For weeks, Monroe County deer hunters have been preparing food plots for the deer that inhabit their hunting lands. While these supplemental plantings can be valuable to whitetails, often little thought is given to promoting the native plants that actually provide whitetails with the majority of their food throughout the year.
One group of plants that is especially important to white-tailed deer in Monroe County is the oaks. There are more than 30 species of oaks native to the Peach State; two of the most important to Monroe County whitetails are white and water oaks.
I don’t think there is any question that local whitetails prefer white oak acorns above all others. When you think about it, what is there not to like about them? To begin with, they simply taste better than other acorns. This pleasing taste can is attributed to the fact they contain low levels of tannin. Acorns that harbor significant amounts of tannin are bitter.
White oak acorns are also quite large and highly nutritious. These jumbo-sized acorns are packed with vitamins, carbohydrates, and fats.
On top of that, white oak trees live a very long time. In fact, white oaks are known to live more than four centuries.
While it is true white oak acorns have a lot going for them as a deer food, they also have a number of factors working against them.
To begin with, typically a white oak tree will not produce a single acorn until it is two decades old. Once the first crop falls to the ground, you have to wait another 30 years before the tree bears a bumper crop of acorns. In a bumper crop year, an oak could be expected to drop 10,000 or more acorns. Thereafter a bumper crop can be expected to appear once every four to 10 years. During the years in between much smaller crops of acorns are formed.
Another factor working against whitetails is white oak acorns are relished by many other species of wildlife. Consequently, they rapidly disappear from the forest floor as they are gobbled up by feral hogs, blue jays, wild turkeys, squirrels and other wildlife species.
If that is not enough, white oak acorns sprout very rapidly. As a result, few white oak acorns offer deer a source of food well into winter.
For reasons I do not fully understand, the water oak is often underrated as a white-tailed deer food plant. Like the white oak, this tree usually doesn’t produce its first crop of acorns until it is 20 years old. However, from then on, the water oak bears an abundant crop of acorns each year. Water oaks produce larger crops of acorns in alternate years. These food morsels contain more tannin than those of the white oak, yet they are high in fat and crude fiber and low in phosphorus and potassium. Consequently, although its acorns are not as coveted by hungry whitetails as white oak acorns, they offer deer a more dependable source of highly nutritious food
The value of water oak acorns to deer is illustrated by the fact that, in many years, upwards of 75 percent of their diet consists of these much smaller acorns.
It should be noted that water oaks do not live as long as white oaks. The expected life span of a water oak is 60-80 years.
I urge all landowners and hunt clubs to protect the stands of water and white oaks on their property. They provide an important source of food to white-tailed deer and other wildlife. You cannot maintain your deer population on food plots alone. Deer need a wide variety of wild plants throughout the year to prosper.
When it comes to getting the most out of your investment, what beats leaving stands of white and water oaks (at little or no cost) that produce untold amounts of food for whitetails for decades? Food plots are great, but water and white oaks play a critical role in the overall health of your deer herd, too.
Terry Johnson is retired Program Manager of the Georgia Nongame-Endangered Wildlife Program. He has written the informative column ‘Monroe Outdoors’ for the Reporter for many years. His book, “A Journey to Discovery,” is available at The Reporter. Email him at firstname.lastname@example.org.