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The Dansville Online
  • With too much food in the woods, deer don't have to travel

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  • One of the reasons deer hunters in the Northeast are not seeing as many deer as expected is because of the epic bumper crop of mast in the woods. It has been a number of years since the apple trees and oaks have produced so much wild food for the wild critters.
    And it stands to reason that whitetails will not move as much when the ground under their feet is covered with acorns, apples, crab apples, hawthorns and buckthorn berries, to name a few.
    Of course there are other speculations too: such as the Full Moon phase (less crepuscular movement.) The rut cycle, or whitetail breeding timetable shows whitetails just coming out of their low-ebb in movement between the two major breeding peaks.
    But if I had to pick one cause for the paucity of movement, it would be the abundance of food in the woods for the whitetails.
    Bumper crop wild apple years usually occur about once every three or four years, but this year is one of those biblical years that will break wild apple tree limbs with weight of the fruit.
    It is only on these rare years that huge crops of acorns litter the ground with their caps. Stretches of oaks teem with wildlife, seeking the carbohydrates and fat in the bitter, tannin-saturated nuts.
    Usually, beechnuts hit in the off years ... the little brown triangle and it’s golden yellow-brown, curly husk, carpet the falling leaves under certain good producers every few years. And when the whole beech-stand produces, deer and turkey can not only be found there during the hunting season, but even through the winter and spring. The leaves are turned constantly for their little nuggets of energy.
    But when it’s a bumper crop wild apple year, as it was 10 years ago in 2003 and now as 2013 appears to be, whitetail behavior occurs like clockwork. The whitetails have their preferred food sources and do not need to travel over a couple ridges to find a big food source. And hunters, therefore, do not see as much deer movement.
    Researchers are not sure exactly why certain years are bumper crop mast years and others are not. Weather does have an effect, and the trees do rest. But there is no predictable model yet for accurately predicting when the next bumper mast crop will hit. Oak trees have been studied for hundreds of years in Europe and generations of acorn prognosticators still scratch their heads.
    When preseason spot-lighters say things like, "We drove around for two hours last night and didn’t hardly see a deer!" Well, the obvious answer is, the deer are in the woods eating apples and acorns and are not out in the middle of the field.
    Page 2 of 2 - Whitetails positively love apples and when watching one eat, it’s evident. You can almost read the expression in their eyes, the way they roll their heads back and open their mouths. They do enjoy apples.
    But it seems that they will walk right through apples to get to acorns.
    And don’t forget to take a few apples up into your deer stand for a snack. Munching them is a great way to cover residual and ambient human scent too.
    One of the side pleasures of being in the upland woods in the fall is sampling all the wild apples. There are uncountable numbers of varieties and crosses, some tasting better than others. And whitetails prefer certain trees too.
    Some trees with low-hanging fruit and with the ground just about covered, are walked past in favor of another particular tree. And whitetails don’t necessarily prefer red, perfect apples over the spotted, greenish kind with blotches. The last apple in a grocery store might be the first one chosen by a deer.
    After dropping their velvet (which usually occurs between Labor Day and the middle of September for most whitetail bucks in the Northeast and the Midwest), bucks begin to break up their bachelor groups by sparring and pushing each other around. This establishes their pecking order and social rank. But they keep constant tabs on each other through rubs, scrapes and licking branches. And they know the hot spots where the apples and acorns are thickest. And there the does congregate.
    I actually prefer hunting around apple trees and oaks when the acorns litter the forest floor in the late afternoon, getting up in the stand before the deer arrive. (In the morning when you go in you often spook them.)
    Also, it’s good to place stands so that no matter the direction of the prevailing wind or thermal, a deer hunter is downwind of the suspected deer movement to the apples or acorns. Also, be sure to check out my Facebook page, "Whitetail Deer Hunting."
    Oak Duke writes a weekly column appearing Sunday on the Outdoors page.
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