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It is a common challenge. You go somewhere for a fall hunt and you don’t have days to do your scouting. So, what do you do. I suggest you get your hands around speed scouting and make the most of your hunt. Here are the basics.
First, pull up maps on Google earth and look over the countryside for bottlenecks and likely travel corridors. Second, go to mytopo.com and look at a topo of the area you’re going to hunt. This will give you the lay of the land. Look for ridge tops, benches and saddles. These three areas are likely locations for oak trees and we all know that whitetails love acorns.
Once on location take in the big picture. Look at the long view of the area where you’ll be hunting. Speed scouting involves a strategy to locate groves or even single mature oak trees. Why oaks? These areas mark whitetail hot spots.
Once the leaves begin to turn colors in the fall you can notice a pattern that the same species of trees always follow. In the mid-west and northeast yellow trees are usually tulip poplars, hickory, ash or maple. The pale tan leaves are found on beech trees. Beech trees hold their thin papery leaves well into the winter. The above yellow and tan leafed trees all have something in common. They do nothing for whitetails.
The trees you need to look for are oaks and they have two great characteristics in the fall. First, they hold their leaves better than most all of the other trees. This means they are especially apparent in the canopy in November. Second, they have a unique rusty red color. Learn this color and look for oaks with your eyes at long distances.
Once you hike to the vicinity of the oaks start looking at the ground. The fallen leaves tell the rest of the story. Oak leaves are leathery and persistent. If you find oak leaves that are pointed at the lobes, you have found red oaks. It is a little confusing but both Scarlet and Black oaks are also members of the Red oak family. Deer eat tons of red oak acorns. Red oaks have a common visual denominator that you can rely on…the lobes on the leaves are pointy.
In some parts of the eastern hardwood forest Red oak leaves make up as much as 30% of the fall whitetail diet and up to 50% of their diet consist of acorns. Bears also chow down on red oak acorns. These acorns are the survival ticket for bears too. Bears often eat them because they have as much as 25% fat.
This will help you understand how preferred they are. If you ordered a Big Mac, a quarter pounder with cheese and a small fries, you’d be getting about the same amount of calories as eating just one pound of red oak acorns, about 1400 calories. Now you see why deer and bear target Red oaks and you should too.
Red oaks drop acorns every other year. You can examine some lower branches and you may notice that there are an abundance of tiny acorns growing tightly on the thin branches. This is next year’s acorn crop. These trees employ an all or none strategy with acorn production. Because they drop every two years the entire tree is either dropping this year or not. Look at the ground for acorns and caps. A mature tree will drop thousands so it won’t be tricky to tell if this is the year. . Setting up under a big red oak that is not dropping acorns this year is a bad idea.
In addition, you need to know that red oak acorns are high in tannic acid. Although deer eat tons of them, they may not be high on the preference list if some sweeter acorns are available. Biologists have discovered that the dropped red oak acorns actually become sweeter with time.
Here is what happens. The tannic acid is actually leached out of the acorns by rain and melting snow. This means that deer may prefer them more after they have been down for a while. The percentage of tannin in white oaks acorns is around 2%, compared the bitter Red oak’s 10%.
The other family members are the white oaks. These trees also can be identified by the red rusty leaves but these leaves look different. The most common white oak , Quercus alba, has small rounded lobed leathery leaves. Learn this leaf. When scouting, look for these in the leaf litter.
This class of tree includes Chestnut oak, Chinquapin oak and Post oak. The leaves on these White oaks differ from the typical White oak but they are unique and easily learned. White acorns are dropped yearly and are much sweeter than the Red oak acorns. The acorn size varies as well but White is generally sweeter than Red oaks and preferred by deer if a buffet exists on the mountain.
The final thing to look for is fresh droppings and broken caps. The fresh droppings are a sure sign that this grove of oaks are being targeted now. Now you know the basics of speed scouting. Check the maps, and look at the canopy. Speed target the oaks and win. And when you’re scouting be sure to employ scent suppression like the pro’s do at www.atsko.com
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