Mark’s post a couple weeks back on late season food source hunting actually prompted me to pen this blog post. His post included some clear, concise tips about locating primary late season food sources. My post today will be about identifying the late season food sources that deer really hit hard, but are often overlooked by deer hunters this time of year.
If you have followed my posts here on W2H with any regularity over the last 6 months, then you are well aware of how proud I am of the food plots planted on our property, and how instrumental they are to our family’s hunting success. Well, excuse me for a moment while I remove my foot out of my mouth. Our food plots were alive and well heading into the hunting season, but a month of no rainfall, and an over populated deer herd resulted in food plots that were burnt up, and eaten down, respectively. The result was a terribly slow rut as far as mature buck sightings were concerned, and will further result in an even slower late season… IF I resign myself to hunting around the food plots.
While I’d certainly rather have my food plots booming and deer pouring into them every night, the silver lining is that whitetails have gotten along just fine for many, many years before food plots existed. Whitetail deer are the ultimate browser, and there’s not much in the woods that they won’t consume. Sure, there are preferred food sources that they favor over others, but come late season, when those preferred food sources are gone, there are hidden browse species that deer take quite a liking to. Below are a few of their favorites I have found and look for on my hunting property.
This non-native invasive plant is a highly preferred food source for deer year round as they will consume the leaves, twigs, and berries. Honey suckle is shade tolerant and can be found in previously disturbed areas (clear cuts, logging roads, forest openings, etc.). It stays green year round in Virginia and its invasive nature allows it to withstand heavy browsing. Japanese honeysuckle is extremely high in protein, and I notice deer really begin to favor the honey suckle in early December when food plots are either exhausted or have gone dormant, and the majority of the acorns have been cleaned off the forest floor.
Wild grapes are another late season food source that I consider when hanging my post-rut stands. Keep in mind; I will only hang a stand in an area with an abundance of grapevines. If I hung a stand in every tree that shared a grapevine I’d have countless stands in the woods. However, where wild grapes are plentiful, you will surely be seeing some good deer numbers during the late season. Also expect a gang of turkeys to pluck their way through the forest as well.
Multi-floral Rose Bushes and Greenbrier
I’ve combined these two species together into their own category because they are so similar (and sharp and spiky!). These two early succession species are also a favorite of the local deer herd on my property during the late season because they are still green, obviously, and they contain a tremendous amount of moisture. Deer receive the majority of their moisture intake from various species of vegetation and from dew, not from going to water sources. Look for dense thickets of multi-floral rose bushes and greenbrier in clear cuts or otherwise previously disturbed areas and you might have a mature buck under stay before you know it.
I know many hunters and land owners who cover every square inch of tillable ground on their property with food plots. I’ve never been a big fan of this for many reasons. For one, it makes your property incredibly difficult to hunt effectively. Secondly, as is my case, food plots are entirely dependent on the weather, and if they don’t perform, you’re out of a food source. Take this piece of advice with a grain of salt because I’m not very well versed in cool season forbs and grasses, but I do know for a fact that they are a deer magnet beginning in early December.
There’s an old, abandoned 3 acre field on my property that I always consider planting as food plot, but never do because I feel it works better as a poor man’s CRP field in the early season, and as a food source in the late season. From about September to early October the nasty grasses and weeds that have overtaken the field provide great transition cover and bedding opportunities. However, once the first cold hard frost hits, those grasses and weeds wilt like a rookie quarterback under pressure and give away to delicious (to deer, not me) cool season forbs and grasses. I’m not aware of the names of these grasses or forbs, nor do I know the specifics of what they look like, but I do know on property void of otherwise preferred food sources, these grasses become very attractive to deer.
This is a clear cut (pun intended) generalization, but clear cuts are basically Mother Nature’s food plot. The amount of highly preferred, attractive, and nutritious food in a 1 acre clear cut rivals that of a 1 acre food plot. They are literally crawling with honeysuckle, greenbrier, multi-floral rose bushes, and forbs and grasses in the understory. Yellow-poplar buds, locust seeds, and maple leaves and browse will also attract deer. Depending on your region of the country and what species grow best in your soil types, clear cuts will attract deer as a late season food source. Book it.
I’ll admit I was looking forward to a much more productive late season based on assumed success from my food plots. Obviously, that success never came, but like many things in the whitetail woods, there is always a silver a lining; an opportunity that you never thought possible, to score on a mature buck or fat, late season doe. I’m hoping that hunting these hidden late season food sources will be my ticket.
– Cody Altizer