Early season snacks: Where to find whitetails in crossbow season

If you want to be successful hunting whitetails with a crossbow during the archery-only season gaining a broad knowledge of their natural food habitats is important and the time to start thinking about it is now.

It is easy to rely solely on corn feeders to lure them in but the fact is when natural foods are abundant deer prefer them over corn and few big bucks frequent feeders during legal shooting hours.

And there is another reason for this story.

With today’s financial woes, many hunters are having to hunt national forest land, draw for hunts on public land or simply forego using feeders. We thought it was important to give some space to the importance of natural foods.

The food sources deer will eat are growing right now and the earlier you get the jump on their location, the better especially if you are hunting public land.

The Texas Agricultural Extension Service based out of Texas A&M University said it’s important for hunters to know that white-tailed deer are ruminants like cows, but their diet selection is radically different.

Natural food sources are crucial during the early season. Set your stands within 30 yards of the best sources to get the optimal show with your crossbow.

“Cattle are grass-roughage eaters, have a relatively large rumen relative to body size, and depend heavily on grasses for their diet. Grasses are relatively low in crude protein and digestibility when compared with legumes or forbs (broadleaf weeds).”

“Because of these nutritive parameters, grasses have a longer residence time in the cow rumen. Longer residence time increases rumen microflora (bacteria and protozoa) degradation of the forage. Thus for grass-roughage eaters like cattle and sheep, residence time is relatively long and rate of passage slow,” they said.

White-tailed deer are concentrate selectors, which means their diet must be higher in nutritive value and more rapidly degraded in the rumen.

“Therefore, white-tailed deer rely primarily on forbs and browse (leaves and twigs of woody plants), which are usually higher in crude protein and digestibility than grasses. Grasses comprise only a very small part of the overall diet of the white-tailed deer. Only grasses that are rapidly degraded in the rumen, such as the small grains and ryegrass, are used to any extent by deer.”

‘“Other useful introduced forages include both warm- and cool-season legumes. Native plants used by white-tailed deer include browse, forbs, soft and hard mast (fruits, acorns), and mushrooms. Forbs and mast, while providing good nutrition, may not be available each year or at all times of the year. Browse is usually the most important source of deer nutrition because of year-round availability.”

Another excellent source for deer is black gum, which Texas Parks & Wildlife Department (TPWD) officials rank as “excellent” for deer and other game.

Coralberry or “buck brush” is a great source of food, especially in the eatern third of the state.

The name should give it away but the thicket it creates along with the nutrition it provides makes it a favorite among deer hunters in the region.  Looking at the Pineywoods as a whole, TPWD officials note that in most areas, the virgin forest has been harvested several times over the last century.

For those hunting on national forest or large public hunting lands in the eastern third of the state it is important to examine how the land is divided.

A TPWD survey indicated that 22 percent of all timberland was classified as pine plantation. Most (72 percent) plantation establishment was on forest industry lands. The 1992 survey indicated that approximately 71 percent of the plantations were less than 20 years old.

That is worth explaining because some of the very best areas in the state are around fresh clear cuts (and up to a few years old) that are used to make way for these pine plantations.

Chester Moore, Jr.

TFG Editorial: