Corn Conundrum: Mow It or Leave It

Corn Conundrum. Mow it or Leave it

Corn is one of the most, if not the most, widely planted food plot crops across the US. Every year thousands and thousands of acres are planted by hopeful hunters trying to lure in a mature whitetail buck. There is little debate corn is a fantastic food plot species. However, there is some debate about what to do with the corn. When the fall finally arrives, and the time comes to hunt over the corn plot, is it better to leave the corn standing? Or mow it all down?

I Stand with Corn

Standing corn provides numerous benefits throughout the season. There are few other crops which attract deer during the late season as well as corn. It is almost as if the standing stalks of corn in food plots act as a flag signaling in deer after the local farmers harvest their fields of standing corn.

Last year, we left just over one acre of standing corn in one a food plot on our family farm in central Minnesota. During a December hunt, I had 22 deer in the corn plot at one point. Minnesota received snow early and often last year. By my December hunt, we had already accumulated well over a foot. Had we decided to mow the corn rather than leave it standing, much of the corn would have gotten buried and forgotten. I would have been lucky to see a couple of deer trying to dig up a few corn cobs rather than the 22 casually browsing the standing stalks like I observed.

Another benefit of standing corn stalks is the cover they provide. As an article from Banks Outdoors states it, “Before cornfields are picked, the stalks provide everything a deer needs: cover, food and even water. Cornfields are sanctuaries that double as food sources.”

Every year when farmers begin to harvest their corn fields around our land, we get a handful of new bucks on camera that we have not seen before. I have little doubt many of these new bucks have been spending most of their summer and early falls in a corn field nearby. Having similar food and cover to what these bucks are used to increase the chances of them hanging around long enough for us to get a chance at them while in the stand.

Finally, while the corn cobs are still on their stalks, they are out of reach non-target species like raccoons or squirrels. A couple years ago I hunted over a recently mowed corn field. Throughout my three-hour sit, I watched the same squirrel come out into the field, grab a full corn cob (these cobs were close to the same size as the squirrel’s body), carry it into the woods and bury it, then finally repeat the whole process over again. This one squirrel must have taken ten corn cobs from the field in three hours.

In addition to squirrels, raccoons are also experts at scavenging any available corn in a recently mowed field. We have gotten countless trail camera pictures of raccoons hanging out all night in freshly mowed corn fields. However, if we never mow the corn, then most of the available food stays only within the browsing level of deer, rather than squirrels, raccoons, crows, turkey, mice, etc.

Mow that Corn

There is little denying the fact that deer love feeding in freshly cut corn fields. Don’t believe me? Next time the closest corn field to your house gets harvested, go drive by it the last hour of daylight for the next couple days. If you the deer density in your area is over one deer per 100 square miles I can almost guarantee they will be in that field. As an article from Field & Stream puts it,

This statement is referring to cornfields that have been combined also. Mowing your food plot offers the same easy browsing combined cornfields offer. However, your mowed field will have the entire field of corn scattered all over the ground, rather than the corn the farmer’s combine leaves behind.

Lastly, mowing corn will ensure you have a quality shot opportunity on any deer that enters the field. The cover corn provides can be a double-edged sword. The deer may enjoy browsing about inside your standing corn knowing they are well covered. From a hunter’s standpoint, however, that cover can be the difference between an easy 25 yard shot and barely being able to see the deer’s body.

I have been on numerous bow hunts where deer will be well within shooting range as they are feeding through the corn. However, due to the heavy cover from the stalks I am unable to get a shot. It is in these moments I have the strong urge to mow down every stalk of corn on our property.

Well Shucks, Now what?

So, which is better? Leave the corn standing? Or mow it all down? After a few years of trial and error, on our farm in Minnesota we have found it is best to do a little bit of both. Typically, we leave all our corn plots standing until close till the end of October. As I mentioned previously, this can create issues with deer disappearing into the corn and never getting a shot. We have found, however, the benefits of having standing corn later in the season far outweigh this drawback.

Around the end of October, we usually mow a section of our corn plots. We do this for two reasons. First, we do our best to bow hunt the weekend before the ten-day rifle season opens in Minnesota (starts the first full weekend in November).

As we learned, freshly cut corn fields attract deer. The Field & Stream article mentioned above goes on to assert, “Deer will hit a picked cornfield for weeks, but the first days after the harvest are best. Whitetails are always jazzed by a fresh food source, and the smell of fresh-cut corn is intoxicating.” Therefore, we try to line up when we mow our corn with a time we know we will be hunting, and a time we know the hunting is typically very good.

Once late season rolls, we may mow another row or two if we have a hunting weekend planned. However, if we have a year, like last year, with lots of early snowfall. We are much more likely to leave the corn standing.

For most states, deer hunting season wraps up at the end of December. However, the deer that survive hunting season still need to survive winter. Leaving a few acres of standing corn may help more deer on your property survive the winter and in better health than if the corn were buried under the snow. This will help your herd start the following year bigger and healthier.

That should be the main goal of every food plot. Not just to attract deer, but to help provide additional nutrients to help your deer herd reach their full potential. If leaving corn standing helps us meet that goal, you can bet we will continue to leave standing corn year after year.

*Blog Written by Guest Writer Reid Dale. You can find more information about Reid via Instagram on his page, MGB Whitetail Management, handle: mgb_whitetails.

***Please check your local game laws prior to mowing corn during deer season***