Acorns Preferred Food of Whitetail Deer

Mast Crops Attract Deer

Deer hunters know that White Oak acorns attract foraging deer.

Dr. Leonard Lee Rue III, in his book, The Deer of North America, (Lyons Press, 1999) provides a detailed description of the dietary preferences and foraging habits of deer. Rue points out that deer, like cattle, are ruminants, with four-chambered stomachs. Ruminants are able to consume large quantities of low-protein foods quickly and then chew and digest them slowly. This permits deer to limit the amount of time when they must let down their guard against predators and feed in relatively open places.

During the summer months, deer forage on leaves and non-grass plants. When apples mature and drop to the ground, deer add fruit to their diets. They will also feed on farm crops, and suburban gardeners often wake to find that dining deer have devoured their plantings. However, according to Rue, deer will forsake most other food sources for their favorite food, the acorns of the White Oak.

White Oak and Red Oak Acorns Are Food for Deer

Although deer will eat Red Oak acorns, they much prefer those from the White Oak, as they contain less tannin and are less bitter in taste. Acorns are high in fat and carbohydrates, but low in protein. But, in years when the mast crop is plentiful, deer have no difficulty finding acorns in great enough quantities to provide adequate protein to their diets.

White Oak trees produce heavy crops only once every few years. Red Oaks, however, produce heavily every other year, effectively filling in when White Oak acorns are scarcer. Although deer prefer the sweeter White Oak acorns, they can readily digest other varieties.

Location and Quantity of Mast Crops Affect Deer Movement

After locating areas where White Oak acorns lie plentifully on the ground, the hunter must determine how deer will be likely to approach the feeding area. Deer are instinctively aware of their vulnerability while feeding, so they tend to feed, then take a few steps before putting their heads down to feed some more. The deer will prefer to face into the wind, in order to detect the scent of any predator that may approach.

Theories about what triggers the estrus cycle of do include the amount of sunlight, phases of the moon, and falling temperatures. The dropping of acorns to the ground, providing a boost of high-fat, high-carbohydrate nutrition, has also been put forth as a primary factor that sets the rut in motion. Once the rut is underway, bucks will enter the seeking phase, covering more territory and providing hunters with more opportunities for good shots at trophy deer.

Wildlife photographer and writer, Tommy Kirkland, writes in his article, “Deer’s Quality Nutrition: Hard Mast Consumption” (Ohio Valley Outdoors, November – December 2009) that “These high energy foods can really enhance the rut, causing a large number of females to be receptive to rut crazed bucks traversing the land.”

The image of “rut crazed bucks traversing the land” is enough to make any deer hunter eager to be up in the tree stand with bow or gun in hand. Scouting the territory and selecting a place with White Oak acorns on the ground might be the secret to getting a shot at the biggest, wariest deer in the woods.

What is a Mast Crop?

A mast crop is both a primary food for many organisms and fluctuates in availability from year to year. Graph 1 (Picture 2, adapted from “Evolutionary Ecology of Masting Trees”), shows that many tree species follow a coordinated boom or bust cycle where most trees bear an abundance of fruit in some years and almost none in others. The fruit of these trees forms a significant portion of the food for insects, large birds, and mammals.

The Recent History of Acorn Masting in the US

Although most locations in the US are finding a scarcity of acorns for 2008, Sacramento, CA is experiencing the heaviest acorn crop ever recorded there.

Table 1 (Picture 3) shows the locations and intensity of seed production during several recent years of acorn production. Most trees are only able to produce heavy crops one year at a time. Different oaks vary in the timing of boom years:

  • Black oak (Q. velutina) have an approximately two year cycle.
  • White oak (Q. alba), have a three year cycle.
  • Red oak (Q. rubra), have a four year cycle.

The timing of these cycles is not precise. They will sometimes take more or less time than indicated. Although most years have a moderate crop, in a few years most species might produce an abundance of seeds, while in other years very few will and the mast crop will fail to feed the consumers that depend on the seeds.

Since most species of seed predators specialize on a certain type of seed, the population of a maple predator can increase in a year of low acorn output if there had been an abundance of maple seeds that year. The maple predators will not affect acorns if the oaks produce a bumper crop of acorns when the maple predator population is high. The same holds true for acorn predators and maples. Of course, some seed predators (such as the Gray Squirrel, Sciurus carolinensis) are opportunists and not reliant on a single source of food.

