When it comes to hunting early season whitetails it is common for hunters to gravitate toward agricultural crops such as corn and soybeans. Many hunters also have their own food plots established consisting of a variety of seeds and forage types. While it is tough to beat some of the new food plot seed blends and the highly sought after soybeans, there is another type of forage that is incredibly enticing…natural forage.
One of the most common types of natural forage are acorns. This type of hard mast is a key food source for whitetails and the dropping of these acorns dictates the movement of deer every fall. There are many different types of oaks that drop numerous types of acorns. There are two families of oak species. The red oak family and the white oak family. The white oak family consist of oaks such as the common white oak, the chestnut oak, and the post oak. These acorns are less bitter than their relatives in the red oak family due to their lack of tannic acid produced in the nut. For this reason they are more favorable than acorns in the red oak family. Common red oak family trees are the southern red oak, the northern red oak, the scarlet oak, and the water oak. The red oak acorns have a higher tannic acid content that can actually help preserve the nut into the spring months if the nut isn’t consumed during the fall and winter. All of the aforementioned oaks tree species are common in North Carolina and identifying them along with understanding their role in the whitetail’s diet is critical for early season success.
While acorns are the primary food source for early season whitetails there are many types of soft mast that also attracts deer. Persimmons trees are an ideal site to hang a tree stand nearby. These trees produce fruit every other year but can be tough to locate in the wild. Once a tree is found a tree stand should be set up close by. These little orange fruits drop in the early fall and play a huge role in diet of various wildlife species, not just whitetails. For that reason persimmons don’t last long once dropping from their lofty perches to the forest floor so keep an eye on them and hunt it hard as soon as the fruit begins to descend.
Crab apples are also a great place to focus your attention on during this time of year. These trees are usually found along ditch banks and in fallow fields or abandoned farm steads. Similar to persimmons, these fruits are a whitetail favorite and won’t last long once they have dropped. Other types of forages include possum grape and muscadine grapes. These vines are very commonly confused with one another but for hunting purposes being able to identify the difference in the two is irrelevant. A vine dripping grapes on the forest floor is sure to garner the attention of the local whitetails.
Some of the most successful hunters punch their tags early in the season and keying in on these early season food sources is the primary reason behind their success. It would be in your best interest to locate them on your property, I’m sure the deer you’re after already know of their whereabouts.
Check out the Summer 2014 Issue of Mossy Oak Gamekeepers to see my full length article on oaks.