How to Identify November Whitetail Forest Feeding Areas in September

Feeding areas provide the greatest odds for stand hunting success for several reasons:  whitetails feed during the most predictable of hours in the most predictable of locations, they are most visible while feeding and they move slowing and often halt short periods while feeding, making them easy targets. The trouble is, whitetails have lots of feeding areas, today’s stand-smart deer (3-1/2 years of age or older) are particularly adept at discovering, identifying and avoiding stand hunters located in wooded peripheries of feeding areas, typically causing them to abandon current favorite feeding areas within 1–3 feeding periods, and few of today’s one-stand stand hunters are capable of locating and moving their stands to new feeding areas during hunting seasons without being discovered by nearby deer when doing it. Moreover, most stand hunters are inclined to return to previously used stand sites where deer that have survived three or more hunting seasons find it particularly easy to continue to again identify and avoid them.

To avoid wasting hunting time at soon abandoned feeding areas, my sons and begin each hunting season with a great number of prepared and probable (unprepared) new stand site locations for tree stand and ground level stand hunting at a great number of whitetail feeding areas, enabling each of us to move to stands where whitetails are currently feeding as often as every half day. Many sites are located adjacent to large old clearcuts which Mother Nature has since divided into graze areas (open with lots of green grasses, etc.), browse areas (open with abundant woody shrubs and tree saplings), stands of red oaks which occasionally produce lots of acorns and little or no-food, densely-forested areas.

Early scouting and knowing what to look for are important prerequisites to regular hunting success. Though this year’s bumper crop of red oak acorns may be the key to successful buck hunting this November, six inches of snow can quickly change matters, forcing our whitetails to switch to their usual food staple beginning about November 8th, thin stems of woody browse such as red osiers, mountain maples and sugar maple saplings. Judging which areas where such browse is currently abundant will become favorite feeding areas in November (not all do) is difficult when scouting in September or October because such areas are then typically devoid of fresh deer signs. Where slender branches of such plants have lots of ragged black (or brown) tips—signs of heavy browsing by deer during the previous November and December—it is usually a safe bet whitetails will feed heavily there again during the following November and December. Lots of ragged black tips on the above listed shrubs enabled my three sons and me to find most of the new stand sites we used to take many of the 101 mature bucks we have taken since 1990.

A Bumper Crop of Acorns

Upon retuning home from scouting last weekend, two of my sons, Dave and Ken, had similar stories to tell: “It’s very wet in our hunting area, streams are overrunning their banks, beavers have flooded several new areas, many of our trails are now under water, including trails leading to intended new stand sites, and the only places where lots of deer signs were found were in sizable patches of red oaks, the reason being, we have a bumper crop of red oak acorns this year.”

At this point, it is difficult to predict whether or not acorns will be the key to hunting success this November. With the kind of weather we’ve been having all summer—lots of heavy rains with flash flooding—it’s altogether likely acorns in our hunting area will be deep under snow by the time our firearm hunting season opens on November 9th. Yet, because unusually warm Novembers are no longer uncommon in Minnesota, perhaps meaning no snow will cover the ground on opening weekend again this year, we cannot overlook the enormous affect a bumper crop acorns is likely to have on our deer hunting this year. During previous years when we had bumper crops, certain large patches of red oaks provided my hunting partners and me with extraordinary buck hunting success (and great tasting venison).

Remembering where he had taken several mature bucks at the edge of a sizable patch of red oaks in years past, Ken decided to select some new stand sites in the same vicinity for his son, Ryan. The trouble was, the two routes he and I previously used to get there, one from the west across a spruce bog aptly named “Boot Suck Bog” and the other from the north through interlacing alders bordering a large beaver pond, were both under water, making it necessary to find a new route (a series of connecting deer trails) on higher ground. There wasn’t much of a choice. The route they selected added about a mile of hiking distance across a notably rugged and narrow highland from due north, meaning it can’t be used while the wind is blowing from northwest to northeast. This made the total camp to stand site distance about two miles. Selecting, removing dead branches and marking this new trail with fluorescent tacks was tedious and time consuming work, but if it turns out acorns are available to our whitetails this November, it is almost certain to provide Ryan with a chance to take a trophy buck.

Meanwhile, my sons could not overlook the fact that six inches of snow might be covering the ground on opening weekend, in which case our deer would be feeding on browse instead of acorns. Learn what they did to begin preparng for this possibility in my next blog.

Hiking Downwind While Hunting Whitetails, Tip No. 2

Downwind travels on foot do not need to be ruinous to next day whitetail hunting. Done properly, such travels can actually improve odds for hunting success, even when intending to take older bucks. If you hunt whitetails on public land hunted by plenty of other hunters, one or more downwind stand site approach routes exactly like the one described in my previous blog entitled, “Hiking Downwind While Hunting Whitetails, Tip No.1 (a route coursing coursing straight downwind and then 200 yards or more crosswind),” could be your key to regular hunting success. If I hunted in such an area, I’d make it a rule to select stand sites 1/4–1/2 mile (450–900 yard-long steps) downwind from any road or trail on which other hunters use motorized vehicles (cars, pickups, ATVs, OHVs, snowmobiles and such). I’d select sites that will be downwind while winds are blowing from two or more common wind directions so I always have one or two to use whatever the wind direction. At that distance from roads or trails, you won’t be bothered much by many other hunters. The way to make this work is, get to your downwind stand site well before other hunters begin entering the woods—about a half-hour before the first legal shooting hour in the morning begins. To ensure you won’t lose your way in darkness, rather than mark your routes with easy-to-spot colored tapes or blazes on tree trunks, use fluorescent tacks which light up like miniature lights in the beam of a flashlight but are not readily noticed by others during daylight hours. Begin your tacks off-road next to some unique landmark such as a certain tall tree easily seen against a star or moonlit sky where headlights and flashlights of passing hunters won’t brightly elluminate them and invite others to follow. After you are silently settled at your stand site—which should provide excellent cover for hiding your silhouette and necessary movements and an easy shooting distance from downwind of a deer trail or feeding area currently loaded with fresh deer tracks and droppings)—your odds of seeing deer, some unknowingly pushed in your direction by other hunters who started out about daybreak, will be about as promising as they can be.