If it seems like I’ve been blogging about soft mast for whitetails, it’s for good reason. Whitetails are slaves to there stomachs and it’s the smart deer hunter who pays close attention to what whitetails are eating. And, when it comes to what whitetails eat, few foods can compete with soft mast.
By soft mast I mean fruits and berries that typically mature in the early fall. Soft mast is typically high in sugar content and wandering whitetails can get hooked in a hurry. Anything within reach is ripped from the tree and once fruit starts falling, it’s scooped up like candy from a piñata.
Due to a complete soft-mast failure last year, we’ve been watching the soft mast crop formation intently all spring. Last year, an early season warm spell brought out the blooms and a few days later a freeze wiped them out. We planted additional food plots to make up for the early season shortfall, but hunting season just wasn’t the same without a fruit crop to hunt.
This season we had beautiful blooms and no apparent frost damage. We’ve been holding our breath ever since. I am pleased to report that in most regions, the fruit has set and unless something dramatic happens (heavy hail, wind, pests etc.), we’ll be hunting soft mast come October. Our apple, pear and cherry trees are loaded with fruit the size of my fingernail and I couldn’t be happier. The berry bushes have also set fruit and so have the most of the fruit bearing brush species.
But this is about more than hunting over soft mast this fall. We plant plenty of food plots including some fall annuals for hungry whitetails. Early in the fall our whitetails will have plenty of early fall soft mast to keep them busy. This season we will plant late-season, freeze-resistant annuals to pick up the slack when the soft mast is cleaned up. Unlike some food plot forages, which shuts down in cold weather, some plantings are tailor made for the late season. Brassicas and forage such as turnips and radishes really come into their own after a good hard freeze and that’s exactly what we will be planting to pick up where the apples left off. No point competing with bushels of early season fruits and berries.
Smart deer hunters not only know what deer eat but what they will be eating during the hunting season. Get out there now and check your soft mast crop; it’s right there waiting for you. Don’t wait until the week before bow season and run every mature deer out of your hunting property. There is a 95% chance the fruit will still be on the trees come fall so do your homework now and forget about all that week before scouting.
Oh, and one more thing, you still have to check out the hard mast crop (acorns, beechnuts, etc.) but that will come later in the season.