Bestul: Acorns Are a Game-Changer

Rut Reporter Scott Bestul is a Field & Stream's Whitetails columnist and writes for the website's Whitetail365 blog. The Minnesotan has taken 13 Pope & Young-class whitetails and has hunted, guided for, and studied deer in the north-central region all his life. States covered: IA, IL, IN, MI, MN, MO, WI.

With our archery season opening in a few days, I've been hopping around to different hunting spots, doing a little speed scouting. When I stumbled on to the field-edge pin oak pictured below, I knew some of my best-laid early season plans for this farm (which had focused heavily on a nearby alfalfa field) had already gone astray.

Acorns can affect deer movement like few other food sources. I don't care if you've spent days nailing down a buck's favorite forbs, hours planting food plots, or 10 minutes dumping a pail of bait…Acorns will turn deer into nut-junkies almost overnight. Show me a white oak dropping acorns in a buck's core area, and I'll show you a deer that can turn his nose up at most any other food source for a week or more.

So what's an early September mast-drop have to do with the rest of hunting season? Well, that depends. If a tree like this pin oak is one of the only nut-bearing trees for the year, chances are deer will have those acorns cleaned up in a week or two. Then, acorns will be a non-issue. But in my experience, if I find one tree raining mast, most of the prime-condition oaks in the immediate area will be doing the same. In a really good nut year in a region well-populated by oaks, acorns will provide deer food throughout the fall and into winter…and that scenario can change not only where deer spend most of their time, but how they behave. In a good acorn year I know I'm going to be doing little hunting on fringes and field edges, and far more deep in the timber. Deer are always looking for excuses to not expose themselves in field edges, and acorns are their perfect alibi.

I've heard mixed reports on the acorn crop in other states. In neighboring Wisconsin the crop appears good (surprising after last year's bonanza); in areas of Illinois and Indiana--where rainfall has been nonexistent--I've heard the mast crop is largely a bust. Naturally, predicting where and when acorns will be booming is pretty difficult, so I'd advise anyone hunting an oak-rich area to get out there and gauge the acorn crop now.