During the early years of cutting my teeth on the riser of a hunting bow, I tasted success. Closure came in the form of a Tennessee spike-horn buck. He was taken down in all his glory one particularly beautiful autumn afternoon. The deer was oblivious to my presence while he busily munched honeysuckle. This previously overlooked food source laid close to the thicket he and other small bucks used as bedding cover.

  Later, as the gun season grew ever closer, a fat Kentucky doe fell to the romantic “Twang” of the bowstring. She had been meandering along the brushy property line of an old homestead I had gained permission to hunt. That day her appetite had lead her to, of all things, “Poke berries”.  This was not what most hunters considered typical deer forage.

  The short bow season that followed the ending of the rifle portion also provided numerous chances to refresh the family venison supply, and thus pad the freezer. The most notable of which, was a most appreciated young six point buck. I had watched this deer for the better part of the chilly, late season afternoon. The buck nibbled on lichens from wind fallen logs that littered the otherwise open forest floor.  A silent arrow quickly dispatched the buck and ended the productive evening hunt.

  You are probably wondering at this point, of what importance are these three separate and seemingly unrelated hunts? The fact that all three happened during a year that most considered to be a poor year for deer hunting. An unusually dry summer had caused an almost complete failure to cultivated crops; as a result, most farmers harvested the small remaining portions much earlier than in prior years. To compound an already less than desirable situation, the mast of the white oak was almost non-existent. 

   While most veterans of the deer woods elected to concentrate on watering holes and to enjoy the cooler air associated with moving water, I decided to go a different route. I felt the other end of the spectrum needed exploring. Thus, while others practiced with their bows and worked on shrinking those arrow groupings, I spent my available time in the local library. Numerous books on the subjects of woodland plants, wild flowers and tree identification soon made their way into my research regimen. I yearned for every morsel of literature pertaining to the subject of deer browse that I could find. The lessons learned about whitetail behavior in previous years coupled with the new knowledge gained, no doubt, tipped the scales in this bowhunter’s favor that fall. A good working knowledge of secondary food sources is most valuable to even the most casual bowhunter.

   So, you might ask, how can I apply this newly found food source knowledge to real world hunting scenarios?  The answer is simple and as old as mankind itself. Granted, the generations of hunters before us had to acquire woodsmanship skills becoming woods-wise, meanwhile developing their own personal “mental database” of deer-lore to be successful. Every encounter with our quarry can become a learning experience if one remains vigilant to the details of the encounter.

  Many volumes could be written on the subject of whitetail food sources, and we would probably still leave out pertinent facts on the matter. Due to regional flora diversity and a mind-boggling number of known browse/forage plants, I can only summarize. The following is just a few ways to utilize this food source  information in your quest to unlocking the secrets of your own whitetail diet database.

    First off, deer have a very wide ranging list of possible botanical delicacies. White Oak acorns are of course among the very top of this list, and if you chose to hunt solely over a ‘Hot’ stand of white oaks; you can almost be guaranteed some bow hunting action.  However, years like the one mentioned at the beginning of this article, occasionally come around. 2007 being one example, due to the occurrence of a late spring hard freeze, the white oak mast crop was all but wiped out in much of the Southeastern and Midwestern states. Red Oaks which acorns were almost unaffected were quickly consumed by deer and other competing wildlife. Here again, a personal knowledge of secondary food source plants became invaluable.  Woody browse and the remaining soft mast became the prime feed for whitetails.

  Often times a savvy hunter can just broadcast commercial plant food on existing food sources to create an instant hot zone. Fertilizer like a 10-10-10 mix hand tossed on stands of honeysuckle, multi-flora roses and blackberry brambles can lead to mid and late winter success. The same principles can be utilized with native soft vegetation like sweet clovers, vetches, kudzu and trefoils, as well as numerous legume and non-legume species.  Recently logged over tracts (even though aesthetically undesirable) can become deer magnets if garden lime is used to make the soil less acid so native plants get a chance to grab a foothold. This combined with the additional sunlight available from a treeless skyline allow these important plants to flourish. Even saplings with nutritious buds and twigs will benefit from such a treatment.  

  I encourage you to do your homework discovering and unlocking the secrets to secondary food sources.  All these ideas will help you harvest more game, however you might take caution before playing the stock market this fall, and I certainly wouldn’t buy shares in the “Freezer Wrap” industry; because you might find yourself getting in trouble for “Insider Trading”.

 

 

Written by Jason Wilborn       Monroe Tennessee