It’s a bumper crop year for red oak acorns in the Catskills.
I hunted three days during the opening week of bow season in Delaware County, NY and had failed to lay eyes on a single deer. After a good scouting effort last winter, I was expecting some better results. A colleague overheard me whining about my lack of success and offered a piece of advice. He said if you want to see deer, find the oaks.
On my next trip to the woods, I was heading up a steep slope when a doe and fawn stood up from their beds and bounded away. As luck would have it, there were several mature red oaks and hemlocks near the deer beds. I decided to climb in one of the oaks for the evening. I ended up seeing another doe that afternoon, as well as a nice buck at dusk. Quite an improvement! As subsequent hunts would show, these deer were hanging close to the acorns, which were crashing to the forest floor with regularity.
This doe fed on acorns right under my tree stand.
This got me thinking more about acorns as a food source for deer. For example, what types of acorns do deer like best? Could I expect a yearly acorn crop here? How long would the acorns last?
I learned that red oak acorns mature every two years, while white oak acorns mature in a year’s time. Deer prefer white oak acorns because they have lower levels of tannic acid, which makes them less bitter than red oak acorns. On the other hand, red oak acorns last longer throughout the season as a food source, because of their higher tannic acid content.
To my knowledge, all of the oaks at this woodlot are red oaks. This means that I should enjoy the action this season because the 2020 crop will probably pale in comparison. Fortunately, acorns and deer should be abundant here for the rest of the season.
I’ve explained what these acorn facts mean for my hunting season, but what if you’re a forest landowner looking to improve acorn production for wildlife? This article by the Quality Deer Management Association advises to plant the oaks that you don’t have because species diversity helps to improve the chances that on any given year, at least one of the oak species will be dropping acorns.
If your woodlot already has oaks, you can do a management practice called crop tree release, which is analogous to ‘weeding the tree garden’ around crop trees that you want to thrive and produce more acorns. For more information about this practice, check out this article on MyWoodlot.com or this blog by the Catskill Forestry Association. If you’re interested in completing this practice, the WAC Forestry Program cost-shares crop tree and other forest management practices on woodlots within the NYC Watershed: https://www.nycwatershed.org/map.
Thanks for reading and I hope you’re enjoying the woods this fall.