To See Deer, Get Off the Fields and into the Oaks

I spent a big part of this past summer the same way I spend big parts of every summer: working on food plots. On TV, food plot work usually means shiny new tractors and ATVs breaking dirt under clear skies with soothing music playing in the background. Hunting buddies are smiling, laughing, back-slapping, and wearing clean camo shirts. Time-lapse footage shows plants leaping from the soil.

In the real world, there's an ever-present mixture of dirt, sweat, diesel fuel, and ball-bearing grease smeared on all exposed surfaces, hands and face included. There are skinned knuckles and overhanging limbs that conceal massive wasp nests. There are re-plantings, flat tires, broken tractors, and cuss words. I can't call food-plotting fun and keep a straight face, but a lush-green field in the fall, full of deer tracks, is certainly a satisfying sight. That's why I keep after it.

Despite my best efforts, of course, Mother Nature plays the biggest role in food plot success, not only in getting them to grow, but in getting deer to eat them. Case in point: three sits over my best clover plots on cool September afternoons this past weekend produced no deer sightings. None. Though it's usually later in the fall (October lull, anyone?), I see such a reduction in movement on the fields almost every year. The reason? Acorns.

I wouldn't call this season's mast crop a bumper crop, but it's pretty good, especially considering many hunters in this area had doubts about a crop of any sort this season, given the drought. But white oaks, black oaks (and hickory and beech nuts) are falling by the thousands right now in my area--and it's happened quite suddenly, just within the past few days. The good news is the nut-bearing trees seem to be scattered. I'm finding lone trees on big oak ridges that are dropping. That's an ideal ambush situation for a bowhunter.

But as mentioned, they're falling earlier than usual this year. We had high winds late last week and I'm sure that put a lot of acorns on the ground. But I'm also a squirrel hunter, and interestingly enough, squirrels began cutting on hickory nuts earlier than normal this year, too.

Regardless of the cause, the proof is on the ground; I broke open the hulls on several acorns that I found over the weekend, and the fruit inside them is full.

I have a bad habit of clinging to memories when it comes to deer hunting. Just last week, I wrote about the high deer activity around bean fields. I can say with confidence that activity has since dwindled. Deer will continue to use bean fields to some degree so long as green plants remain, but acorns will play an increasingly important role as the season progresses.