With archery season already open and rifle season quickly approaching, hunters are spending the majority of their time hunting over food sources such as agricultural fields. There is a reason this is the go-to hunting strategy for this time of year…because it produces deer! While you are more likely to spot deer and probably get a shot opportunity in these fields there are other places that can produce quality early season deer.
Old field habitats can be described as a horizontal layering of vegetation that sprouts naturally. Think of abandoned farmsteads with a few saplings encroaching here and there and you will have a great visual of what I’m talking about. These are great places to harvest deer in the early fall but hunters who have access to land such as the one described usually hunt them later in the season, if they even hunt them at all. The absence of a uniform tree canopy results in sunlight penetrating to the ground and allowing many types of natural forages to germinate. Muscadine grape vines, American pokeberry, blackberry, and American beautyberry, are just a few types of vegetation that are producing fruit during the early fall in North Carolina and can result in more than a few encounters with deer. Luckily for us many old fields have a row of trees nearby that is perfect for a hunting stand. Even in situations where the terrain lacks trees mature enough to support a stand, the native grasses and saplings offer enough cover to erect a ground blind. These types of fields usually see plenty of deer activity so if you locate one or have one on your property it would be in your best interest to overlook it one afternoon or at least set up a trail camera nearby.
While CRP (Conservation Reserve Program) fields aren’t exactly what comes to mind when you think of old field habitats they offer plenty of cover creating an extraordinary habitat. These fields are usually planted in place of agricultural crops and the landowners are paid per acre to do so through governmental programs. The fields are usually keyed towards enhancing bobwhite quail habitat but the plethora of vegetation that is produced is a great place to ambush a deer. CRP fields commonly consist of partridge peas, black-eyed susans, American pokeberry, goldenrod, and bluestem grasses. One of my favorite early season bow stands is on a thin row of pines separating a CRP field to the East and an agricultural field to the West. I can slip into the stand quietly and intersect the deer bedding in the cover when transitioning into the agriculture field.
While these habitats aren’t as popular as soybeans and harvested corn fields there are still plenty of opportunities to fill your deer tag. Old field habitats aren’t typically associated with early season whitetails but by hunting them now you can capitalize on a deer’s somewhat predictable pattern and their desire to remain undisturbed. If you stand goes cold or you want to try something different, try hunting over an old field habitat. The results may surprise you.