Wednesday, August 29, 2007

The Dominant Tree - Part 2 Identification

Yesterday, we defined what a dominant tree is. If you missed that discussion, click here before reading on. The rest of this article will make a lot more sense if you do.

We talked about the importance of determining that deer are actively feeding on a particular tree. The only way to know that for certain is to find fresh deer droppings like these. I bet this is the only website in the world that features pictures of poop! Notice the dark, almost black, color which indicates that the deer who left this little clue for us has been happily munching away on acorns. The moist surface tells us that it was not too long ago.

When deer are feeding primarily on browse (green plants) the droppings tend to be greener in color like this: Typically, you will find droppings like this in the early fall before the acorns are mature or in the late winter when the mast crop has been depleted. Guess which time of the season this was taken - hint: green leaves. If you find green droppings under an oak tree, it probably means that the deer is in the process of transitioning its diet from browse to mast.

OK, so we know we're looking for trees that have fresh deer droppings under them, but there are an awful lot of trees to check. Tomorrow, we will talk about some techniques for narrowing down your search, so for now, let's talk about some quick visual clues that can help you decide whether to take the time to do a thorough search under a tree.

First, as you approach a mast producing tree, (we will talk about how to identify them soon) look for fresh nuts or fruit on the ground. Make sure to look up at the limbs overhead and pay particular attention to the ground below the thickest foliage. If you don't see fresh mast on the ground, move on to another tree.

If the tree is an oak, look for broken acorn caps, which deer often drop while eating the nuts. Here is an example:

It may be difficult to see in this small picture (you can click on it to enlarge it), but the acorn caps are not only separated from the nut, but several of them are also freshly broken. This is a good sign! Squirrels and other small animals generally do not break the caps when eating the nuts.

One final clue to look for is the condition of the ground and the dead leaves. When deer are feeding heavily on a dominant tree they will often churn up the ground and break up the dried dead leaves into small pieces like this:

If you find broken acorn caps or mulched-looking ground, but have not seen any fresh deer droppings spend the time to do a thorough search of the ground. If you find some, pick out a tree for your treestand, then get out of there! Oh, by the way, you are wearing rubber boots aren't you? If you don't find any deer droppings or you find ones that are old and dry, move on to the next tree. Chances are that the deer have too.

In our next Hunting 101 article, we will talk more about acorns.


Pursuit Hunter said...

Please feel free to leave a comment or question.

Matt B said...

I've been reading your theories on the dominant trees and scouting. Sounds as if you do lots of scouting during the season because the food sources are always changing. How do you balance finding "just the right tree" vs. tromping around your hunting grounds too much? Great info btw!

Pursuit Hunter said...

Matt - I do indeed do a lot of scouting during the season. As a matter of fact, I'm always scouting when I'm in the woods. I suppose that walking around may impact the deer's behavior, but I really don't see a whole lot of evidence of that.

In the twenty or so times that I've bowhunted this season, I've been within bow range of deer all but three times and one of those times I was just out of bow range of a really nice buck - see the Crown Buck article. The other two times were when I decided not to hunt a feeding area, but a trail, in hopes of ambushing said Crown Buck.

Bottom line is that when I hunt a dominant tree I am almost always within bow range of deer. When I don't hunt a dominant tree, my odds go way down.

Matt B said...

Well I thought you'd say that! I'll have to get more aggressive and see what I can stir up with these techniques. Thanks for the great resource of info.