How Do Deer Respond When Properties Flood?

June 27, 2018


Some recent heavy rain has caused swollen creeks and rivers to swallow up whitetail ground across Iowa, Nebraska, Ohio and Missouri. For many hunters, this could be the first time their property has ever felt the rising tide of Midwest storms.

To find out how deer will respond, I reached out to five hunters across the country with land that gets regular and irregular flooding. They've had unique experiences with everything from standing water that helps concentrate deer, to loss of bedding that has caused hit list bucks to disappear.

A special thanks to Kyle, Jay, Brad, Parker, and Lucy for their contributions.



Kyle Joseph | South Dakota


What kind of property is it?

Most of the ground is enrolled in the wetland reserve program and the rest is old river bed. I would classify it mostly as bedding but obviously there is forage mixed in.

Five percent of the land can be planted to food plots so there are also crops. With the standing crops and normally great cover, the deer stay on the property year-round but really pile in over the winter months.


When does the property flood?

The property has flooded multiple times, but normally it happens after spring runoff in April. This year it is happening right now, the end of June. Deer season opens at the end of Septmenber.


How does the flooding change the property?

Really the property doesn't change a whole lot since it usually happens early spring. If the water recedes early enough food plots can normally still be planted. Most of the trees seem to handle the water well because only varieties of trees that can handle the water grow here.

I have noticed a lot of debris washes up at the high-water mark, which may mess with bedding. I am somewhat concerned about this year with the flooding happening later than normal.  I think a lot of the bedding may die and or lay flat and not recover before season.


How do the deer respond?

Since the ground is near the bluff the deer never go too far. I've actually shot a deer that was walking at the base of the bluff in flooded ground that had 6” of standing water.



Jay Siske | Tennessee


What kind of property is it?

The ground is mostly crop fields, but there are some bedding and staging areas that also flood. Of the 130 acres that I hunt, about 20 percent floods.


When does the property flood?

It seems to always flood sometime between mid August and mid September. Deer season opens at the end of September, but this year they're allowing a three day season at the end of August for a bow buck only hunt. The water will stay for about 2-3 weeks. 


How does the flooding change the property?

The only real damage floods cause is the loss of planted beans. It usually ruins our entire bottom field.


How do the deer respond?

Some of the deer stay right along the edge of the flooded section. Last time the area got water our top hit list buck was there up until the flood, then we never saw him again.

For the most part the deer activity stays the same. Our target buck had his bedding area get flooded and that's why I think he left. It dried back up but he never returned.



Brad Hockersmith | Illinois


What kind of property is it?

I have two different farms that can get flooded. They areas that get standing water are mostly staging and bedding.


When does the property flood?

Three years ago it didn't flood. Two years ago it flooded in late April, and again in mid October. Last year it flooded in May and twice in June. There is standing water on the property now, and deer season opens at the beginning of October.


How does the flooding change the property?

When it floods it spreads out the brush piles that I create in offseason to help sunlight to the ground. If it floods in the spring it makes burning nearly impossible and clutters up the whole bottom with debris.


How do the deer respond?

The deer adjust their patterns on how the got around on the farm. They use different trails which also kind of helps me and makes pinch points. It’s allows me to be able to focus on a few plots rather than the other ones in the bottoms. At the same time it reduces the available timber space and food, causing some deer to leave the area.



Parker Cupp | Michigan


What kind of property is it?

The type of property that I have under water is a mix of interconnected heavily used trails and core bedding area.


When does the property flood?

This area almost always floods at the beginning of spring thaw and when we start to get rain. Our deer season in southwestern Michigan opens October 1st and is flooded nearly all year unless we have a dry summer. 


How does the flooding change the property?

In this spot of the property it is tall seasonal grass and some smaller shrubs when the water allows the vegetation to grow. The flooding obviously drowns out anything trying to grow, which in this situation is some really awesome deer bedding.


How do the deer respond?

It's kind of hard to believe, but the way the deer respond to the flooding in their ideal bedding area makes this parcel a lot easier to hunt. The deer are forced to find different spots to bed.

This farm is a smaller parcel so it definitely limits their options for bedding. Deer will leave our area often, but usually return because there are some good spots for food that do not go under water. Ultimately what this flooding does is push the deer out of the center of the property where the bedding and flooding is located.

In return this forces deer to spend more time where it is accessible to hunt them (around the outer edges of the farm instead of in the middle). Mature bucks are moving more often during day light, which gives us better odds of finding them. Although deer are somewhat spending more time on other parcels beside my own, when they do decide to move on my property there are only a couple of spots for them to actually to use. This makes locating herds easier.



Lucy Lindley | Tennessee


What kind of property is it?

It's mostly feeding areas. There are big bottoms that stay soggy and usually I plant corn or soy beans in them.


When does the property flood?

The property floods in the early spring and mid summer. It makes weeds a real pain after I plant, so I go back and respray and spread another round of seeds.

Come August and September it looks like a lawn. I found it stays longer through the colder months because I got a late start. Clover has been my saving quick fix.


How does the flooding change the property?

The biggest problem is the waste of time and money from the first planting.


How do the deer respond?

Soggy fields and bottoms haven't changed behavior much on my 2300 acre property. They hit those "flooded" areas late in the season when the clover is lush. It's the south so they are used to the rain.

On a side note, I know the flood years are really hard on the fawns, so I'm always curious to see how the herd looks come fall.

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