Local Effects of a Bumper Acorn Crop

Carl Stamm, a retired wildlife manager, found in Connecticut, after a heavy acorn crop in the fall of 2007, turkeys, Meliagris galloparvus, and white-tailed deer, Oedocilus virginianus, were absent from gardens during the subsequent winter. Little wonder. They stayed in the woods feeding on acorns. Even though acorns were eaten in abundance, many were still on the ground in January. Unless they lived near chestnut oaks during the fall of 2008, southeastern Connecticut gray squirrels were scurrying around scrounging a few nuts here and there for storage.

How to Field Dress a Deer

Technique Fast and Efficient for Deer Hunters

Field dressing skills are as important as shooting prowess in deer hunting. Handling the deer well results in better venison, beautiful trophies, and safe hunters.

How Well Do Deer Hear You?

Hunters Must Have a Knowledge of Deer’s Auditory Range for Sucess.

A successful hunter must have an understanding of a deer’s hearing range. The type of sounds you are making while hunting is more important than the volume.

Essential Gear for Texas Deer Hunting

Guns and Gear Suggestions for Beginning Hunters

A brief look at gear used for hunting deer. If you want to have a successful hunting season, you have to start with the right gear. Pick up the newest Cabela’s, or Bass Pro Shops catalog and you will find that there is more gear available than any normal person would be able to buy. So what gear is needed for having a successful hunting trip? Here are some suggestions:

Quality Texas Deer Management

QDM Practices Yield Deer Hunting Success

Landowners and whitetail deer hunters in Texas become game managers when they follow Quality Deer Management practices.

According to the Quality Deer Management Association, “This level of deer management involves the production of quality deer (bucks, does, and fawns), quality habitat, quality hunting experiences, and, most importantly, quality hunters.”

Feedlots Help the Herd Survive and Grow

Putting down feed or planting a feedlot ensures the survival and improved health of a deer herd. In addition, the placement of a feedlot will help determine the movements of deer during the hunting season. Landowners can improve the likelihood of harvesting trophy bucks on their properties by providing plenty of food during the winter months. Several manufacturers offer specialized forage seed as well as mineral supplements which can be applied over corn or other grain.

Yearling Bucks Disperse to Neighboring Ranges.

Young male deer, born in early summer, may remain with the doe herd until the following summer. At that time, they will usually be rejected by the doe herd. Only small, non-breeding males occasionally remain. Faced with competition from the does and mature males for food and cover, the yearling bucks will leave their home range. The following autumn rut will pit these young, marginal breeders against mature bucks. The youngsters will travel for miles in search of new territory. Once a young buck establishes a new range, he is likely to remain there. As a result, the number and quality of bucks in a given range depends largely upon the degree to which that range is attractive to transient bucks.

Harvesting Does Create Better Hunting

Harvesting the older age group does diminish the competition for food and cover while increasing the competition among bucks for finding a mate. Transient bucks are more likely to establish themselves in the range and respond more readily to rattling and scenting. At one time, it made sense to protect does, since the overall goal was to increase the wild deer population. Presently, the population level allows for shooting does without endangering herd population levels.

Protecting Young Males Results in More Trophy Bucks

When hunters pass on the one or two-year-old bucks that come within a gun or bow range, they increase the likelihood of shooting a deer with a big basket rack in the future. However, shooting some younger bucks that do not show promise of becoming trophy individuals will result in great hunting in future years. Keeping in mind the tendency of young bucks to remain in their new range following initial dispersals, quality deer management practices, such as winter feeding and selective harvesting will grow big bucks while they improve the herd.

Hunting Early Season Whitetails

Proper Scouting and Stand Location Prior to the Season are Key

Early season hunting can be highly productive with proper scouting and stand placement. Knowing where and when to place stands is critical.

Deer Hunting from a Tree Stand

Tips for Safe Deer Hunting

Deer hunters who plan to hunt from tree stands should consider safety issues before climbing.

Hunting Deer by Moon Phases

Phases of the Moon and Deer Movement

Some hunters swear by it, while others dismiss it. Does the moon dictate deer behavior?

How Scent Affects Deer Hunting

What Can Deer Smell?

Deer have an excellent sense of smell, so it pays for hunters to think like deer when it comes to scent.

Suburban Deer Hunting in Texas

Deer Management in Populated Texas Areas

The deer population in built-up areas is increasing. Is hunting the answer to controlling the animals?