The best part of being a rut reporter is making contacts in different areas of the country and listening to their insights on deer activity as the season progresses. You learn a lot by considering what’s outside your own back yard.
Early in the season I always ask my contacts about acorns. Although some areas of this region have abundant agriculture, a huge portion of my reporting zone is made up of rolling hills and mountains blanketed in dark timber. In much of eastern Kentucky, West Virginia, and North Carolina, acorns are the live-and-die food source for area deer herds. A bumper crop makes for a healthy herd, but it’s notoriously difficult to hunt. A spotty crop puts deer on their feet in search of whatever acorns they can find.
For several years, one of my best contacts has been West Virginia deer biologist Chris Ryan. The Mountain State conducts a mast crop survey each fall, and the results of this year’s survey closely match the spotty crop I’m seeing in western Kentucky.
“We haven’t had a mast failure, but the acorn crop is extremely spotty,” Ryan says. “We have an abundance of hickory and beech nuts, but few acorns.”
That spotty crop, though, can make things much easier for a bowhunter. “It seems the best acorn crops, especially the big chestnut oaks, are in the high-elevation areas,” Ryan continues. “It’s not like there are no acorns out there at all; a few individual trees are dropping plenty of them, and if you can find one of those, you’ve found a spot where you’re virtually guaranteed to see deer if you’re bowhunting.”
Finding a good tree simply takes old-fashioned leg-work. You’re not necessarily searching for an abundance of acorns on the ground. That can mean acorns that are being ignored because they’re the wrong oak species (deer prefer white oaks) or they have empty hulls. Instead, search for a tree that is surrounded by deer sign such as turned-over leaves, tracks, and droppings. If there are a few acorns on the ground, that’s perfect. But deer won’t let them sit there long. Be stealthy while you’re scouting, as deer will often bed within sight of a productive oak.
West Virginia is a sleeper state for deer hunting in my opinion. Some counties are open only to archery hunting, and there is a relative abundance of public land. The rugged terrain demands dedication, but Ryan says areas of his state boast some of the densest populations of Pope-and-Young-class bucks in the country.