One of my fondest memories of my dad is going into the hardwood forest above Pennsylvania’s Youghiogheny River and capturing wild trees to bring home and plant in our spacious yard. He’d carry the shovel and burlap and I’d carry the five gallon buckets. We dug up, carried home and planted over a dozen thumb-sized trees the year we moved in. Today those trees are three feet across and 70 feet tall. Many of them were oaks.
One thing he taught me was the difference between red and white oak. The leaves were the giveaway. Since then I have used that oak knowledge to ambush more than one whitetail. You see, acorns are the bread and butter of whitetails. Understand oaks and you can focus in on whitetails. Learning to ID the trees is the easy part. Being able to decode which tree to set up next to is the magic.
Many animals in the hardwood forest depend on acorns to get them through the winter. Whitetail deer, wild turkeys, black bears and squirrels are the most common foragers but there are more. Deer focus on them because of the high carbohydrate content available. Deer can get the 4% protein that acorns offer in many ways but the carb fest is the most important draw.
When scouting an oak grove you have to know what to look for, because many animals may congregate there. Turkeys have a characteristic footprint they leave when foraging…they scratch. It almost looks like a dance. They step forward and then scratch backwards about 12-18 inches. For a turkey looking for acorns under newly fallen leaves, this strategy works in spades. They often find not only acorns but grubs and insects as well.
Squirrels just rough up the duff and sort of ruffle the leaves. However, deer nose into the leaves and leave a nose hole. It looks somewhat like a subtle cup depression in the leaves.
Boring insects and weevils also love the high carb acorns and many of the acorns will have a single tiny hole bored into the nut. Deer can tell these violated acorns and will sniff out and eat the healthy nuts.
If you’re fortunate to have a young shadow trailing you in the woods consider planting a few oak trees with him or her when young. Those trees will give you a reference point of time. You can also share your oak knowledge with them while on your knees filling in the soil around the roots. You’ll be amazed how memorable planting a tree is. Then show them the rest of the story. Planting oaks makes them a conservationist. Understanding what the sign looks like when oaks begin to feed wildlife will make the whitetail woods more interesting.
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