Sweet Treats - Find better deer hunting on oak flats

Acorns literally carpet many areas in Louisiana, but all of these nuts arenít equal. Find the ones deer prefer, and you have found a real honey hole.

Chris Ginn
November 01, 2012 at 7:00 am  | Mobile Reader | Pring this storyPrint 

When acorns cover the forest floor like they did last season, itís important for hunters to figure out exactly which acorns deer are eating.
When acorns cover the forest floor like they did last season, itís important for hunters to figure out exactly which acorns deer are eating.
Chris Ginn
Acorns crunched under my boots as my buddy and I pressed farther into the heart of Bogue Chitto National Wildlife Refuge.

It seemed to me at the time that we could have stopped and climbed up any number of trees and had a reasonable shot at killing something.

I reached down and picked up a couple acorns and put them in my pocket with aspirations of potting them when I got home in hopes that they would grow.

We finally stopped on the edge of an oak flat right on the edge of a little bayou. On the surface, it didn't look any different than any of the other oak flats we had skirted on our way in.

There did seem to be a few more acorns on the ground here than we had previously seen, but it didnít look to me like that would have been any reason for my buddy Allen Williams to choose this spot above all others.

But I wasnít going to argue. After all, he was my host and I was his guest. If he wanted to hunt the stand right out the back door of his camp, I would have to trust that he knew what he was talking about.

"Get one of those acorns out of your pocket and give it a taste," he told me. "But before you do, pick up one of those acorns by your foot. Then you tell me which one tastes better."

I am no acorn authority, but after I whittled out a little bit of the first one and a little bit of the second one, there was no doubt which one tasted best.

The bitter taste of the first one made my upper lip curl up as I spit and sputtered.

However, tasting the second one was a much more pleasant experience. I wouldnít say it was as sweet as strawberry pie, but it wasnít nearly as bitter, and it left a mild, sweet taste in my mouth.

"If you can figure that out, donít you think deer can, too?" Williams quipped as he helped me secure my climbing stand to a nearby tree.

And had it not been for greenly believing that a small-racked buck would give me more than just a few seconds to line up my Thompson Center Triumph muzzleloader, I would have been cleaning a deer later that night.

I couldnít help but quiz Williams about how he knew about this particular acorn flat having better-tasting acorns than the others.

"I was walking out of the woods earlier this season when I just got all wrapped up in deer," he recalled. "I mean, they were all around me. They started blowing and busting through the woods.

"Well, I marked the spot on my GPS and went back the next morning."

He didnít shoot anything, but he did pick up an acorn on his way out to give it a taste. That was when he discovered what he had just taught me ó all acorns are not created equally.

Lafitte fishing guide and avid bowhunter Jason Shilling underscored what Williams taught me by telling a story about a time he was hunting in Nebraska.

"I was hunting a ridge that was just full of white oaks," Shilling said. "There were acorns all over the ground under every one of those trees for as far as I could see.

"Those deer would move through that flat and pass up every acorn until they got to about a 50-yard section under one or two trees, and thatís where they ate."

Although Shilling has tasted an acorn before to see what all the rage was about, he didnít take the time to taste these because he was too busy trying to figure out which deer to shoot.

However, something had to be different about the acorns in that one particular stretch of white oaks, and Shilling can only assume that they tasted better to the deer.

"That doesnít just happen in Nebraska," Shilling said. "I hunt all over the country, and I see it everywhere I go ó even Louisiana.

"In my experience, deer are going to always feed on acorns under certain trees while leaving all the other ones alone."

But in Louisiana, where it might be more challenging to find a ridge of nothing but white oaks, Shilling believes finding the right acorns is a little bit easier because of where they rank in order of deer preference.

"I canít tell you what kind of acorns deer prefer where you hunt because I donít know what kind of oak trees you have," he said. "Like down here in the swamp, weíve mainly got live oaks and water oaks.

"Well, in this swamp scenario, deer are going to eat the water oaks. But if youíve got water oaks, pin oaks and white oaks all in the same area, theyíre going to eat on those white oak acorns before they eat any of the other ones."

So how does one figure out exactly which trees to hunt without going around tasting every acorn on the ground? The simple answer is to look for the tell-tale signs that many hunters walk right over.

If youíre not so luck to walk right in the middle of a bunch of deer on your way out of the woods like Williams did, youíre going to have to spend some time looking on the ground.

"Thereís no doubt when youíre looking at what I call a feed tree," Williams noted, "because the ground will be all torn up underneath it. A lot of times we might want to pass over all that scratching as squirrels digging, but deer will paw the ground to uncover acorns, too."

This kind of sign is fairly easy to spot because the leaves wonít generally be lying in a flat layer on the ground. Look for areas where leaves are turned upside down and older leaves are lying on top of fresher leaves.

Perhaps the best way to describe the sign of deer feeding under certain oak trees is that the ground looks like an armadillo has been rooting around under it.

Another sign Shilling looks out for is crushed shells and bits of acorns lying on the ground.

"You ever watch a deer eat?" he said. "Theyíre messy eaters. Food comes out of both sides of their mouths, and only half of it goes down their throats. All that stuff coming out the sides of their mouths will hit the ground, and youíll be able to spot where theyíve been munching on acorns by all the crumbs they leave behind."

But just because deer are feeding under a tree doesnít mean theyíre there all day long. If youíre looking for a tree thatís going to give you the best opportunity to get a shot, thereís no doubt what the missing sign is.

"Droppings," Shilling said. "When deer spend a lot of time in an area youíre going to find droppings. If theyíre just passing through on their way somewhere else, you might have some of the feeding signs, but you wonít have the main signs that tell you theyíre sticking around.

"Find droppings under one tree and youíve found where those deer are feeding."

Both hunters concluded that if acorns are dropping thereís really no need to hunt anywhere else, but it was Shilling who articulated this advice in such a way that any self-respecting Louisianan could understand.

"Acorn season is just like strawberry season," he said. "They both only come into season at certain times of the year, and take those strawberries, for example: Every year when strawberries come into season, youíre going to see a guy on the side of the road.

"You or somebody you know is going to stop by and pick up a flat, and from that youíre going to have some on your counter. Every time you walk by those strawberries, youíre going to grab one and eat it. If your wife is looking for you, and she sits by those strawberries long enough, sheís eventually going to find you."

And which bowl of strawberries are you going to keep eating?

Odds are youíre going to keep coming back to the bowl with the plumpest, reddest, juiciest, sweetest strawberries.

Just like deer eating acorns, you can tell the difference.

Just like people have their favorite restaurants, deer favor certain trees over others.
Scores of water oaks across the Louisiana landscape means deer always have something to fall back on.
Thereís no doubt that a dropping white oak with feeding sign and deer droppings under it is a hot stand spot.
Not all acorns are created equally, and those that are just lying on the ground with no sign of feeding activity should be passed up for a more productive spot.
Learn how to chose the right acorn flat to improve your deer success.
Hunters can look for easy tell-tale signs, such as crushed acorn shells, to know which trees the deer on their property prefer.

View other articles written Chris Ginn