Corn and wildlife

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If you ride into the countryside, you can't help but notice the lush, green fields of corn. Frequent rains have really helped our local farmers. There should be a bountiful harvest this fall.

In the outdoor world, corn is commonly used as a bait to attract deer for hunting. Still, hunters put out corn near their stands. This allows a hunter the opportunity to carefully examine a deer before pulling the trigger. Yearling bucks can be more easily identified and passed over. Does and yearlings will use the corn piles more readily than mature bucks, but the bucks will eventually come around looking for does. With all the hunting pressure, thick wood and their natural tendency to be nocturnal, it would be more difficult to harvest a deer here without corn.

Deer corn is sold at hardware stores, garden centers and mom-and-pop country stores. Even Walmart has deer corn. The price has nearly doubled in just the last couple of years. Deer corn is sold as cob corn in bushel bags, and shelled corn is also available.

Some people wonder if baiting is ethical. In many other states, baiting is illegal. In some states where baiting is illegal, hunters are allowed to grow corn in fields and cut the corn just before they hunt. The only difference is that they grew the corn instead of bringing it in a bag. Some people also consider food plots as baiting. I believe that as long as it's legal and supported by hunters, it's OK. If you don't think it's ethical, then don't do it.

Corn is a native plant that was first domesticated by Native Americans some 6,000 years ago. The corn plant, called "maize," was developed from a wild grass in Mexico. By the time Christopher Columbus arrived, it was being grown from the tip of South America to Canada.

Native Americans taught the European settlers to plant corn, which they ground as meal for flour. They used the ground corn in porridge, cakes and bread. Sweet corn, like the kind we eat today, was not developed until the 1700s. Farming methods have greatly improved corn production and yield potential.

Today, about 60 percent of corn is fed to livestock, and 25 percent is exported. The rest is used to make an amazing variety of products. Corn flour, cornstarch, cornmeal, corn oil and corn syrup are all made from corn. Other products made from corn include cereal, baby food, margarine, detergents, cosmetics and fuel.

Corn is full of carbohydrates and provides much-needed nutrition. Almost everything will eat corn. Deer, hogs, rabbits, turkeys, ducks, doves, squirrels, coyotes, dogs, songbirds, mice, insects and more will eat corn. Even snakes are attracted to corn and will eat the birds and mice that live nearby.

For years, I kept an automatic feeder on one of my duck ponds in Paxville. I used a mixture of shelled corn and scratch feed. Scratch feed is just a mixture of cracked corn and wheat. The feeder was set up on the edge of the pond and would scatter the corn in a little circle around the feeder twice a day. About half went in the shallow water and the other half on the grassy bank. The fish ate as much of the corn as the ducks. Blackbirds and other songbirds ate the corn on the grassy bank.

One day, I was walking by the feeder and noticed something unusual looking. Looking closer I realized there was a large green grasshopper wedged upside down between the feeder spout and the timer spin plate. The grasshopper was chewing on a small piece of cracked corn. I went to the truck, got my camera and took a picture. But the picture was out of focus and didn't turn out very well.

Years ago, a group of my friends and I hunted a small duck pond near the lake. We tried to plant corn to flood for the ducks, but the deer thought the corn was for them. When the corn came up and got about an inch tall, the deer would start grazing the small plants. Our field was only about two acres, and sometimes the deer would wipe out our entire crop. They also had some help from the local squirrel community. The squirrels would go down a row and dig up every single plant and eat the corn kernel from the root. They would leave the little corn plant just lying there neatly to one side. Maybe they were leaving them for the deer.

We tried several different types of deer-proof fences but eventually gave up on the corn and switched to millets, grain sorghum and wet soil plants. The refuge bordered our duck pond, and the deer were just too plentiful in that area at the time. Eventually, public hunts were started at the refuge, and the deer population was reduced a little. Maybe someone could grow corn there today.

Dan Geddings is a weekly columnist for The Sumter Item. Email Dan at cdgeddings@gmail.com.