Sunday, September 16, 2007

Tree ID - Chestnut Oak

The chestnut oak is a member of the white oak family. As mentioned in an earlier post, chestnut oak acorns are not particularly favored by deer due to their high tannin content which makes the acorns quite bitter. Despite their bitterness, deer will feed heavily on the chestnut oak during the early season, before more palletable species begin to mature. In middle Tennessee, there is usually about a one to two week window at the beginning of bow season (which starts the last Saturday in September) when chestnut oaks are the hot ticket. After that, the white oaks normally start to drop nuts and the deer move on to better tasting fare.

September 2008 Update: The chestnut oaks in middle Tennessee have a good mast crop this year. As a matter of fact, I will be hunting a cluster of chestnut oaks on opening morning this weekend. Despite there being white oak acorns on the ground everywhere, the deer are feeding hard on the chestnut oaks and ignoring the white oaks. My theory is that the white oak acorns were knocked down by several recent storms before they matured. They are not dropping nuts like they will in a couple weeks. The chestnut oaks, on the other hand, are actively dropping mature nuts which, for whatever reason, are more appealing to the deer. I noticed that the chestnut oak acorns are very firm. The white oak's that are on the ground are kind of rubbery. Maybe that affects the taste or the nutritional value.


Chestnut oaks grow primarily on south and west-facing ridges with dry, sandy-to-rocky, shallow soils. They have limited competition from other tree species that can't tolerate the poor soils, so they usually grow in relatively pure stands with very little ground vegetation in the area.

The bark of the chestnut oak is easily distinguished by its light gray color and very deep ridges which can be seen with binoculars from hundreds of yards away. Often, trees will have multiple trunks.


The leaves of the chestnut oak are football-shaped with rounded teeth along the edges.


Acorns are long with deep bowl-shaped cups that usually do not remain attached to the nuts once they fall to the ground. They typically are the first oak species to ripen in the area of middle Tennessee where I hunt. When ripe, the acorns are yellow and brown as seen above. They are similar in shape to their cousins the white oak, but they are much larger. Chestnut oaks are members of the white oak family, so their acorns mature in a single growing year. Although they are capable of producing a new crop of acorns each year, chestnut oaks usually produce a heavy crop every 4 -5 years. They generally produce fewer acorns than other oaks of a given size, most likely due to the poor nutrient content of the soils in which they grow.


If you are looking for a handy field guide that you can throw in your pack the next time you are out scouting, I recommend either or both of these books. I use both because often one will have a better photo or illustration than the other and two points of reference always helps. If you don't want to spend the cash for two books, I'd give a slight edge to the Peterson's Guide.

Next post: the pin oak.


Anonymous said...

You have a good blog here. Just one thing-the Chestnut Oak Acorns are quite sweet and deer like them.

In Christ,
Thomas Brown

Pursuit Hunter said...

Thomas - Thanks for the positive feedback. Please pass the word along to your hunting buddies so we can get some good discussions going.

I'll agree with you that deer like the chestnut oak acorns. In my area of the country (middle Tennessee) I've found that deer will feed on them for the first week or two of bow season which is late September/early October, but as soon as the other species of oaks begin actively dropping mature nuts, they will move on. As far as sweetness goes, you'll have a hard time making a believer out of me. I've taste tested every species of acorn that I've come across and I can tell you from personal experience that the chestnut oak acorns are much more bitter than other species like the white oak, the chinkapin oak, and the pin oak. But then I guess it all boils down to a matter of taste :-)

Anonymous said...

I have been picking our abundant chestnut oak acorns this year with the intention of either eating them raw or grinding them into a flour. The chestnut oaks I have been picking from are along a ridgeline in clay soil. The acorns are quite bitter (although not near as bitter as blackjack oaks.) I have seen mixed references to its bitterness/sweetness online and wonder if the type of soil or area it grows in affects it. For instance, would the sweeter nuts be from trees closer to lowlands and streams? Can anyone who has eaten a sweet chestnut oak acorn share the trees habitat?

Pursuit Hunter said...

SI - I don't know whether the tree's location would affect the bitterness of the acorns or not. I think the high tannic acid (tannin) content is just the way they're made. I also don't know whether you will find them growing in lowland areas - they seem to prefer the ridges.

I have seen articles on the web about making acorn flour. If I recall, you mash the meats and boil them in several changes of fresh water to extract the tannin. I'm sure you could google "acorn flour" and find something...

Good luck and let us know how it turns out. Just make sure that if you are collecting acorns from under a dominant tree that you don't accidentally pick up some deer berries along with the nuts.

Judy Dudich said...

Perhaps you are thinking of the Black or Red Oak Acorns...the Chestnut/White Oak are the sweet acorns with LESS tannin than the others. They are desired by both the animals and humans who eat them.

Acorn Breath said...

Dude - with all due respect, if you're going to use "fancy" words like "palletable" - you should at least figure out the correct spelling first,].