By Jonathan Olivier
“Now is the time to go scouting for [acorns]. It’s a good time right now…to look for trees and start looking on the ground.” – Scott Durham, Louisiana Department of Wildlife and Fisheries deer study leader.
After the seemingly endless wait, deer season has finally arrived in the Baton Rouge area and, once again, hunters can hit the woods with bow in tow – but are you taking advantage of natural food sources?
It’s easy when hunting on private land to toss out corn or craft a food plot to bring deer into shooting range. On public land, on the other hand, the Louisiana Department of Wildlife and Fisheries prohibits hunters from feeding –such as corn or any other food attractants – so hunting natural food sources is vital.
But whether hunting private or public land, it may be best to leave it to Mother Nature to provide the food for deer to increase your odds this season.
Follow the Acorn Trail
Just by looking up and analyzing your hunting area, you may be surprised by the wide selection of browse that is naturally available to deer during the early hunting season. Hard mast trees such as acorns – white or red oak varieties – and soft mast trees like persimmons or honey locust beans are readily consumed by deer, thus making them prime target areas for hunters.
Oak trees are beginning to drop acorns, and the rate at which they fall will increase as the month wears on. According to Scott Durham, LDWF deer study leader, this time of year white oak trees are the first to fall, which are normally cow or water oaks.
“Now is the time to go scouting for that,” he said. “It’s a good time right now…to look for trees and start looking on the ground.”
Are the Deer Near?
Deer sign – tracks or droppings – near feed trees will give insight into how heavily the animals are feeding in that particular area; though simply looking in the air at tree branches to gauge mast production can give insight into how well the area will be traveled by deer.
Durham, along with other LDWF biologists around Louisiana, conducts a mast survey each year, which works to give a general consensus about how mast trees are producing. From north to south Louisiana, biologists spend a day examining the tree canopy on a parcel of land for quantities of mast being produced.
“We rank [mast] production of about zero to three,” Durham said. “Last year, in this part of the state, we registered 1.58 for red oaks and 0.92 for white. Anything close to two is good crop.”
Though the survey hasn’t been completed this year, last year Durham said was a low production year, especially compared to good years like 2011 when mast production was high.
But having several feed trees producing browse may work to hurt chances of harvesting a deer. The smaller the quantities of trees producing food, the more concentrated deer may be around those trees.
“If you have a low crop, it makes trees bearing more huntable because deer have fewer resources to go to,” Durham said. “The low acorn crops typically are better for bow hunting.”
Place the Stand
After identifying a tree or cluster of trees that’s producing and dropping, while also identifying deer are using the area at least moderately, all that is left is stand placement.
Don’t climb the tree actually producing the mast, rather opt to place your tree stand a few yards away—still within effective bow range. Deer will often browse on fallen acorns, presenting the hunter with the opportunity to make a well-placed shot.
But it’s also best to remember to stay mobile. If mast production ceases, move on to other areas where trees are producing.
Keep your eyes up the next time you enter the woods; a tree with limbs full of mast may be your ticket to success this season.