QUESTION: In some areas that I hunt in the southern zone of New York state, there was a super mass of acorns. I know the area has high herd densities but the deer seemed almost absent. My theory is that the deer are just not as mobile due to the abundance of food everywhere and they're just not traveling as much or as far, as they would normally in an average mast year. What’s your opinion? What tactics would you use to locate deer in years like such?
ANSWER: First, I’d say your theory is sound. When there is an abundance of hard mast (acorns, beechnuts) deer and bears don’t need to travel as much or as far to find food, making them less vulnerable to hunting mortality. When food is scarce, the opposite is true, and harvest figures bear this out. Deer kills and success rates tend to go up slightly in years of poorer mast crops.
The best suggestion I can offer is to step up your scouting efforts in years with abundant mast. First, try to locate areas of heavier mast concentration. Then look for the freshest sign - things like overturned leaves and scat. Trail cameras can be particularly helpful as they’ll tell you if and when deer are using a particular area.
You might also consider shifting your focus toward bedding areas and travel corridors. They’re abundance and location doesn’t change as much from year to year, regardless of food availability. The deer may have more options on where to feed, but they’ll likely use the same bedding areas. Try figure out not where the deer are going to feed, but where they’re coming from. Move your stand locations as close as you can (to bedding areas), without disturbing natural movement.
And shift your timing a little. Take your time and get into stands earlier - in the morning and afternoon - and sit longer, if you can. Sit tight a little longer in the morning, as you may catch deer coming home from a late breakfast. And expect deer to pass by earlier in the afternoon as they head out to feed.