Yesterday, we began talking about the Dominant Tree, and how learning to find a dominant tree will improve your chances of getting a shot at a deer. Notice I didn't say "shooting a deer". I can help you get close. Taking and making the shot are up to you.
If you are like many of the hunters who have learned to hunt the dominant tree, you may find that with some practice and some success, scouting will become the most challenging and most rewarding part of the hunt. In my mind, hunting takes place before I climb up into my treestand. What happens after that is just shooting. I have found myself passing up shots that I would have taken in the past simply because I feel like I have been successful when a deer shows up under the exact tree that I set up to hunt.
So let's back up and review what a dominant tree is. A dominant tree is a specific mast-producing tree - that means that it produces nuts (hard mast) or fruit (soft mast) - that has ripe mast on which deer are actively feeding.
Let's break that definition down a little. In most parts of the country where whitetails live, the primary mast producing trees (from a deer's point of view) are oaks. Secondary mast producing tree species include persimmons, locusts, osage oranges, pawpaws, and various other wild and domestic fruit trees.
Next, we said that the tree must have ripe mast. Generally, that means that the nuts or fruit have fallen off the tree and are laying on the ground.
Third, we said that deer must be actively feeding on the mast. By actively, we mean that there have been deer feeding under that specific tree within the last 24 hours.
Finally, we said that we are looking for a specific tree. In other words, we aren't looking for an oak ridge where we have seen deer before, or returning to the hollow where Uncle Ned killed a bigg'un last year. We are looking for that one specific tree where we know deer are actively feeding.
By far, the most important part of that definition is that deer are actively feeding there. As I said yesterday, deer are creatures of habit when it comes to their food. If they are feeding on a particular tree, they will tend to continue to do so until something in their environment changes. Bear in mind that things are constantly changing in a deer's world, so a particular tree may be a dominant tree for only a couple days, or it could last for several weeks.
Some factors that determine how long a tree will remain a dominant tree include:
- Amount of mast on the ground under the tree
- Availability of other foods
- Deer's preference for that particular type of mast relative to other foods
- General travel patterns that are influenced by wind direction, hunting pressure, the rut, and a hundred other things
In a nutshell, finding a dominant tree is simply a narrowing down process of looking for mast producing tree species, finding the ones that are producing fresh mast, then finding the ones with fresh deer droppings underneath.
Here is a picture of one of the piles of droppings that we found under the white oak tree where I shot the 8 pointer featured in yesterday's post. The size of the droppings indicated a fairly large deer (the wind sensor case is 5.25 inches long). The moist surface told us that they were only several hours old, at the most. Some hunters (Ted) believe that clumped together droppings indicate that the "creator" was a buck. I'm not sure I would agree, but then again, I can't prove it wasn't.
In the next article we'll talk about how to identify a dominant tree.