Whitetail Hunting photo

by Gerald Almy

You know about oaks. Deer love white oak acorns, which drop in early fall, best. Red and black oak acorns are larger and have more consistent crops from year to year. But these are just the basics. In fact, deer relish acorns from dozens of oak species. Here are six others you should know about:

#1 – Bear Oak
2- to 5-inch leaves; 3⁄8- to 5⁄8-inch acorns
Also called scrub oaks, these trees grow just 20 feet tall, sprouting after fires or heavy timbering, often on dry sandy soils and rocky ridges. The small nuts were long thought to be so bitter only bears would eat them. Don’t believe it. Deer do too.
Acorn Drop: Sept. through Dec.

2 – Nuttall Oak**

4- to 7-inch leaves; 1-inch acorns
The Nuttall has a big striped acorn and produces nuts at a very young age–sometimes in its sixth year. It grows best in moist soils with lots of sunlight and can reach 100 feet tall. Expect a good crop every two to three years.
Acorn Drop: Sept. through Dec.

#3 – Chinkapin Oak
4- to 7-inch leaves; 1⁄2- to 1-inch acorns
These oaks yield an abundance of smallish acorns that deer relish. Find them along dry bluffs and limestone uplands. They can’t tolerate acidic soils but are drought-hardy.
Acorn Drop: Sept. and Oct.

#4 – Pin Oak
3- to 6-inch leaves; 1⁄2-inch nuts
I planted several of these oaks around my house, and a wide, 3-year-old 8-pointer is glad I did. He feeds on the small nuts before the nearby white and red oaks start to drop. Pin oaks do well in wet, heavy soil and bottomland habitat, yielding a heavy crop every two to three years.
Acorn Drop: Aug. into Oct.

#5 – Burr Oak
6- to 12-inch leaves; 11⁄2-inch acorns
Producing mast every two to three years starting at 35 years, this oak can reach 100 feet tall. It drops the largest acorns of all. Burr oaks are commonly found with red maple, black ash, and sycamore.
Acorn Drop: Sept. and Oct.

#6 – Chestnut Oak
4- to 7-inch leaves; 1- to 11⁄4-inch acorns
Life is short–unless you’re a chestnut oak, which can live 400 years. Thriving in well-drained lowlands, these trees yield a good crop of large acorns every two to three years. The bark is coarsely furrowed on older trees.
Acorn Drop: Sept. and Oct.

Follow this four-step plan to stay on top of the crop:

1 – See what you have. Take a tree identification book and hit the woods. Find out what oaks you have and take notes on exactly where various kinds are located on your land. State foresters will often help for free.

2 – Monitor the nut crops. Use binoculars to check out which oaks have the heaviest crops before they fall. Keep scouting to see which drop first.

3 – Get downwind. Set up with the breeze in your favor in spots where you find fresh shell fragments and scuffed-up leaves.

4 – Stay mobile. The first nuts to fall get eaten quickly. Keep monitoring various oak species and move to a new location when the deer clean up the crop where you’ve been hunting.

By learning which oaks you have and when they drop their acorns, you’ll stay a step ahead of the game–and other hunters.