Advanced Greenfield Deer Hunting Techniques
Hunting large greenfields is a common and highly successful method of harvesting whitetail deer throughout much of their range, but especially in the South. For many deer hunters, it's as easy as A,B,C -- simply set up in a shooting house or treestand along a greenfield edge in the afternoon, and get ready. But while that may be a great way to take a "meat" deer, if you're interested in getting a crack at a better-than-average buck, you need to take greenfield hunting to the next level.
One hunter is an expert at both developing greenfields on private lands, and in taking old, mature bucks off them. He holds a degree in wildlife biology, has guided deer and turkey hunters for over two decades on several of the South's best-known hunting lodges.
An example of the success of his program occurred in the early years of the business, during an Alabama hunting season, when he began the hunting operation on a 5000-acre property. In just two years clients took bucks scoring 187, 174, and 157 Boone & Crockett points, as well as several in the 120-130 class. While those numbers may mean little to hunters from the Midwest, in the South -- and especially Alabama -- these are true monster bucks.
Here's how he does it.
"When you look at a piece of property, ideally you need to have 10% of your land in agriculture developed specifically for the deer herd," he said. "What that means is that if I have 100 acres to work with, I want to develop three to four different areas that are spread out all over the land and that measure about two to 2 1/2 acres apiece."
"I locate my greenfields so I can hunt different fields with different wind directions, and If you have all your fields set up to hunt an east wind, for example, but the wind suddenly comes from the west, now you don't have any fields you can effectively hunt that day. It's also very important to put your shooting house or tree stand site near the road, so you don't have to walk through the field to get to and from the stand itself. Always remember that the more times you spook deer out of a field by leaving or entering a stand site, the less likely they are to continue using that field during legal shooting hours."
Scouting for natural deer travel routes, bedding areas, and natural food sources is critical. "Ideally, you try and put the greenfield as close to the deer's bedding area as you can," Sykes said. "Hopefully, that will encourage them to enter the field earlier in the afternoon, when shooting light is available.
"Also, when pushing the brush from a field to clear it out for planting, instead of burning it, I push it off to the sides of the fields to make windrows. I leave gaps between large sections of these rows to encourage the deer to enter the field where I want them to. This creates an artificial funnel, and is a great way to set up a greenfield for bowhunting, especially if you create these openings near a well-used deer trail and a good tree in which to set a treestand. Also, the soil piled up with the wind rows is an excellent place for honeysuckle, green briar, and other natural food sources to grow on the edges of the green field, creating an added incentive for deer to use the fields."
Setting Up Hunting Stands
For several reasons, our greenfield mastermind prefers a permanent shooting house over a tree stand when hunting green fields.
"For novice or average deer hunters, a shooting house is the way to go because the hunter is not exposed to uncomfortable elements like wind and rain," Sykes said. "Enclosed houses also help contain or scent some, although not enough to make you completely 'bomb proof.' In a shooting house you can also fidget some without being seen by the deer. The houses also stay on the fields all year around, and the deer get used to them.
"Tree stands are good, too, but it takes a more experienced whitetail hunter to set them up and hunt them properly along the exposed edges of a greenfield," he says. "I sometimes will set a tree stand up on a greenfield edge if the wind is wrong for my shooting house and I know a good deer is using that particular field, but I really prefer to wait for the wind to be right and then hunt him from the house. And, of course, bowhunters are going to need to set tree stands.
"I like to set my shooting houses off the fields, in the edge cover. Many hunting lodges set their houses in exposed locations in the green field itself. But by setting the house on the edge and in cover, it makes it easier for the hunter to slip up to the house without being detected. More importantly, this allows the hunter to leave the house without being detected and spooking those deer that are in the field once shooting light is gone. This is critical when trying to kill a mature buck."
Advanced Greenfield Hunting Techniques
"You have to remember that, just like hunting whitetails in the hardwoods, in clear cuts, or along power lines, there is a big difference between killing any old deer in a green field, and killing a good deer. It is very important to scout trails leading to the fields so you know by the tracks, buck rubs, etc., what kind of deer are using that particular field. I also look for the grass being eaten down, and look for tracks and droppings in the fields. If you want a good one, you need to scout."
He believes the best green field hunting occurs in the afternoon and late evening. "The old adage, hunt the woods in the morning, fields in the afternoon, really is good advice. Your chances of taking a good buck in a green field are by far the best during the last few minutes of the day's shooting light," He said
"A big key to taking good bucks from the greenfields is to never, ever shoot does from the fields. Not doing this has two huge impacts on your chances at a bigger deer. First, those does are your bait. During the rut you want to hunt the field that has the most deer coming to it, hoping that the odds are that a hot doe will be among them. Second, when you don't shoot the does in the fields, you are conditioning both them and their young. The young knot-head bucks know that this is the greatest place in the world, with lots to eat and nothing bad happening to him. This can go on for the first three years of his life, and at three years old he'll probably be a 'shooter.' Most people shoot the first decent buck that comes into a field in the afternoon, or they shoot a doe early in the day, and any big deer lying with 300 years of the field will hear all that commotion and not come in.
"It's also important to never over-hunt deer in the fields and risk spooking the deer off," he cautions. "Stay away from them when you're not hunting them. Don't walk through them, and don't drive around them. Let the deer feel secure, then when the time is right, slip in and be ready to take the monster buck you know is coming to feed or chase a hot doe."
Greenfield Hunting Gear
It is critical to have both good light-gathering binoculars and a rifle scope, so you can see clearly and judge a buck's antlers as late as possible. This hunter uses a 3-12x56 Kahles scope mounted on his Browning A-Bolt rifle chambered in .270 Winchester, a combination that has accounted for several better-than-average greenfield bucks. Using binoculars that gather a lot of light is important, too.
Accurate rifles chambered for flat-shooting cartridges like the .25-06, .270, .280 Rem., and 7mm Rem. Mag. are excellent greenfield rifles. Many serious greenfielders chamber their rifles for ultra-fast cartridges like the .257 and .270 Weatherby Magnums, or one of the various .300 magnums, to give them additional reach over long fields. Regardless, make sure you have a good, steady rest from which to shoot from inside the shooting house. Carrying a small sandbag to place in the house's window helps, but just as critical is having some sort of solid place to rest the back elbow or a portion of the rifle's butt stock. It also helps when hunting long fields to have the range marked off with small flagged stakes so the shooter knows how far that deer is when he's "way out there," or to use a laser range finder.
Because greenfield bucks are usually taken right on the cusp of legal shooting hours, it is extremely important to have a powerful artificial light source for tracking deer after dark. It also helps to have a spotter sitting with the shooter that can watch the where target deer runs off at the shot. Following recoil, the shooter usually can't follow him among all the white flags of the fleeing does and lesser bucks sure to be in the field, too.