Following last week’s sudden, torrential rainfall there’s no doubt that it’s fall. It’s as if the foliage was waiting for a good drenching because new colors began to appear almost the next day.
Also, after several weeks of hit-or-miss wildlife activity it seems that critters of all sorts got the urge to move as well after the rain. I’ve seen more deer, turkeys, raccoons, waterfowl, squirrels and songbirds since the storm than I did prior to it, and one of my trail cameras showed a nice, big black bear that stopped to visit one of our grassy food plots.
I haven’t done any baiting specifically for bears this year but I have noticed their tracks in just about every food plot and muddy spot around us. Popular thought is that there is enough natural food out there to keep bears, deer, turkeys and other game happy, and if the amount of acorns I’ve seen is any indication these animals and birds won’t show much interest in prepared baits – there’s more than enough food to go around.
In fact, I spent a few early mornings hunting the ingredients for my annual crock pot squirrel stew and actually had to take cover because it was literally raining acorns; big, fat solid nuts that fell from above like bullets. Anyone who hunts near black oaks know what I mean – those nuts are the size of radishes and hit with authority after dropping 100 feet or more from the crown of the tree.
Although black oak acorns are big, dark and rather hard-shelled wildlife seems to love them. I shot a nice buck a few years ago that literally rattled when I rolled him over – his stomach was packed full of black oak acorns. I was able to scoop out a couple of handfuls of the uneaten nuts and filled my pockets with them just to get a more positive identification. Normally, late fall deer will be full of apples, browse or white oak acorns, but this one left no doubt as to what kind of nuts he preferred. There was nothing in his stomach but black oak acorns, more than a gallon of them.
Because I was tagged out I decided to spend some time near a grove of black oaks just to see what else might prefer them and was surprised to see everything from turkeys, raccoons, squirrels, grouse and even blue jays gagging them down. Doves flew down to pick at the bits and pieces left by the larger critters, and juncos, chickadees and various other songbirds did the same.
The acorns were so abundant that year that there was still activity going on well into winter, when I found deer and turkeys had been digging and pawing beneath the snow for the last remnants of the crop.
While much has been made of baiting for bears and other game of late it’s always been the standard hunting tactic to find what natural foods the animals have been eating and focus on those areas till the next natural crop takes over. The progression through fall is quite predictable in a normal year, going from blueberries in August to raspberries, apples, acorns and other mast through the end of November. Farm crops are also attractive to game birds and animals as winter approaches, and it is perfectly legal to hunt near areas that have been planted to corn, broccoli, beans, oats and other fall plantings, not to mention apples, pears and similar fruits. Find the food, find the game – it’s as easy as that.
Lest one think that baits of any kind, artificial or natural, make hunting too easy, it’s good to keep in mind that 99 percent of wildlife activity takes place at night, long after legal hunting hours have closed. I can flick my porch lights on at any time after sunset and see deer, raccoons and other critters standing around the feeders in the yard, and the bear that was recorded on our trail camera didn’t show up till 11 p.m. Most of our preferred game species are primarily nocturnal, laying low throughout the day and doing most of their traveling and feeding after dark. It’s fun to happen upon an orchard or plot that has been ravaged by deer, bears and other game but as the saying goes, you can’t eat the tracks!
Also, because natural foods are so abundant and widespread deciding where to hunt is a gamble. Deer and bears, especially, make the rounds of their favorite foraging areas during the night and may not even show up at your “secret” spot till 2 a.m., which does you no good. Narrowing the search to where they’ll be at dawn or dusk is the real challenge, and if you get there too late they’ll simply cross that site off their list, or visit it only at night.
The real winners this year are the squirrels and chipmunks, which have been busy gathering acorns for weeks. Once again my garden boots on the front porch have been filled with nuts each week since late August. I dump the contents into the yard where the birds and turkeys clean them up, but a week later they’re full again. I get why squirrels stockpile food for the winter because they don’t hibernate in the purest sense of the word, but chipmunks are dormant through most of the winter – I have to wonder what drives them to store food when they are not going to utilize it. By spring there is plenty for them to eat yet every fall I see them stealing sunflower seeds and gathering acorns for the long winter ahead. Perhaps they do rouse themselves during winter thaws and raid their hoards for a few days at a time. I’ve never seen it but a lot goes on under the snow and ice that we shivering humans are not aware of!