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.