2017-09-09 / Outdoors

INSIDE THE OUTDOORS

Wildlife enjoying natural bounty

Nights have been chilly and there is change in the air. Our deer herd is also changing its behavior.

Last week I saw a doe that was starting to lose her summer coat. She looked mangy, with splotches of dark hair and her red summer coat.

Our bucks are shedding their velvet and losing their reddish summer look to the grey coat of winter.

Some of the area’s seasoned hunters have turned their conversation topics to deer sightings and natural food supplies. Whitetails covet the “mast crop,” produced by the forest, and it is an important source of sustenance for deer, turkeys and bears that strive to pack on extra calories in preparation for winter.

There’s “hard mast,” a term often used to describe nut crops -- acorns, hickory nuts, beechnuts, walnuts and butternuts, and chestnuts.

Berries and fruits are “soft mast” and include black cherries, wild grapes, hawthorn fruit, crab apples, cucumber magnolia pods, and the domestic apple.

In most years, one or two of our mast crop species have produced well. This makes it easy to pattern game populations in areas where there are high densities of these food sources.

However, in 2017 we have a unique situation. Just about all of our fall mast-producing species have a good crop of food. This will make for some interesting hunting and some problematic scouting expeditions.

Game animals will likely be spread out, and they may frequently change food sources.

In most of the oak stands I have visited, there seems to be at least a modest crop of acorns. It appears that the white oak has the best crop.

Beechnuts are becoming less of a factor, as more stands fall victim of the beech bark disease. However, this is a banner year for beech. Even the young trees are loaded. Already the squirrels are hitting up the nuts. Turkeys, grouse, bears, and deer love beech nuts.

We have had an excellent apple crop this year. There were very few frosts this spring. Generally speaking, trees blossomed early in April and the fruit was already set when we had light frosts in May, leaving the apple crop unaffected.

Deer have been frequently visiting apple trees for the past month to eat fallen fruit. Bears have been climbing the trees to eat the fruit and had broken off limbs. When acorns start to drop, deer will be focusing less on apple mast and more on high calorie acorns, but they will still visit old apple orchards throughout the fall.

Crab apples and hawthorn fruit are both abundant. There are wild grapes and black cherry fruit to be found in our woods, as well.

Those seasoned hunters I mentioned above know what they’re talking about. To boost your chances of success, you need to get out and scout to see what game animals are feeding upon. You also need to realize that the forest is dynamic and conditions are changing. What game animals may be feeding upon now may be different than what they are consuming in two weeks.

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