I remember when I first started bowhunting. I would read about hunting the edge even back then. Like most things for me it took a while to figure it out. The definition of edge, as far as the whitetail deer is concerned, is where two different types of vegetation come together. Some are obvious while others, the ones that can payoff big come fall, are much less obvious. The best way to find them is boots on the ground scouting. It doesn’t matter if you’re filling the freezer during the early season or hunting mature bucks during the rut these edges can produce throughout the season. Let’s take a look at hunting the edge and ways to approach them that will increase your odds this deer season.
Deer Hunting Field Edges
Field edges are the most common edges dotting the whitetail landscape these days. They are also the most common when hunting the edge in the whitetail world. Field edges will attract a lot of hunters. People can see the deer in the fields at all hours leading up to the season opener. Even Aunt Bee knows a big buck when she sees one. You best bet she’s told every deer hunter in her family about that buck. She also has told them precisely what field she saw it in at Sunday dinner.
I hunt public land ninety percent of the time. I don’t hunt field edges on public land unless it’s the first few days of the season. The first few days is always the best time for hunting the field edge on any property. This is the most effective time due to pressure. Deer haven’t been hunted all year. They feel no need to leave their preferred food source and will bed near the edge of the field. This is until pressure pushes them back into the thickets. When this happens you’ll have to pull back with them to ever get a glimpse during daylight hours. Hunting the edge is a fickle matter, to say the least.
With time afield and a few spooked deer, you’ll figure it out. You can then use these lessons as an effective way to harvest your deer. As for me I just stay clear and focus on those second-tier bedding areas that I feel the deer will move to once the season begins. This way I’m not tromping around in prime habitat looking for a stand site and when the deer in the field disappear I’m set up waiting for their arrival.
Locating a field that deer are coming to is easy. You can drive by fields your hunting and see what ya got. You can also rely on Aunt Bee on Sunday. Whatever way you do it you can be sure those deer are nearby that field edge when you go to look for a stand site. You should apply the same scent control measures even before the season to keep those deer coming. Get in and get out is the best option for picking a stand site on the edge of a field. A good way to have a few trees picked out is to locate them well before the season and cut some shooting lanes for each one then pick the best one based on where the deer are entering the field. This way, you don’t have to go in until opening evening. Why evening?
Deer Love Fields
Fields tend to be a deer hangout. They oftentimes have food available in the field and they can spot predators more easily and give them the slip. This is why deer will hang around openings like fields and open woods until daylight. This is also why hunting field edges in the morning, especially during the early season, can hurt your chances, not just for that morning, but maybe for days after if you run them out of the field they consider their secure place to gather.
Remember the deer are arriving at the field in the evening, and some will usually be around come morning. Morning hunts on field edges can be detrimental to your hunt. You can spook deer that you don’t even know about. Arriving in the afternoon for an evening hunt is the deer hunters’ best option for hunting field edges. This is true for most field edges, but there is an exception. Standing corn.
Standing Corn Field Edges For Deer
While hunters all over America stand around campfires debating on the value of a stand site along a standing corn field I will just keep hunting them. Hunting standing corn fields can be tough. Sightings are usually few and far between. However, rest assured that if there are deer in the area they are using it. They use standing cornfields for either bedding or transitional cover as they make their way to other areas to feed or bed down for the day. Some might use it for their very own sanctuary. Standing corn leaves a deer no reason to leave. When the corn becomes mature enough to eat, some deer may only leave this sanctuary for water, to escape predators or to just look around.
If you scout the standing cornfield edge and find tracks and chewed corn cobs, then you can bet the deer are in there or just outside it. The best part for a hunter is that the corn can conceal you just as it does the deer. Planning an entering and exiting route to the edge of a standing corn field is vital for success. Hunting those open fields, like beans, during the morning might not be the best idea. Hunting a standing cornfield edge in the morning is doable. Most hunters elect to hunt mornings and evenings during the early season. A stand along a standing cornfield could be a great place for an all-day sit.
Standing corn is much like those open fields at night where deer can safely mill about. They can do it all day long because of the cover that the corn provides. This gives the hunter a chance to effectively hunt deer on the edge of standing cornfields. Usually, there is a buffer zone between the cornfield and the wood line that borders it. This buffer zone is often planted in grass or maybe CRP. This buffer zone can be a great place to hunt as long as you have a good enter/exit route to and from your stand.
Using the standing corn as cover you can easily enter a stand site without being detected. You still need to use the wind to sneak into position. The deer might only be 50 or 60 yards away in that standing corn. With stealth and by playing the wind they will never know you were nearby. Playing the wind is vital. As always one of the most important aspects to getting close to whitetails, but just as important, especially when getting so close to whitetails before setting up, is silence.
Once you’ve located a standing cornfield you need to choose several spots around its perimeter. This lets you hunt the field with any wind direction. Whether you use a blind or a treestand, having these spots picked out prior to season can be a great benefit to the hunter. However, if you didn’t have a chance to do this before the season you can always sneak in and setup according to conditions. This is why I choose to use a climbing stand over a fixed position. It allows for more mobility in choosing stand sites. This becomes especially helpful when hunting public land where you never know what might booger your spot and you have to find another.
The Hidden Edge
The hidden edge is the edge we’ve all been looking for even if we don’t know it. This is that place deep in the woods that for whatever reason is a thick mix of underbrush and briars. That place where it becomes hard to walk through without getting tangled up. When this thick stuff is in the middle of a big woods with oaks and other food sources for deer then you have just located the best spot for a stand.
These hidden edges are what I look for. Look for these several hundred yards from that open field edge. This is where deer are going to go when hunting pressure increases. These hidden edges aren’t easy to see on satellite imaging and usually takes boots on the ground scouting to locate one. Once you locate one on the ground go back and have a look at that satellite image of the area. Now you see it. With a few of these finds under your belt it becomes easier to recognize a potential hidden thicket where deer will naturally want to be during daylight hours.
Deer will also want to leave these thickets as the sun goes down. They like to get out of the perfect stalking habitat for predators. These thickets can be hunted much like the standing corn but while having plenty of low browse they don’t have the food that deer want and need, leading into fall. Scouting the perimeter of this hidden thicket you can locate the most likely food source for that time of year and set up a plan for hunting the edge. Catch the deer moving out to feed in the evening.
These hidden thickets are a public land hunters’ dream and can be productive throughout the season. There can be several doe groups using thickets. This gives you plenty of chances during the season to harvest a doe. Bucks will cruise this edge during the pre-rut and rut. They will be looking for does in estrous. This can give you an opportunity at harvesting a good buck moving through at any time during the day. Of course, bucks use these thickets as well and it’s not unheard of to see bucks traveling with does or in a bachelor group early in the season, so the rut isn’t the only time these hidden edges can payoff if a buck is what you’re after.
Edges, whether along an old logging road or a grown-up hay field can provide hunters with a starting point for locating lots of deer. Learning to hunt each one is crucial for success. The best way to learn to hunt these edges is to get out there. Make a few mistakes, learn from them, and apply them on your next hunt.