at seeing deer movement. If you have found a trail that is heavily used, and it’s in a non-wooded area, I would highly recommend setting yourself up within bow range or firearm range at dawn and dusk. During those times, you are going to see deer in those locations on a somewhat frequent basis.
Where should I set up in a non-wooded area? This is an excellent question that often leaves a hunter scratching his or her head. In my case, I watch all low lying areas first. Deer, for some reason, like to stay low in the land and they focus their travel on low lying drawls and even old creek beds and depressions. When most of your land is flat, however, this is impossible to focus on. Another good area is going to be around a food source. In my case, every year I have corn or soybeans planted. If you have enough land, I highly recommend doing this. Many times you can even rent out part of your land for crops, like we do, so that all the work is done for you by another farmer. Since our crop land is next to grazing land we have them fenced off. This, in turn, creates a great travel corridor for deer on the crop side of the fence. In just about any agriculture setting, if you walk around the edges of the field, you are going to find tracks of whitetails. They tend to graze along the edges of bean and corn fields rather than jump into the middle of them. Many times when I walk the edges of a bean field, you can see the deer have eaten the beans off the plants from about eight to ten feet in all around the field.
What if we have a pond or creek on our property? Will deer frequent these watering holes? That answer is simple, YES. Deer on my property tend to spend a lot of their time around one of our ponds in particular. Our main pond is at a higher elevation so that the deer can see out over much of the property. Many of the deer I hunt congregate around this pond at all hours of the day. They even enjoy bedding down around it. Now the creek the deer really love. Our creek happens to encircle our entire 50 acres of wooded area. Many times I can hear deer down in the creek running around or even splashing in the water. I often have people ask me if deer will get down in a deep creak. They will indeed. Our creek is approximately twenty feet wide and the banks are around eight to ten feet tall in many places. The only problem arises when the creek gets up, or full. Whitetails are smart enough to realize, ‘hey it’s raining, and the creek is rising, get out of the woods!’ I often check along this creek for many reasons. When deer are crossing a creek of this size, they tend to use main travel trails. There are a lot less places they cross the creaks at and many times you can find pinch points where they love to cross.
When you have non-wooded areas on your land, it’s not the end of the world. I hear all the time about how some people don’t even hunt their land because they don’t believe there are deer on it. Deer are about as free ranging a species as us humans! They go where they want, and sometimes they need a break from the wooded areas. Keep in mind; it’s hard for us to see deer and other animals in the woods sometimes. Thus, it’s also hard for deer to see predators in the woods at all times. Therefore they like getting out in a hayfield or grazing pasture so that they can see their surroundings.
Keeping a close eye on fence lines, water sources, and wood lines is key when hunting whitetails in non-wooded areas. Draw a map of your land and record down where you have seen deer in the past. I do this every time I see a deer. I record where it was and where it was traveling. Odds are there are more deer traveling that exact same corridor. Also keep in mind that sometimes deer enter an open area at full sprint. Typically they stop somewhere long enough to get a shot off. The reason they do this is because something has spooked them out of the woods and they are getting to a vantage point. Think about it, would you rather fight Mike Tyson in an 8×8 cage or in an open field where you can hopefully run for your life?
Use your knowledge of the land and its resources and your hunt will be successful. Remember, staying one step ahead of the whitetail usually means you’ll have a full freezer come winter. Do your research, put in your time, and your hunt will not only be successful, it’ll be fun!