In Pennsylvania, wild foods look promising for whitetails
There are many deer hunters who wait until their chosen season to hunt whitetails is extremely close before they begin to search for possible food sources that deer may visit during the hunting season. There are also many who do not wait, and are already walking woods, edges and even fields, in their quest to find the best destination to hunt deer near a stable source of nourishment. Add me to the latter group.
In truth, it hasn’t always been that way for me. Youth, work, the raising of sports-minded children by a sports-minded dad, and just plain busy times, kept me from even considering where deer may be feeding, let alone the food they were eating.
But as I’ve aged, free time has increased considerably, as has the need to keep working at some form of a healthy walk. Hence, if I’m going to be walking, I may as well be doing it where wildlife calls home, attempting to educate myself as a hunter — learning how the wildlife I seek is feeding, where they’re doing it and what they’re feeding on.
I try to keep trudging through the woods to a minimum, especially smaller woodlots, many of which I often hunt. I’m more of an edge walker, knowing that the trees, forbs, fruits and brambles that grow along those edges, are not any different from those that grow within the main woods.
A recent stroll assured me that deer foods — at least locally — are abundant this year. The above photo shows the fruit of a stand of beechnut trees I passed, which are now loaded with beechnuts. In fact, I cannot remember ever seeing that many of these prickly shelled nuts hanging.
I passed an edge-growing lone white oak that had already dropped some coupled bunches of its acorns, which experts tell us are the favorite acorn of deer. They will be eaten soon. A couple of red oaks a few yards away held plenty of big green acorns, which will ripen and drop later.
Plenty of trees I passed held strings of greenbriar and ivy vines looping around their trunks, a much desired food for deer. A small grouping of short sugar maple trees I saw are full of leaves, which when they turn red, will experience a sugar content surge, and bring the deer to contently pluck, chew and swallow the sweet foliage.
Raspberries are still on some plants, and wild grapes are hanging high, beyond the reach of the deer, which have probably consumed the low-hanging fruits. Birds will enjoy those sweet delights that are now beyond earth-bound animals. The most nutritious food deer can find — forbs — which are not grasses but wide-leafed plants like wildflowers and such, are scattered just about everywhere.
A short slow walk, with eyes open and searching, has given me a promise that deer are now fattening, and that plenty of winter nourishment will be easily found. Of course, at this point in my life, when I’m keenly aware I’m not the hunter I once was, I can realize just as much satisfaction in knowing that nature takes care of her wild creatures with abundant foods, compared to knowing where those living wild lives will eat.