Tips for Hunting Cow Pastures
By Ruby Ward, a freelance writer for Montana Decoy.
An Oklahoma rancher tried to help an out-of-town South Carolina hunter get a shot on a Rio Grande wild turkey. The plan was to skirt down a worn path that ran about a quarter-mile alongside a ridge that rose about seven or eight feet high. They hoisted themselves up the ridge until they could see over to the other side.
It was cow pasture, about five acres of open land with new spring growth blanketing the ground. There were cattle and a small flock of wild turkeys about 100 yards off. The turkeys trailed the cattle, scratching cow patties for insects. So the rancher and hunter, lying in the prone position, accessed the situation. They called, but the wind was whipping and the birds weren’t responding. They were content to pillage cow patties.
Unable to separate the birds from the cows, the rancher said they may drift closer to the ridge anyhow. But you’ll have to be careful, he told the hunter. “Hit a cow, and it’ll cost you $400.” Based on a quick Google search of Oklahoma’s weekly cattle auction, this seemed bit pricey on the average, but it wouldn’t matter. Neither cow nor bird came much closer than the 100 yards.
And so the hunt ended, leaving the hunter with two lessons:
1. Sometimes you have to get after a turkey or deer, rather than sitting and waiting on one.
2. If you plan to hunt a cow pasture, know the going market rate for beef before shouldering your shotgun or rifle.
The Oft-Overlooked Cow Pasture
Cow pastures aren’t usually hyped in hunting stories, whether those stories are published in magazines or make it onto a hunting show or YouTube video. But cow pastures can be hidden gems. Think about it. Pastures are basically giant food plots and many have watering holes too. Then, there are the cows. One hunter took to a forum to chat about hunting cow pastures. In doing so, he described cows as “dumb as a box.” Maybe this isn’t quite true, but these animals do share some qualities with a box or, conveniently, a mini blind. Except cows move. And they move slowly. All advantages for an enterprising hunter who prefers to stalk rather than sit.
Montana Decoy makes Big Red, a cow decoy that allows hunters to stalk their prey while using the cow decoy as cover. It can be folded away in a hunter’s pack until it’s needed. In the turkey-hunting situation recounted from Oklahoma, the intent was sit, call and wait. But stalking could have been a viable plan B if the hunter had proper cover.
Conversely, a deer hunter in a treestand overlooking a cow pasture might consider a few simple, but helpful tips. First, it’s handy to use cow manure as cover. Why not, it’s right there? Step in it purposely, but don’t over do it.
Also don’t forget the edges. Most cow pastures are partly surrounded by small, wooded areas or thin stands of trees. These spaces make great sanctuaries for deer and other big game. They only need to be large enough to provide a small bit of cover. It doesn’t have to be much. Focus on the funnels and corridors leading through the trees into the open pastures.
A final note: Deer do tend to keep their distance from cattle, while turkeys really don’t. Both will share the same space though. If a group of cows decide to set up camp near the tree you’re either in or sitting under, the best advice is to roll with it. Don’t try to spook the cattle away. It only makes nearby cows curious and encourages them to come over and join in. So do what deer and turkeys do: ignore them.
Forgotten Corrals, Old Farmsteads and Sheds
Part of the enjoyment of hunting a cow pasture is in hunting the farm. Often even large, working farms have old farm homes, outhouses and dilapidated sheds dispersed in or near cow pastures. During spring turkey hunting season, these structures are sometimes covered in wildflowers just beginning to bloom like the wisteria in the South that climbs broke-down fence posts and the walls of longstanding red barns now stained pink from years in the sun.
Along with the blooming wildflowers, these sites and structures are typically overgrown, and neglected: perfect wildlife sanctuaries. You can expect a nice mix of clearings under old-growth trees balanced by thicker brush, shrubs and grasses. Deer, turkeys, elk or pronghorn that frequent cow pastures don’t discriminate against these old farm buildings and structures. And, often, this habitat is a draw, providing cover and varied foraging opportunities.
Another cattle-farm site worth checking out: old corrals. In an article published by Deer & Deer Hunting, Tom Carpenter lists the “forgotten corrals” as a worthwhile spot. “These places once served as staging areas for gathering and shipping livestock, and though there usually isn’t trees and brush around, the grass, weeds, posts and structures can serve as cover enough — along with the seclusion — to harbor whitetails,” he says.
Carpenter first considering putting a real focus on hunting corrals by learning their value the hard way. “A hunting partner and I pulled up to a Nebraska corral to park before heading down into more traditional river-bottom cover to hunt,” he says. “The buck that lumbered away, as our pickup doors opened, made me wish we had glassed and hunted the spot first.”
Fence Rows and Wild Turkeys
Fence rows can either frustrate or elevate a turkey hunt depending on how they’re used. It’s true that most turkey hunters have experienced a hot tom coming in fast before the bird is stifled and hung up by a fence.
But fencing has its upside too. When you’re hunting an open cow pasture, fence rows with thick vegetation can provide cover. They can also serve as a turkey funnel. First, use animal sign to identify natural crossings. If the cover is adequate, you’ve got an ideal spot to set up. If the crossing happens to be near a wooded area that puts you within shooting range, even better.
The National Wild Turkey Federation suggest setting your blind up in these areas well before the season so wild turkeys become accustomed to the structure, considering it a normal part of the landscape. It’s also important to check your hunt site for good shooting lanes and, if there are none, is there potential to create a few?
If you happen to have hunting access to a cattle farm this fall, fence rows offer similar advantages for deer hunters.
Greg Pyle, a whitetail bowhunter from Indiana, primarily hunts fence rows and small, wooded lots no bigger than 5 acres. This is his preference.
“When I learned how to hunt fence rows, I began seeing deer like never before,” Pyle says, in an interview for Grand View Outdoors. “Of course, on private land I rarely see other deer hunters, so the deer are not harried and their patterns are more relaxed and natural.”
Pyle says thick fence rows give deer runways, corridors to and from bedding areas and food sources. Also, they provide superb midday loafing areas. Deer tend to move along fence rows with confidence, and a fence row between connecting properties or pastures can be an excellent spot for an ambush.
In the end, hunting cow pastures is really about applying the knowledge hunters already have. Don’t rule out farm structures, corrals and fence rows or other atypical hunt sites because it’s not what you’re accustomed to. These features are just different versions of cover, sanctuaries, food sources, wildlife openings or funnels.