Luke Clayton: When acorns fall

Outdoors columnist discusses the one type of food that deer love to eat most

Luke Clayton
Daily Light contributor
Jeff Rice spraying an overhanging limb with scent from TRHP Outdoors to create a mock scrape.

There are a few weeks that early season deer hunters are well aware of when deer that have been frequenting their corn feeders suddenly go through a major change in diet. Deer that have for weeks been patterned to the regular feedings at the feeder abandon the golden kernels, but why? ACORNS!

Deer love corn, but their much-preferred food is acorns. During years with poor acorn crops, deer will keep hitting the corn feeders. But as soon as acorns are on the ground, they will seek them out and feast until nature’s smorgasbord is gone. Learning to identify all the different type of oaks would be a daunting task, because the U.S. alone has about 90 different species and many are very similar in leaf and bark pattern.  

But for the deer hunter, it suffices to know there are two major types of oaks, the white and red oak. Red oak leaves have a pointed or spiked end to each lobe and white oak leaves are rounded. Deer prefer acorns from the white oaks because of a reduced amount of tannic acid but don’t think for a minute they won’t flock to early dropping acorns from red oaks.

While taking a Texas Master Naturalist class a few years ago, I first learned post oaks were of the white oak family. I had previously thought all white oaks grew in the bottoms or along creek or river drainages. Regardless which variety of oaks grow in your hunting area, remember that you might want to shift your hunting from a corn feeder to an oak grove, especially during bow season.

Now is an excellent time to use deer scents to entice bucks and does to your hunting area. Mock scrapes, when using the proper scents, can be a very effective method of attracting bucks to the area you plan to hunt.

 I spent this past weekend, the opener of bow season, hunting of all things, wild hogs. I have an upcoming magazine article on hunting with a handgun and needed some additional photos. I was fortunate to harvest a fat “eater” hog the first few minutes of my hunt and my buddy Jeff Rice and I had plenty of time to scout for oaks with freshly dropped acorns and add scent to several of our mock scrapes. There are those that with all the science to back up the use of mock scrapes, still avoid using them. This, in my opinion is a huge mistake. I think in past years, many hunters have tried using synthetic and “gimmick” scents that simply do not work.

Here is what I know for a fact; use properly prepared and packaged scents made from “real” deer and mock scrapes will pull the buck in like a magnet. They actually have to; it’s in their genetic make up to use scent to propagate their species. Scrapes can be considered the “singles bar” for deer. It’s where the bucks and doe come to meet before and during their breeding season. Right now, deer are in the “courting” mode, and the rut is still a few weeks away in much of north and east Texas.

You’ve heard me mention TRHP Outdoors in past columns, a Texas based company that creates the very best deer attractant scents that I have used. While scouting this past weekend, we found a ridge with a grove of red oaks that were just beginning to drop acorns. We “brushed in” a ground blind on the edge of the oaks and used scents from TRHP to create a mock scrape under an overhanging oak limb about 25 yards away. The ground was covered with bits of acorn cups which had been chewed by deer and tracks were everywhere. Squirrels typically don’t “crunch up” the acorn cups but eat only the acorn.

I try to stack the odds in my favor, especially when hunting with a bow. It does little good to see deer 50 yards away when armed with archery tackle. To further create the ideal hunting spot, we dumped a couple pounds of New Beginnings mineral on the ground. We have been experimenting with this blend for the past couple months and discovered deer often find it within 24 hours and keep coming back.

My thinking is that resident deer already know where the acorns are and the scent from the mock scrape will attracti nearby bucks and doe to the area. After all, the area now smells like “deer” as well as minerals the animals instinctively seek out and consume.  

Years ago, there was “bow season” and then later, in early November, “rifle season.” Today many Texas ranches are on a TPWD-managed program that allows the harvest of deer using any legal weapon at the beginning of archery season and lasting through much of February. These ranches are issued landowner tags and the number of bucks and doe is predetermined. These early season “bow hunting” tactics using scents and minerals around oaks work equally well when hunting with a rifle, the difference being  that that it’s not so important to set up to hunt “close” as when using a bow with limited range. Rifle hunters can set up on field edges and monitor several mock scrapes or mineral piles which increases the chance of actually seeing and harvesting deer.

I’ve got my bow tuned in and the stage is set back in the woods on my buddy’s place for an encounter with a mature buck or doe. It’s always good to get lucky and harvest some venison early in the season. I’ll be camping and hunting solo about the time you are reading this. I have some of the fresh wild pork backstrap marinated and sealed in a vacuum bag and am planning a chicken fried pork, rice and gravy meal at my first deer camp of the season.

If you might wish to watch the harvest of the little “eater” hog with the handgun last week, check out “A Sportsmans Life” on YouTube.

 Contact outdoors writer Luke Clayton at www.catfishradio.org .