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Fall Food for Whitetail

1. Elderberries [Mike Mather photo/Flickr] 2. Honey locust pods [Dave Bonta/Flickr] 3. Red mulberries [garlandcannon photo/Flickr] 4. Wild persimmon [Paulo Trabbatoni photo/Flickr]

In much of Florida, hunting season is in and hunters are taking to the woods to scout out good locations for deer. One of the best ways to find deer is to watch their favorite food sources.

As the weather cools, deer start turning from protein sources toward carbohydrates. In the summer, deer need higher protein because does are raising fawns and bucks are growing antlers. In the fall they need carbohydrates so they can put on some fat for the winter.

During the late summer and early fall, many fruit and nut trees start dropping their bounty. This includes persimmons, beautyberries, red mulberry, black gum or American tupelo and acorns, as well as pecans, hickory nuts and honey locusts.

If you can find a good producing smaller-seeded red oak, that's a good place to look. Often the first oak to drop acorns is an exotic species called the sawtooth oak, which may drop as early as sometime in September. Originally from eastern Asia, where it is common in China, Korea and Japan, the sawtooth oak is closely related to the turkey oak.

If you're not familiar with honey locust, it's a legume that is a tree. It makes a big seed pod, with seeds that are more or less suspended in something that's almost a jelly; it's very sweet, and the deer love them. It's not a good tree to climb up into to hunt because it has lots of spines on it, but if you know of one that's dropping pods, it's a good place to hunt. When a group of trees has come up close to one another, they can form dense thickets that provide good cover as well as soft mast for deer.

As hard as pecans and hickory nuts can be, deer still can get into them. They can break the shells open with their molars and pre-molars and eat the nuts. Deer also use browse species during this period of time. Smilax, or greenbrier, is a big one. Many other vines, such as honeysuckle, jasmine and wild grape, also are still pretty palatable this time of year. And don't overlook elderberry patches.

Briar patches can be great. They're tough to hunt in, but if you can find a good patch of Rubus—blackberries and dewberries—that's an area where the deer will feed as long as they're still green. It's also a good hiding place; they get up in the briar patches and hide, and feed on the blackberry and dewberry plants.

Rubus is a large genus of flowering plants that belongs to the rose family. Like roses, the plants send up long, thorny canes or branches, and they make tangled masses of plants that are difficult or impossible to push through.

Row crops also are a source of food deer utilize. If soybeans still are in the ground, the deer will hit them pretty hard. If there's corn still standing, they'll eat it, along with any corn spilled during harvest.

If you've planted an early food plot that's greening up, that's a good food source for deer, but deer often prefer natural browse over food plots. You're better off looking for natural food sources such as mast producing trees, both soft mast and hard mast.

Once you've found a good food source with active deer sign, find a place to set up a blind or stand. Look for game trails, especially on the downwind side of the food source. Fall winds can be variable, though, so if you can find two places on opposite sides of the food source, so much the better. FS

Florida Sportsman November 2017

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