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Where Did The Deer Go?

By Rob Stenger – WTW Team & Staff Member

The past few days I noticed that the acorns are starting to drop once again. So this action typically sends my mind into over drive as I start to think what will be the best stand for me on opening day of the bow season??? Will this little cooler weather we are experiencing turn the beans sour and less palatable for the deer? Will the deer start concentrating on the dropping acorns before coming into my other Fall plots? When the acorns start to drop, bow hunters often struggle seeing deer. They have been watching numerous nice velvet bucks coming into their beans or other food plots like clockwork for the past month. However, now it is just like someone flipped a switch and those bucks stop appearing like clockwork and bow hunters either get frustrated or keep pounding the same stands and not see many deer.

Most bow hunters figure those bucks have moved on or have gone nocturnal. Both of which could be true, but greater chances are those deer have changed their feeding patterns as those little golden acorns start to drop about at the same time. Sometimes this change of feeding pattern happens in early September other times it may be towards the end of September. Either way it happens sometime right around many bow openers in the Upper Midwest, sending many hunters into a tizzy. The faster you can realize that this change has happened, the faster you can either get back on or stay on the deer’s travel patterns increasing your opportunity to harvesting an early season deer.

One method I like to use to help me make a better decision on my early season stand selection is monitoring my trail cameras and use distant scouting of fields with binoculars or spotting scopes. Do the number of deer in general start dropping in the beans or food plots during daylight hours and then perhaps pick up at night?? By observing both my cams and by distant scouting at dusk I can make a better informed decision on the deer’s feeding pattern. If I notice a drop of the number of deer or a particular deer not visiting my beans at all or the food plots during daylight periods. I will then shift my focus, attention and stand time to oak tree stands. This is where I can bet they are spending their late afternoons or early evenings staging and chomping on acorns before coming into my Fall Plots or even beans at night. The same thing can be said for morning hunts to a lesser degree, but often deer will stop by an oak stand to catch one last tasty snack before bedding down for the day.

Acorns maybe the most important food source available to deer during the Fall. They are high in proteins, fats, and carbohydrates, making them a more balanced food source than agricultural crops. Acorns are one of the richest sources of calories for maintaining energy during the rut and for packing on the fat reserves for surviving the harsh upper midwest winters. Deer can consume relatively large quantities of acorns very quickly, minimizing exposure to predators and maximizing their feeding time. Any time acorns are available, you can be assured they will make up a big portion of a deer's diet. With that being said, not all acorns are created equal. Oak trees are basically divided into two families, the white oak family and the red oak family. All acorns contain tannic acid, which gives them a bitter flavor. Generally speaking, the white oak family has less tannic acid content than red oaks, making them much "sweeter" or less bitter and more desired by deer. However, acorns from red oaks contain between two and four times the fat content as those from white oaks. Additionally, red oaks produce larger acorn crops on a more consistent basis than white oaks do. In fact, since white oaks typically produce only moderate acorns crops, red oak acorns can provide your deer with the bulk of their energy intake most years.

So with many years of experience observing early season deer in and out of the stand, along with personal and trail camera deer sightings in oak stands. If my properties have a stands of oaks, I personally try to concentrate many of my efforts and hunts there in September into early October. So if you find yourself frustrated as your deer sightings drop on the food plots or bean fields during daylight hours this September. Try finding an oak stand, hang a stand and or camera there. If you can’t identify an oak tree, just look on the ground for those magical golden acorns, hang your stand and you should be in for a good hunt. Good luck this Fall and may your arrow be true!