HUNTING GUIDE: Deer food sources in lean years

Posted: November 14, 2013

Special to The Winchester Star

If you have not been scouting for deer yet, you’re in for a huge surprise.

In our Frederick, Warren and Clarke area, we have almost a complete failure of hard mast: including almost all species of oaks — red, black, post, and white.


A few acorns may be found on the edges of fields, where a slight breeze could have prevented the late frost from killing early blooms. But no blooms means no nuts.


If you do find a few acorns in an area, hunt it quickly because it will soon attract every critter which craves nuts of any kind and these nuts will disappear quicker than hot cakes at a logger’s convention.


We did, however, have a fair crop of hickory nuts, dogwood berries and some other soft mast. These food sources will not last long though, nor will they supply our game with enough nourishment to maintain prime body weigh and see them through a long, rough winter.


One of the reasons our game numbers were up this fall was the huge abundance of hard mast last year. Does and hen turkeys came out of a mild winter in terrific shape and were able to reproduce at a higher than average rate.


Nearly every doe I’ve seen this fall has had twins or triples, not often observed. Wild turkeys had record numbers of poults, and we appear to have peaked in production for most other game species.


If you have driven much in the last few weeks, you have probably noticed the abnormal numbers of squirrels on the byways. Biologists tell us this is because of the search for a sustainable quantity of nuts.


After the hickories are gone, food is almost non-existent for bushy tails. With most of our food stuffs at a bare minimum, most of our game animals will have a tough time this winter.


I have spent a good amount of time bow hunting for deer this fall. From my tree stand I have observed deer already starting to browse, and not just on an agricultural crops and grasses. Osage oranges are already being eaten by bucks and does, and the leaves of those trees are being massively devoured. Another food being eaten is honey locust pods.



This leads to the obvious question of what will whitetails eat if we have a harsh winter?


Agricultural crops such as corn, soy beans, and wheat will be used for several weeks. One advantage we will have this winter is that most of our corn fields will be picked this year as opposed to being chopped. Chopped fields leave very little sustenance for wildlife.

The reason so many game species have been out in the open foraging in late October and early November is because food is so scarce in the woodlands. Base your hunting on the available food sources and your success will reflect your choice.