As a bowhunter, I’m always on the lookout for food sources that are likely to be utilized by deer during the open season. There are a few producing apple trees on the farms I hunt, but for some reason, the trees seem to be on the decline. Apple trees that drooped with fruit in years past hardly bear fruit anymore. Last year just about every wild apple tree I knew of had lost its leaves by the middle of October. It appeared a blight of some sort caused the premature leaf fall. As a result, some of my best hunting spots were as cold as a December ice storm. Even though deer love feeding on wild apples they of course don’t feed on them exclusively.
This is where the oak trees and the acorns they produce come into play big time. There are more than 90 species of oak trees in North America but it the white and red oaks that are the most important to deer hunters.
White oak trees can produce acorns every year and their acorns are larger and better tasting to deer than those of red oaks. However, factors such as weather and insect infestation can drastically limit the number of acorns a tree can produce in any given year. As an added bonus for deer, turkeys, and other forest creatures, acorns from white oak trees are the first to drop in the fall, and with a bountiful crop on the ground, deer will abandon all other food sources to feed on them.
Red oaks on the other hand produce a crop every two years but the acorns they produce are smaller and more bitter than those of white oak trees. Deer will eat them, but they don’t relish them as much. On the plus side, red oak trees drop their mast later in the season and so remain a viable food source long after the white oak acorns are gone.
As important as acorns are to deer and hunters, I’m surprised by the number of people I know who don’t know or can’t tell the difference between a red and white oak. The easiest way I’ve found is to look at the leaves. White oak leaves are larger, about six to nine inches long and have smooth, rounded lobes. They grow alternately on the tree branch. The leaves of the red oak are about four to nine inches long and have bristle tipped lobes.
Years ago, on the property I hunt, my friend the landowner, sold off most of the white oak trees to pay for college tuition. As a result, almost all the oak trees remaining on the property are red oaks.
Last year was a good year for red oak acorn production and deer utilized them but, without the enthusiasm they do for white oak acorns. This year promises to be poorer in terms of acorn production and that has made me turn to look for other food sources and so far, the edges of the cut corn fields in our area look promising.