Find Acorns When Hunting Whitetail Deer in Early Fall

Video do deer like pin oak acorns

Acorns and Whitetail Deer

It’s late September and you’re sitting in your favorite treestand just inside the timber on the edge of a corn field. You are patiently waiting for a deer to make an appearance. You notice the leaves are beginning to change colors, your breath is visible after each exhale as it clashes with the chilly autumn air. A thrash from below makes your heart jump. It’s a pesky fox squirrel doing his best to sound like a deer. You cut a wrestling promo on him in your head. After regaining composure, you settle back into deer mode.

Pitter-patter, click, clack, tick! An acorn pinballs its way through the branches and hits the ground. Another falls, and another. It’s raining deer candy!

Acorns are the preferred food source for deer and can be up to 25% of a deer’s early fall and early winter diet. Deer will leave any other food sources for acorns. Acorns have a protein content of about 6%. They are high in carbohydrates around 42% and make up about 52% of fats.

There are many different species of oak trees that produce acorns, not all carry equal preference for whitetail deer. Acorns contain certain levels of tannic acid which affects the way they taste to deer. The woods might be full of acorns, but are they the acorns deer prefer? It’s important to know and understand the different types of acorns and where they might rank on the palatability chart. Deer will gobble up acorns with low tannic acid levels. Higher tannic levels cause the acorn to taste bitter.

White Oaks

White oak acorns are the whitetail’s number one choice. Deer will eat these acorns above all others that may be falling at the same time. White oak acorns have the least amount of tannic acid making them the sweetest tasting acorn and natural food source.

Deer will even leave most food plots during the time a white oak is dropping acorns. White oaks usually produce a decent crop of acorns every year, but every third year they can produce a mast crop. White oak trees grow leaves with round lobes, and they produce oblong or ovoid shaped acorns. After ripening the acorns will turn from green to dark brown.

Check for white oaks in your area. Look for acorns in the tree and look around on the ground. If you find one that is dropping, look for deer sign. You might see acorn caps scattered on the ground or you might find pieces of acorn that had fallen out of a deer’s mouth. You’ll inevitably see deer droppings and tracks around the area too.

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Pin Oaks

Pin oak acorns have low to medium tannic levels in its acorns. Pin oaks grow leaves with pointed lobes and the acorns are short and round. The caps cover nearly half of the acorn. Pin oak trees generally produce acorns every other year. Pin oak acorns are a good food source for deer when white oaks aren’t available. Deer will certainly find these acorns once they start to drop. An excellent natural food source that will help deer pack on the fat before the winter months.

Water Oaks

Water oaks are another species of oak that produce acorns with low to medium tannic acid. Water oaks typically produce a crop every year. The leaves are long and narrow where they attach to branches and they have three lobes that look like a duck’s foot. The acorns on a water oak are short and round and look like a pin oak acorn.

Red Oaks

Red oak trees produce acorns with a medium tannic level. Red oak leaves are large and pointed at the end of each lobe. The acorns are more oval shaped and are a reddish-brown color when ripe and ready to fall in autumn. Red oak trees are some of the most common oak trees in Kentucky. Deer will eat red oak acorns, but they likely won’t feed entirely on them because of their bitterness.

These acorns become an excellent food source in the latter part of the hunting season. The medium tannic levels help prevent the acorn from rotting quickly after hitting the ground. After many freezes, the tannic levels drop in the acorn which makes it more palatable. After leaves have fallen, you’ll find that deer will turn the leaves over to get to the crop of red oak acorns underneath. When more desirable options are gone, deer will start feeding on these acorns.

Black Oaks

The black oak tree produces an acorn crop every other year. The acorns have medium to high levels of tannic acid in them. Deer will not eat black oak acorns over other species mentioned above. Like red oaks, black oak leaves have bristles or points on the lobes. The acorns are also similarly shaped to the red oak. Deer will eat these after they drop if nothing else is available in the area, but they typically won’t start eating these until winter when food is scarce.

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Bur Oaks and Live Oaks

Bur oak trees are a species grouped in the white oak family. The leaves are rounded on the lobes like the white oak, but the acorns look different. The bur oak acorn is large and can be identified by the burry cap that covers most of the nut. The acorns have medium to high tannic acid levels making them less desirable than other species. The size of the acorn makes it attractive to deer as it provides a fuller meal.

Live Oak trees have leaves look different than most other oak trees. The leaves are smooth and pointed just at the end of the leaf. They do not have multiple lobes. The acorns are long and come to a point at the end, and typically very dark colored when ready to drop in the fall. These acorns have high tannic levels and are lower in preference as a food source for deer.

Acorns: Friend or Foe to the Hunter?

Hunters should be scouting for trees that are dropping acorns right now. Find the white oaks. Deer will consume the best tasting acorns first. Then they will move onto the acorns that are less palatable. Look for brown acorns on the ground, note how many you see. If you only see a few, the tree isn’t dropping just yet, move on to find a tree where the acorns are dropping like crazy.

When you find that slew of acorns, look around for signs of deer eating on them, look for droppings and tracks. You can use this food source to your advantage if you are seeing fresh sign all over the place. Of course, always be careful to not leave your scent. Move cautiously and don’t touch anything with your bare hands. When you find that hot spot, try to hunt it immediately. The natural attractant of acorns can be a hunters’ friend.

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The month of October begins in less than a week. Does, fawns and bucks alike have been appearing on trail cameras in the food plots through the month of September. Most if not all bucks have shed their velvet and have started to separate from their summer bachelor groups.

A new season in the life of a whitetail is about to begin. Does and fawns will be looking to put on fat. Bucks will be looking to bulk up and pack on the carbs to prepare for the rigors of the rut. From late September to late October deer put on a thick layer of fat underneath their coats. Acorns help them put on the pounds faster than any other food source.

Even if you haven’t been hunting long, you might be familiar with a term used to describe the sudden disappearance of deer in the month of October. The dreaded ‘October Lull’. There are many theories as to why hunters experience a ‘lull’ in deer movement. Deer are focused on three things right now: food cover and water. Naturally, bucks will start to lay low to conserve energy for the pre-rut and rut. That is part of the ‘lull’.

However, the ‘lull’ can be exacerbated by an abundance of acorns. If acorn crops are good those bucks don’t have to travel but a few yards from their bedding areas. They will stand up and gorge on acorns and then bed back down. We circle back to food and cover; the deer have no incentive to travel anywhere else.

A great acorn crop can make hunting more difficult. When acorns are falling like rain in the woods, deer don’t need to travel far to fill their bellies. If you aren’t hunting in those areas, you won’t be seeing those deer.

Keep a close eye on the number of trail camera pictures in your food plots and keep a tally of deer sightings when you are sitting in stands along the edges of those plots. If deer begin to vanish from your food plots, acorns are the likely cause. Don’t get discouraged, find those acorns and adjust your hunts accordingly.

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Ethan Smith is a seasoned marine veteran, professional blogger, witty and edgy writer, and an avid hunter. He spent a great deal of his childhood years around the Apache-Sitgreaves National Forest in Arizona. Watching active hunters practise their craft initiated him into the world of hunting and rubrics of outdoor life. He also honed his writing skills by sharing his outdoor experiences with fellow schoolmates through their high school’s magazine. Further along the way, the US Marine Corps got wind of his excellent combination of skills and sought to put them into good use by employing him as a combat correspondent. He now shares his income from this prestigious job with his wife and one kid. Read more >>