Pennsylvania biologist Jeannine Fleegle notes that while the list of foods for whitetails is long and varied and includes crops, browse, forbs, grasses, fungi and mast, “It is no secret that acorns are a favorite on the list. If they are available, acorns dominate their diet in fall and winter.”
Fleegle points to experiments that show when acorns are available, whitetails eat about 1.5 pounds of nuts daily per hundred pounds of body weight.
“Deer can sustain a maximum of 30% weight loss during (the rut and into) winter,” she says. “More than that and they die of malnutrition.”
It’s easy to see why acorns are so important not only to the deer, but to your hunt strategy.
This summer, walk your hunting woods with a binocular and do a mast survey. Glass into the tops of every oak tree you can find, and focus on clusters of green acorns within 24 inches of each branch tip. Count the nuts in each cluster best you can, and jot down the numbers.
Biologists say that a white oak with an average of 12 to 18 or more acorns per branch is a good to excellent producer; with a red oak tree, that number is to 16 to 24 nuts. Remember where the ok trees with the highest numbers of nuts are located. Hang trees stands nearby for super-hot bowhunting as the mast falls during your bow season.
While you can start your nut survey anytime you get the time to scout this summer, keep in mind that acorns grow slowly during spring and summer, then undergo a growth explosion later in the summer. Fully grown green acorns are easiest to spot and count from mid-August on.