By Clint Casper
When asked what single element has changed my whitetail bowhunting career for the better, my answer is simple — soybeans. Soybeans have been my foundation for many years, and they have provided me with an overabundance of deer sightings and encounters. From early spring until the dead of winter, soybeans will produce great benefits for bowhunters and the deer they love to hunt.
Soybeans are one of the most highly sought-after food sources in a whitetail’s diet, and it’s not just for one part of the season. Let’s take a closer look at how I use soybeans in my hunting arsenal, and why, given the chance, you should be incorporating them in yours as well.
Why Deer Love Them
The whitetail’s world revolves around eating/drinking, sleeping, and breeding. These three elements, combined with the desire to live to see another day, are what makes a whitetail tick. That being said, after many years of bowhunting and observing whitetails, I’ve learned that deer find some food sources more desirable than others, and soybeans are at the top of the whitetail’s list.
Soybeans are planted in the spring, and from the time they pop out of the ground they’re a tender, green treat that deer and other wildlife love to eat. As the beans grow taller, leaves form on the tops of the plants that provide a delicious, nutritious snack during the late-spring and summer months. The leaves are a main source of food for deer until the plants turn brown and dry out.
At this point, deer turn their focus from the leaves to the pods containing hardened beans. A hard bean is a great source of protein and energy for a whitetail, especially in the late fall and winter, after the rut has come and gone and weight gain is a priority.
Why I Love Them
For myself and many other diehard whitetail hunters across the country, deer season isn’t just a three-month ordeal. It’s an ongoing endeavor. When hunting season ends, scouting and shed-hunting begins, and so on and so forth. As a hardcore whitetail hunter, scouting is a huge necessity, and definitely something that puts the odds in my favor if done correctly. Shed hunting is a favorite pastime of mine, and one of the many ways I scout for next year’s target bucks. I always find sheds in and around beanfields, because leftover beans provide so much protein and energy for bucks during those calorie-burning winter months.
I love to glass for bucks in beanfields in the late evenings and early mornings, and there is no better time to scout than in late spring, throughout the summer, and into early fall before the season begins. During these times we can get a good grasp on how many deer are in our area, what bucks are still still in the vicinity and if a particular piece of property is worth hunting.
During summer and early fall, the bean plants will be tall enough to conceal a human who is sitting or kneeling down but not tall enough to hide a grazing or standing buck. This allows me to sneak into a field undetected, provided the wind is right, and watch deer entering and feeding in the field until dark. The beans at this time provide the best feed around, and most of the deer in the area will be found in them. This low-impact scouting method makes it easy for me to take stock of the caliber of bucks in the area, and to decide where I need to hang stands or set up ground blinds.
In the fall, after the plants have turned brown and the beans have hardened, I still use the beanfields to not only hunt over, but to scout as well. If a buck I’ve patterned suddenly disappears, I’ll go glass the local beanfields in the evenings instead of hunting, and I’ll hang trail cameras along the field edges. These tactics usually result in my target buck being found, and then it’s game on once again!
How To Hunt Soybeans
So now that I’ve dissected why deer love beans, why you should love beans, and why they benefit both hunters and deer for most of the year, let’s dive into how to hunt them. I’m going to break this down into three phases — early season, rut, and late season.
At this point in the game the deer haven’t been hunted yet, and hopefully a pattern has been formed from watching them all summer in the beans and a game plan is in place. The good winds should be documented, and your stands should be in place to intercept bucks traveling to and from the beanfields. Capitalize on the field edges, or in a staging area close by where bucks like to hang out until last light.
If this is not the scenario you find, or if your target buck gives you the slip after he sheds his velvet, what’s the solution? Find the greenest beans around! Not every beanfield is planted on the same day, and those that are planted late are great for hunters because the deer will hit them hard when other fields start turning brown. Monitor these green beanfields with your optics and trail cameras, or hang an observation stand to scout out of in hopes of finding your buck.
Once you’ve relocated your buck, you need to figure out where he’s vulnerable. You may get lucky and he’s hitting the field in daylight, but if not, look at what direction he’s coming from and then use a map to find his weakness. Maybe it’s a pinchpoint he’s using on his way to the beans, or a logging road that he has scrapes on. Regardless, you have to figure out his staging areas, and that’s where your ambush can take place.
During the rut, it’s all about hunting the does. Find the does and you’ll be into the bucks. At this stage, the bucks are giant bombs of testosterone with the need to breed filling their minds constantly. With that being said, you need to figure out where the does are feeding and bedding. Beans will be a huge source of food at this point in the season, because they’ll be hard and packed with energy. The does will be there and so will the bucks, so your concentration should be focused around hunting the field edges in the evenings, and close by bedding areas and funnels leading to the beans in the mornings, or for all-day hunts.
My strategy here is simple: Let the beans bring the does in, and then wait for the bucks to show up. Bucks need to feed as well, so it’s not uncommon to see a buck feeding in a field in the middle of the day, trying to recover some energy. Also, since the does will consistently be in these fields, bucks will be checking these areas each day, waiting for the does to come into estrus. During this time, having both food and does on the same playing field is the golden ticket.
As the rut winds down, the need to feed slowly replaces the need to breed, and once again the beans are a highly sought-after food for deer — especially the bucks. Not only will they be looking for that last hot doe, but they’ll be concentrating on putting weight back on. This makes them vulnerable.
This is my favorite time to hunt a big buck, especially if I have soybeans on my side. The rut has come and gone, and weight lost must be gained back to keep bucks alive during the winter. That desire to feed can be a deadly sin for them. Like in the early season, bucks can be patterned in the late season, so it’s important to continue scouting with your optics and trail cameras.
In the late season, standing beans are your best bet because they’re an easy meal, but picked fields will also be very desirable because of all the beans that are still on the ground. During this time, we have to make very precise moves because the deer have been hunted for several weeks and are on full alert. I like to run a lot of cameras and glass/scout more than I actually hunt at this point in an attempt to find a buck that’s cooperating during daylight.
Once you’ve found a cooperative buck, you need to be watching the weather like it’s your job. Big cold fronts coming in and out are ideal in the late season, because they will definitely get deer on their feet earlier than normal. Capitalize on these weather changes by hitting the woods before and after the storms hit.
Cold and snow are your best friends, because they will force bucks to feed numerous times throughout the day. Brave the elements and you’ll likely be rewarded with an opportunity at a buck because they have no choice but to feed at this time.
Regardless of whether you plant beans on your own property, or hunt on properties where beans are planted and then harvested, you need to start cashing in on the great hunting opportunities they can provide. Keep tabs on the local beans this year, and I guarantee you’ll see more deer than ever before.