Bow hunting seasons have opened in most parts of the country and deer season has finally arrive. After the long off-season hunters are eager to get in the stand to start another year. As hunters head to the woods throughout the middle of September and through all of October the question of where to hang their tree stands always gets asked. During this time of the year bucks are changing their home ranges and breaking up bachelor groups as they become hard antlered. Also, during this time of the year food sources are changing. The soybeans that were once green and palatable are now drying out and the deer won’t be seen munching on soybeans again until the snow begins to fly. During this time of year one food source becomes the whitetails go to for quality nutrition and palatability. Some even argue that it may be the whitetails most preferred source out of everything that is available to them across North America. So what is it? Oaks, more specifically, the acorns that they produce.
The More You Know
One of your best bets for success when late September and early October come around is to find the nearest white oak tree and set a stand. But white oaks are not the only oaks that deer will consume and there is more to oak trees than many hunters know. As a hunter, the more you know about the species you are hunting the more success you will have. Because oak trees are super important to whitetails during the early season, it is important that we as hunters know a little about oak trees and why whitetails use them.
There are dozens of oak species in North America. All oak trees fall into two categories. They are either red oaks (sometimes called black oaks) or white oaks. Some of the most common species that fall into the white oak category are of course white oaks, post oaks, and bur oaks. Some of the most common species in the red oak category are the northern and southern red oaks, and pin oaks. Oaks are usually slower growing trees that become quite tall. White oak acorns take only 1 year to develop on the tree and red oak acorns take 2 years to develop and won’t germinate until spring, where white oak acorns germinate in the fall. Red oaks must go through a process called stratification before they can germinate. This is the process of breaking down the seed coat. No one knows for sure why acorn production varies from year to year. It most likely has to do with weather and nutrient availability.
When it comes to identifying oaks, it can be a little difficult until you know what to look for. White oaks usually have larger leaves, about the size of your hand. Red oak leaves tend to have more of a paddle shape to them. Another good way to tell red and white oaks apart is by their bark. As you could probably guess white oaks have bark that appears white. Red oak bark will cling tightly to the tree and will be in small pieces on the tree. There is also a slight difference in the size of the acorns produced by each tree. White oak acorns tend to be larger than red oak acorns. Narrowing oaks down to specific species can be more difficult. It just takes time and research to become more familiar with what each species looks like.
Planting Oaks On Your Property
Certain species of oaks are very palatable to deer and they also provide a good source of carbohydrates and fats. Often times they provide food when other food sources are gone or haven’t become palatable yet. Because of this, planting oaks on your property is a great way to not only improve the habitat and deer herd on your land, but to help produce larger bucks.
If you are thinking about planting oaks on your property one great and relatively inexpensive way to do so, is to collect acorns and grow seedlings directly from them. Oaks can sometimes have a hard time regenerating in forests by themselves. Deer brows for the acorns throughout the year because acorns are such a preferred food source. This leaves little to no available acorns available to sprout and grow into trees. For the acorns that do escape the hungry deer, in the shade of the forest they spend more time producing roots than they do growing stems. What stems are produced get continually browsed by deer. Small saplings may sit for years and get browsed. This is why collecting and planting corns yourself can be a great way to ensure new oak trees get the chance to reach their full potential.
It is best to get your acorns when they are actively falling. This ensures that you are obtaining the best acorns possible for planting. Look for the acorns that are fat and green. Also check to make sure that the cap is easily removed. Like any other seed take precautions to make sure that the acorns are not left in the sun to heat up and dry out. Red oak should not be planted until March or April. As with any tree it is important to protect the seedlings from small animals and deer. By using plastic tree tubes you will make sure your seedling is able to grow like it should.
When oak seedling are doing well, they can grow 1-2 feet per year. If you are planting oak purely for wildlife benefit it is recommended that you plant them about 25 feet apart. If you have timber harvest in mind, you will want to plant them closer together.
How To Hunt Near Oaks
As mentioned earlier, hunting near oak trees can be a great way to tag a buck early in the season. Patterning deer in areas that have a sparse population of oak trees can be easy. Just find the trees that are producing and you are good to go. But patterning deer in areas with lots of oaks trees or during a year with a bumper crop of acorns can be difficult. Deer can bed and eat with in just a few yards. This means they don’t have to be up on their feet moving. The less a buck is on his feet moving around the harder it gets for us to put our tag on him. In some cases hunting over food plots can ineffective as well because with such a large amount of acorns available to the deer, they don’t have to risk exposing themselves in the wide open food plots.
If you are looking to hunt near oak trees this season, you need to be looking for white oaks. White oaks typically drop earlier than red oaks do and they are more palatable than red oak are. This is because red oaks have higher levels of tannins. These tannins are not palatable to deer. It is best to locate stands of oak trees during the off-season. This way you are not disturbing deer right before the season starts or during the season. Next, come back in August and verify acorn production and see which trees are going to produce large amounts of acorns. This will help you verify where you want to hang your stand. Finally, you have to check when the acorns begin to fall. This means a trip to the woods right before deer season starts. This means you have to be extra careful and take all scent control precautions as if you were hunting. Once you know what trees are producing large amounts of acorns and that the acorns are falling it is time to hang a stand. Remember to take into consideration wind direction and where you believe the deer will be coming from. Hang your tree stand and get ready for the action.