Whitetail Deer: Mapping Mast

If you have been following my blogs you know that I am big on hunting mast. The deer hunting cycle (feed-breed-feed) starts with hunting early season food sources and nothing beats hard and soft mast when it comes to early fall whitetails.

Whitetails kick into an almost frantic feeding frenzy sometime in late summer to early fall. They load up on food to prepare for the breeding period and tough winter ahead. A mature whitetail buck can pack on 30 pounds or more in a few months.

Almost anything tender, young and green will attract a crowd of whitetails in the fall feeding period. That is, until the mast hits. Once mast is available they eat it almost exclusively. Beans and alfalfa are abandoned for acorns and apples. No, that big buck you've been watching all summer on farmer Al's back field hasn't been poached; he's found a ridge of white oak acorns and isn't going anywhere.

Last June I blogged about checking out soft mast foods like apples, pears and persimmons and various berries. Earlier this week I wrote about checking out hard mast sources like acorns and beechnuts. By now you should know which trees will be bearing mast and which won't.

Almost every apple and pear tree on our hunting property has fruit this year. Some heavier than others but they will all be attracting sugar hooked whitetails. Last year we had no apples at all. This year we will be hunting differently when the mast season rolls around. Only 30 to 35% of our oaks are bearing acorns this year. White acorns (a whitetail favorite) will be in short supply, but a few of our favorite trees are loaded with them. Guess where we will be when they fall? Knowing that apples are everywhere but the acorns look a little light will affect our fall hunting strategy.

Make a Map
Now is the time to put together your mast-hunting strategy for fall. Mapping mast can be as easy or complicated as you choose. Get an aerial or topo of your hunting area and something to mark mast sources with. If you don't have an aerial or topo, make a sketch. We use one color for apples, another for pears, still another for beechnuts and different colors of red and white oaks. We mark the areas where there will be mast this fall and our knowledge of the property we hunt takes it from there--with one exception. This year we ate noting which white oaks are producing acorns as they will be a big draw.

Because most mast starts out somewhere up in a tree, it is important to know when the mast will be on the ground. If you don't know which trees drop their bounty when, you will have to do a little in season scouting which we hate doing. We note estimated drop times in some kind of a key or shading. There's no point in hunting an apple tree or acorn flat if all the edibles are 20 feet in the air. A good mast map should identify not only where your mast sources are, but when they are available. It should also help you develop hunting strategies for your early season food driven hunts.

If you are an early-season hunter, more than likely you will be hunting food sources and more than likely they will be green. The trick is to be ready when the green fields and weed patches go to red apples, yellow pears and brown acorns. Mapping your mast and laying out your hunting strategy now will keep you from wandering all over the woods wondering what happened to all the deer.