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Use Your Ears! Find Mast Crops By Listening For Birds And Squirrels

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September 19, 2013

Use Your Ears! Find Mast Crops By Listening For Birds And Squirrels

By Scott Bestul

I just returned from a four-day bow hunt in the big woods of northern Wisconsin, where I learned a killer scouting tip from my good friend and veteran bowhunter Tom VanDoorn. As most big woods hunters know, locating prime mast crops are a huge part of figuring out the whitetail puzzle, and we covered some serious miles trying to find those magic trees that are dropping nuts. At one point, standing atop a long ridge covered with red oaks, Tom motioned for me to stop. After a quiet minute or two, he shook his head and said “I don’t like what I’m hearing.”

Actually, what bothered Tom was what he wasn’t hearing; the sounds of blue jays, squirrels and chipmunks that are just as fond of acorns as any whitetail. And Tom’s suspicions were confirmed when we walked the length of the ridge—a top producer in a good acorn year—and found almost no mast crop. Later, walking a secluded creek bottom nearly a mile from the nearest road, we did the stop-and-listen trick and were greeted by the sounds of a pair of raucous blue jays. Tom felt the pair was calling from a line of white oaks he knew about, and when we walked to that remote stand…Bingo! A nice crop of acorns on the ground and plenty of fresh deer (and bear) sign indicating that we’d found a good setup.

This listening technique proved to be spot-on for the entire four-day hunt. If we listened near an oak stand and heard no activity (birds and squirrels are only indicator; on a calm day we could hear the acorns fall, too), there simply was no significant mast crop. But find a bunch of oaks dropping nuts and there was inevitably some feeding din, often a ruckus that could be heard from some distance.

We’ve talked about “speed scouting” quite a bit in this space over the years, and this quick-visit-to-a-potential-hotspot is a technique that I try to improve on each season. Thanks to my friend Tom, I’ve now got another tool to add to my speed-scouting arsenal; identifying potentially good food sources by simply listening. While this technique may not work as neatly for other food sources, it’s a spot-on tactic for oak (and other hard-mast crops) that can save a lot of time and boot leather. Now, if I hit the edge of a big oak patch and I’m not hearing the necessary feeding chuckles, I’m off to find another spot where I will.

Comments (9)

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from jay wrote 29 weeks 4 days ago

any decent squirrel hunter can let you know the same thing.

+2 Good Comment? | | Report
from Longrifle wrote 29 weeks 4 days ago

Always a good idea to listen to what the woods are telling you.

Additional lesson: Red oak acorns taste bad, white oak acorns taste much better. Beech nuts taste better still!

+2 Good Comment? | | Report
from themadflyfisher wrote 29 weeks 4 days ago

That reminds me of my friend's dad telling me when I was young that sitting still for ten minutes can tell you more about the woods than walking around for 20.(or maybe he was just trying to get me to sit down and be quiet for ten minutes) Anyway it taught me a lot about hunting. More often all we need to do is slow down and focus more on what's happening around us and we will start to pick up the signs of what is happening around us.

+1 Good Comment? | | Report
from MattM37 wrote 29 weeks 4 days ago

A few times, I've made a good guess as to where a grouse might be by listening and watching for flocks of cedar waxwings, which go nuts in the early fall gobbling up late berries. Now that I think of it, I've also watched for cedar waxwings from bridges when I drive over a trout stream in May and June, since they're always around when something is hatching.

+1 Good Comment? | | Report
from Tigerbeetle wrote 29 weeks 1 day ago

Bluejays are the the tell-tails of the woods. Follow them anytime you are hunting.

0 Good Comment? | | Report
from deadeyedick wrote 28 weeks 6 days ago

anyone that goes out and wanders around in the woods and is not in tune with what's going on around him or her is no hunter in my book. Deer eat a great variety of foods, if you don't know on what and where they are feeding your odds of bringing home the venison goes down quite a bit. Reading the woods is a talent learned, the deer know where everything is and so should the hunter. Like the article said, listening to the squrriels and birds is one of the ways to locate food sources, but there are many more and the hunter needs to know them all.

0 Good Comment? | | Report
from deadeyedick wrote 28 weeks 6 days ago

anyone that goes out and wanders around in the woods and is not in tune with what's going on around him or her is no hunter in my book. Deer eat a great variety of foods, if you don't know on what and where they are feeding your odds of bringing home the venison goes down quite a bit. Reading the woods is a talent learned, the deer know where everything is and so should the hunter. Like the article said, listening to the squrriels and birds is one of the ways to locate food sources, but there are many more and the hunter needs to know them all.

0 Good Comment? | | Report
from deadeyedick wrote 28 weeks 6 days ago

SO SORRY ABOUT THE DOUBLE POST .... DEADEYE

0 Good Comment? | | Report
from skyhunter44 wrote 28 weeks 3 days ago

yep, finding a white oak dropping can often pay off for the hunter.

0 Good Comment? | | Report

Post a Comment

from jay wrote 29 weeks 4 days ago

any decent squirrel hunter can let you know the same thing.

+2 Good Comment? | | Report
from Longrifle wrote 29 weeks 4 days ago

Always a good idea to listen to what the woods are telling you.

Additional lesson: Red oak acorns taste bad, white oak acorns taste much better. Beech nuts taste better still!

+2 Good Comment? | | Report
from themadflyfisher wrote 29 weeks 4 days ago

That reminds me of my friend's dad telling me when I was young that sitting still for ten minutes can tell you more about the woods than walking around for 20.(or maybe he was just trying to get me to sit down and be quiet for ten minutes) Anyway it taught me a lot about hunting. More often all we need to do is slow down and focus more on what's happening around us and we will start to pick up the signs of what is happening around us.

+1 Good Comment? | | Report
from MattM37 wrote 29 weeks 4 days ago

A few times, I've made a good guess as to where a grouse might be by listening and watching for flocks of cedar waxwings, which go nuts in the early fall gobbling up late berries. Now that I think of it, I've also watched for cedar waxwings from bridges when I drive over a trout stream in May and June, since they're always around when something is hatching.

+1 Good Comment? | | Report
from Tigerbeetle wrote 29 weeks 1 day ago

Bluejays are the the tell-tails of the woods. Follow them anytime you are hunting.

0 Good Comment? | | Report
from deadeyedick wrote 28 weeks 6 days ago

anyone that goes out and wanders around in the woods and is not in tune with what's going on around him or her is no hunter in my book. Deer eat a great variety of foods, if you don't know on what and where they are feeding your odds of bringing home the venison goes down quite a bit. Reading the woods is a talent learned, the deer know where everything is and so should the hunter. Like the article said, listening to the squrriels and birds is one of the ways to locate food sources, but there are many more and the hunter needs to know them all.

0 Good Comment? | | Report
from deadeyedick wrote 28 weeks 6 days ago

anyone that goes out and wanders around in the woods and is not in tune with what's going on around him or her is no hunter in my book. Deer eat a great variety of foods, if you don't know on what and where they are feeding your odds of bringing home the venison goes down quite a bit. Reading the woods is a talent learned, the deer know where everything is and so should the hunter. Like the article said, listening to the squrriels and birds is one of the ways to locate food sources, but there are many more and the hunter needs to know them all.

0 Good Comment? | | Report
from deadeyedick wrote 28 weeks 6 days ago

SO SORRY ABOUT THE DOUBLE POST .... DEADEYE

0 Good Comment? | | Report
from skyhunter44 wrote 28 weeks 3 days ago

yep, finding a white oak dropping can often pay off for the hunter.

0 Good Comment? | | Report

Post a Comment

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