Get a group of hunters together, and when the talk turns to food plots, the focus is on clover, sugar beets, turnips, soybeans, and so on. Hardly ever does the conversation turn towards trees. I do not understand why though. All serious hunters know the benefits of nut and fruit trees, and how deer are attracted to them. So why don’t more hunters plant them?
Six years ago, I decided I was going to plant a couple apple trees and chestnut trees near one of my favorite stand sites. On the fourth year I began seeing signs of fruit. By the fifth year I felt comfortable enough with the crop that I felt it would benefit me to hunt over it as the mast began to drop. The end result was me being able to harvest a nice doe and buck.
In the beginning I was optimistic for good results and shared my idea to family in Kentucky who also planted a few trees. The results equaled mine, and my nephew Ray was able to take a mature buck in Kentucky over a chestnut plot, his first velvet buck.
Yes, I might have been able to kill them deer regardless of the trees being there or not, but the trees certainly attracted the animals and kept them in the area on a regular basis.
Apple, oak, and chestnut trees are a favorite food producer for whitetails. Hunters think that acorns are the favorite nut deer consume, but deer prefer chestnuts to acorns by far. Chestnuts contain 40 percent carbohydrates, 10 percent protein, and are not as bitter as acorns.
Over a century ago, the American Chestnut tree was wiped out by some fungi. The result was the whitetails favorite mast crop tree was wiped out. Deer had no other choice but to turn to acorns. Luckily a plant breeder, Dr. Robert Dunstan, was able to cross the American Chestnut with the Chinese Chestnut, resulting in a tree named the Dunstan Chestnut. Once again, chestnuts were available for deer to feed on half way through the 1900s.
Dunstan chestnuts are available from many sources. Chestnut Hill Outdoors has a good reputation of providing quality chestnut trees, along with apple, persimmon, pear, oak, and other trees. Dunstan Chestnuts start producing nuts in 3 to 4 years, and within 10 years they are dropping anywhere from 10 to 20 pounds. To contact Chestnut Hill Outdoors, call 1-855-386-7826, or www.chestnuthilloutdoors.com.
Because these trees produce fruit so fast, within 3 or 4 years, hunters do not have to wait 10 to 20 years to see results, like they would with oak trees.
When it comes down to deciding to planting a traditional food plot, or a tree plot, I prefer to plant a tree plot. That is not to say I do not plant traditional food plots. Whitetails need more than just fruit and nuts to eat. Not only does a plot of turnips or clover benefit the deer, but they are still a very good tactic used to harvest a deer.
The best thing about tree plots is once they are planted, the work is done. When I plant a clover plot, or another plot, it seems like the work never ends. When I plant a tree plot, the biggest tool I need is a shovel, not an ATV, tractor, disk or planter.
A good fertile soil with a pH level between 6 and 7 is best. For best results, perform a soil test to learn the pH level where you intend to plant trees.
It is common for the pH level to be low, and need some lime added to the soil. Kits can be purchased from food plot companies, or Ag stores. Also, local fertilizer companies can often perform the test and let you know the results, and what the soil needs.
When the pH is correct, you can plant the trees. Trees can be purchased locally at nursery’s, seed catalogs, or from the internet.
Once you have your trees, dig a hole big enough so that the root ball of the tree is level with the ground. To help the root ball hold water, add some potting soil around the root ball.
After the ball is buried, lay down a weed mat so the tree gets the nutrients, and water it needs to grow, not the weeds and grass.
To keep deer, and other critters from destroying a young tree, put a protective cage around it. This will prevent the bark from being rubbed off, and deer from browsing in it.
The number one thing the tree needs to survive is water, but too many times that does not happen. Many trees are neglected if they are planted off the beaten path.
In order to get the trees the water they need you might have to fill buckets with water, and haul the water out to the trees. If you have an ATV with a sprayer, that is another good option. Make sure the sprayer does not have any chemicals in it that could kill the trees. The best case would be if there was a stream or pond nearby.
Planting trees is not hard, especially compared to a traditional food plot. The cool thing about planting trees is that it does not take a big chunk of land to have deer leave your neighbor’s property, and visit yours for an easy meal of fruit and nuts from mid-summer to winter.
In order for trees to thrive, they need to be planted where they can receive plenty of water and sunlight.
If you plan to hunt near the trees, plant them in in an area out of sight near a bedding area.
Get out and find the right location for your trees well ahead of time. It could take many weeks to get the pH the way it needs to be.
Trees should be planted in the spring and fall. Regular fertilization helps the tree get off to a good start.
This might seem overwhelming at first, but if you are serious about hunting whitetails, providing nutritious food, and managing a healthy herd it is worth the efforts. It is not that hard and the benefits are huge.