Tap Into Food Preferences to Tag a Big Buck
Rory Cowles rushed home from work, changed his clothes, and headed out to his early season hotspot. After parking, Cowles noiselessly slipped along the edge of a long ridgetop. A deer bedding site was to his west and on top of the hill stood several tall, straight white oak trees — each of them were loaded with acorns. Silently, Cowles erected his stand on the south side of the ridgetop, figuring as the deer traveled from the bedding area to the succulent oaks, they would funnel past him.
As the shadows lengthened, does and fawns filtered from the west. Soon, a yearling buck came bounding along, fueled by juvenile testosterone. Just as the light started to fade, a bulky deer moved cautiously toward Cowles' position. It was immediately obvious the buck sported substantial headgear. When the buck paused at 12 steps, Cowles put an arrow through both lungs.
This hunt above proves great bucks can be taken in early season — in this case October 3 — yet many people still think it's Mission Impossible 4. The hunt shows the importance of using the wind to your advantage. The third point worth mentioning is the fact Cowles planned his approach to the stand so he never crossed a trail the deer were using when they traveled to the oak trees. But the most noteworthy factor in Cowles' success on his 10-point, 151 2/8-inch buck, was the location of the deer magnets — the sweet white oak acorns.
Deer Are Nuts for Nuts
"In early season when the white oaks first start dropping their acorns, these trees are just like deer magnets," Cowles notes. "I knew this from previous years' hunting experience and knew I could not make any mistakes if I wanted to have a chance at getting this mature buck."
Take Cowles' observances to the bank since he has tagged mature bucks early in October four years running. That's Cowles' all-I'm-after-is-a-trophy plan, now let me take you on a hunt with my wife Carol to see how deer magnet food sources can put tasty venison in your freezer.
Hunting Multiple Magnets
Acorns were scarce on Carol's hunt, so she planned on hunting near the only stand of white oak trees in a large area. She also increased her odds because a late-planted, still-green soybean field was adjacent to the oak trees. If the acorns were gone, Carol could take out a doe as it headed to the soybean field. Essentially, she was hunting two early season deer magnets.
We put her stand up October 13 and waited for the southwest wind she needed. That happened two days later. She entered the stand about 4:00 p.m. and I hunted another area. When I arrived back at the truck shortly after dark, I could make out the form of Carol leaning against the truck. "There's no tracking job tonight," Carol remarked when I got within hearing distance. She had arrowed a mature doe as it fed on the few acorns in the area on its way to the soybean field.
Lessons to Learn
Both of these hunts were successful because hot food sources had been located well ahead of time, a precise stand site had been picked, and the location was hunted only when the wind was right. Successful hunts like these two can be pulled off in early season if you identify the early food deer magnets and plan a sound strategy.
White oak trees are a good place to start because their acorns are sweet and deer eat them like candy. In years when these acorn trees fail, check out other oaks such as red, black, chestnut, and live oak in the South.
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And don't forget those common persimmon trees. They drop a rich, sweet, pulpy fruit in early season that deer love. Persimmon is an edge and thicket tree, but can be found in mature timber. Most hunters overlook these deer magnets. And don't forget that where apple trees are to be found, whitetails will swarm to them. The same goes for pear trees--deer love them. In fact, in Idaho where there is an abundance of apple and pear trees in places in the wild, whitetails actually favor the pears.
Although I earlier mentioned late soybean fields as being a hot food source in early season, alfalfa fields are the most common early season field food sources. Besides providing great nutritional value to the whitetails, both of these locations give you the opportunity to glass the buster bucks using the fields in the summer without tipping your hand. While the bucks will break out of their bachelor grounds before season comes in, usually one excellent buck will continue his feeding pattern.
How to Hunt the Magnets
When hunting either fields or oak trees, keep in mind that evening hunts are best in early season. Also remember that old deer are smart. If you have a trophy buck's field pattern figured out, you may kill him on the first hunt at the edge of a field. Often, though, it's best to look for any topographical funnel features between the field and his bedding area that might allow you to intercept him morning or evening. This could be a saddle in the hills, an inside corner, a hilltop field funnel, or a wide, heavy fence row. The point is: Don't get careless or you won't see him at all. The first hunt is your best opportunity to tag him, from then on your odds go downhill.
For instance, both Rory and Carol killed their deer on the first hunt because they both hunted smart. But even if they hadn't killed a whitetail, their odds for additional hunts would have been good because they used low-impact entry and exit methods to the stand.
So in the end, the contents of this article boil down to what most articles do. It serves as information, instruction and inspiration to you, the reader. You are the one who will have to go out in summer and early fall and locate the deer you want to hunt. You are the one who should go out after deer season ends and walk every forested tract you can in order to find the oaks and other primary food sources. You are the one who will have to make early season squirrel hunts or walks to discover the nut bearing trees. And then, finally, you are the one who will have to use extreme patience and deep thinking that will enable you to fill your tag.
By hunting the early season deer magnet food sources correctly, you will discover yourself becoming a magnet, only the thing sticking to you will be success.
Early Season Food Preferences
It can be difficult at times to identify food sources. Here is a great list to keep in mind while scouting.
Forest related: Oak trees. Includes white oak, swamp white oak, chinquapin oak, black oak, red oak, chestnut oak, live oak, and bur oak, among others. White oaks produce the sweetest acorns and they are preferred by the whitetail when available. To help with tree identification, a good resource is The Audubon Society Field Guide to North American Trees, available at most major book stores.
Trees to track: Common persimmon, apple, pear, Beech, Honey locust
More eats: Kudzu, Japanese honeysuckle, blackberry briar leaves, various other forms of small vegetation.
Fields to cover: Alfalfa, clover, soybean, crested wheat grass and other grasses found in CRP fields, and several other farm crops, many of which differ depending on region being hunted
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