How to Attract Deer to Your Property and Keep Them There
Want to know how to attract deer to your property and hold them there throughout the year? Food plot trees are the answer, specifically the Dunstan chestnut tree.
Of course, typical annual food plot plants attract deer during the season they produce plants, but perennial mast-producing trees require less maintenance once established and they provide nutrition for deer and other wildlife for years and years to come.
Iain Wallace is the CEO of Chestnut Hill Outdoors, a nursery and tree farm famous for supplying Dunstan chestnut trees. He says that although often overlooked, tree nutrition for deer and other wildlife should be considered essential to wildlife management and should be high on the list when thinking of how to attract deer.
He explained that fruit and mast-producing trees ensure deer will return to your property year after year because they know there’s a consistent food source that they can rely on. When deer have access to fruit and mast-producing trees, they are less likely to wander too far away.
According to Wallace, the key to holding deer on your property is planting trees that fruit and provide nutrition from early summer all the way into the early winter. And, unlike typical foliage-based food plot crops, trees don’t have to be replanted, tilled and maintained at certain times of the year to keep them producing.
“After the first couple of years of planting and maintaining a food plot tree, it becomes a self-sufficient food source that will remain, possibly for the lifetime of the person who planted it,” he said.
He points out that trees grow naturally, so the deer have evolved to seek them out and eat what they produce.. They also teach their young to seek them out.
Wallace saidt that the key is planting the right assortment of fruit and mast producing trees so they’ll produce on a schedule that will attract deer throughout the year.
For example, mulberry fruits come out as early as April. Then, berries such as black berries, blueberries, raspberries, bush berries, grapes and plums fruit into the summer. Apples and pears produce into the later summer and early fall. Persimmons and pear continue into the fall and chestnuts, acorns and oaks produce into the winter months and deer season.
How To Attract Deer To Your Property: The No. 1 Food Plot Tree
If you only have the time and budget to plant one tree, Wallace says without a doubt, the No. 1 best way to attract deer is the Dunstan chestnut tree.
“Dunstan chestnuts are the perfect food plot tree,” he said. “This hardy, fast-growing tree has a vast growing range that stretches from Florida to Wisconsin. Chestnuts bear nuts in three to five years, compared to 10 to 20 years for oaks, and can produce up to 2,000 pounds per acre at maturity. Chestnut also produces nuts annually, whereas oak only produces nuts every other year.”
For thousands of years, the American chestnut was the most important food and timber tree species in the Eastern hardwood forest. It was almost completely destroyed by a bark fungus accidentally introduced from Asia in 1904. Within 40 years, more than 30 million acres of chestnut trees were killed from Maine to Georgia and west to the Mississippi. This tragedy is recognized as the most major ecological disaster in American history. The blight wiped out groves and groves of massive chestnut tree forests, eliminating that food source for wildlife.
“The American chestnut was the primary food source tree for wildlife – deer, bear, turkey, squirrel, and hogs,” Wallace said. “The chestnut forest could produce 2,000 pounds of mast or more per acre, more carbohydrate than an acre of corn. Chestnuts were the favored food in the fall for game, because the sweet-tasting nuts were high in protein, carbohydrate and had no bitter tasting tannins like acorns.”
Fortunately, in the 1950s, James Carpenter discovered a live American chestnut tree in a grove of dead and dying trees in Ohio. He sent budwood to a well-known plant breeder, Dr. Robert T. Dunstan, who took stock cuttings from the blight-resistant tree and crossed them with a Chinese chestnut which was naturally resistant to the blight.
Carpenter then crossed the seedlings from the first cross back to both parent trees. These future varieties would eventually become known as Dunstan chestnuts, which are now widely considered the No. 1 food plot tree in America.
How To Attract Deer To Your Property: Taste And Nutrition
Wallace says these days, the biggest problem that chestnut orchardists have is that deer eat all of their harvest.
“One grower in North Carolina was harvesting 10,000 pounds of nuts and harvesting every other day,” he said. “When he started picking up nuts every day, his harvest jumped to 26,000 pounds. The deer were eating two-thirds of his crop every night.”
He said other orchardists have had to fence 50-acre orchards to keep the deer out. One grower in Illinois made more money leasing his land to hunters at $1,500 per week than he did from harvesting the nuts.
This problem is no surprise to Wallace, who says chestnuts are chosen by deer over all other nuts because of their taste and nutrition.
“They are high in carbohydrates (40%) and contain up to 10% high-quality protein. This highly nutrient-rich food source provides critical energy during the rut in the fall. Chestnuts also have no bitter-tasting tannic acid (tannin). Deer have thousands more tastebuds than humans and are sensitive to bitter-tasting tannins. Deer prefer white oak acorns over red oaks because they contain less tannin, and this is why deer prefer chestnuts over all acorns.”
Wallace said that the sweet taste of chestnut actually sweetens the meat of the animals that eat it.
“In Spain, hogs are raised on chestnuts because of the excellent flavored meat it produces,” he noted. “Venison from chestnut-fed deer tastes like corn-fed venison, without the gamey taste of deer that feed on bitter-tasting acorns.”
How To Attract Deer To Your Property: When and Where to Plant
So, when is the best time to plant your trees? You really can’t go wrong by planting in the spring or fall, and you can even plant year-round in warmer climates if the ground doesn’t freeze.
People usually plant trees in the spring when things start to green. While spring may be a great time to plant, planting in fall has some unique benefits as well. In the fall, plants start to go dormant for the winter. So, trees planted in the fall won’t need as much water and nutrients as they would in the summer, which makes them easier to care for. Roots will grow in those dormant months, establishing the plants in the environment.
Wallace explains even more important than time of year and location, soil conditions are the key to tree health.
“Trees need to be planted in well-draining soil to thrive. To know what type of soil you have, you should take a sample to your local ag extension office to have it tested.”
The three types of soil are sandy, clay and sandy loam and each type has a different level of water retention. Fruit and nut trees can’t have standing water or they will get root rot and die. You must know if your soil will retain or drain a lot of water so you will know how much and how often you need to water your trees and shrubs. Sandy soil will drain, clay may hold onto water and sandy loam is somewhere in the middle.
Spacing your trees properly is also important when you are considering planning your food plot.
Pick a location with six to eight hours of sunlight a day for planting. The edges of food plots are often a good choice. If you are planting in the forest, pick tree fall gaps or open areas where the trees can grow toward the sunlight.
You’ll also need to be careful of spacing. Before planting, check the individual plant species for spacing requirements. Trees that require a pollinator will need to be planted close enough to their pollinator to sufficiently produce mast.
Wallace says before you plant, study the movement of wildlife on your property and plant according to your goals. You’ll want to plant your trees where you want to drive your herd, such as along the edge of your food plot or along a high-traffic route to encourage even more movement. Planting near a water source is also a good idea, but don’t plant too close to the water as it can result in root rot.
If you want to hold more deer on your property, consider planting food plot trees, especially the Dunstan chestnut and follow the tips above for planting times, spacing and location. With a little effort up front, you’ll reap the benefits for years to come.