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Hooks and Antlers: Plenty of food sources can attract deer

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With the arrival of autumn’s chilly weather, whitetails instinctively begin to feed heavily in order to build up fat reserves for the approaching winter.

A mature whitetail deer eats 10 pounds of food daily at this time of the year. As a result, early season success demands that the hunter, too, focus on food. Among the prime food sources in the North Country are food plots, farm crops, fruits, mast crops, and native browse.

Prime Food Sources

Food plots are fast-growing in popularity with area hunters and landowners. In essence, these are plots of food planted specifically to attract and nourish whitetail deer. Popular plantings include clover, alfalfa, soybeans, corn, buckwheat, ryegrass, chicory, winter rye, and brassica. Wildlife other than deer benefit from food plots, and some plots, such as winter wheat and brassica, continue to serve as a food source once hunting season concludes.

Area farmers suffer significant crop loss annually due to damage done by feeding deer, and those who hunt farmland know that crop fields are deer magnets in the early season. Clover and alfalfa are especially attractive fields as are corn and soybean ones.

Farmland crops like those in food plots appeal strongly to deer because these foods can contain up to 20 percent protein whereas most native foods contain less than 10 percent protein.

Fruits, mast crops, and native browse are important early-season foods on both farmlands and woodlands.

Attractive fruits include apples, pears, grapes, cherries, and berries. Important mast crops are acorns, hickory nuts, and beechnuts. While deer eat both red and white acorns, the whites are strongly preferred as they are less bitter.

Biologists have documented that deer feed on more than 600 plants so natural browse is a more difficult food source for hunters to specifically locate.

Still, abandoned fields and other areas of low-growth vegetation in both farmland and woodlands have an abundance of native browse. Logging areas also attract early season deer. Active logging means there is fresh browse on the ground, and hunters shouldn’t overlook areas that were logged in recent years because such areas, offer plenty of new growth within a whitetail’s reach.

Time of Change

Since autumn is a time of change, various factors can turn a hot feeding area into a cold one and vice versa. For example, the spreading of liquid manure, the application of round-up, or a fall plowing will make an alfalfa or clover field undesirable.

Also, fruit and mast crops can be depleted in a short period of time, and hard frosts can kill various foods. On a positive note, a freshly cut cornfield, despite the loss of cover, can attract deer to fallen cobs and kernels.

Strong winds or rains can cause fruit and mast crops to fall to the ground. Strong winds can topple trees that provide easy-to-reach browse just as active logging does.

Hunting Pressure

The one factor that affects early-season food sources more than any other thing, though, is hunting pressure. After a couple of incidents of detecting hunters at feeding sites, mature deer will periodically abandon that location, or they will visit it only under the cover of darkness. The challenge for a hunter, then, is how to select a set up that allows the hunter to hunt the food source but at the same time does not alert deer.

No easy answer exists, but hunters should take stands only when wind conditions are favorable. Setting up at the actual feeding site poses difficulties on evening hunts because deer are in the vicinity at the conclusion of legal hunting hours, and the hunter must leave the area undetected.

While the wind might be favorable, deer will still pick up on the slightest movements and noises made by hunters as they exit stands. Prior to exiting a stand, a hunter held the advantage, but when the hunter leaves a stand, the odds turn in the deer’s favor.

To avoid this dilemma, some hunters choose to intercept deer in travel corridors between bedding and feeding areas rather than at the actual feeding site.

Hunters will likely see fewer deer in such stands, but leaving the hunting area undetected should be easier. Mature bucks also tend to arrive at feeding locations after legal hunting hours so the chance of encountering such a buck might increase in a travel corridor.

Hunting Quote

“As far as hunting goes, food is still where it’s at.” Weekly report from North Country Whitetails, the North’s leading authority on white-tailed deer property.

CALENDAR

Friday-Saturday: Hunter Education Course in Colton (Pre-register at 379-9814).

Saturday: Second Portion of Waterfowl Season opens in Northeast Zone.

Saturday: Regular Canada Goose Season opens in Northeast Goose Hunting Area.

Nov. 14: American Woodcock Season closes.

Nov. 17: Regular Deer Season opens in Southern Zone.

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