As an avid deer and nature lover, I’m always trying to learn more about deer behavior and biology. One question that often comes up is: do deer eat acorns? The short answer is yes, deer absolutely love acorns! In fact, acorns are highly favored as a fall food source for deer.
In this guide, we’ll take a detailed look at why deer are so attracted to acorns, the different types of oak trees and acorns, acorn nutrition facts, mast crop cycles, scouting for acorn hotspots, and how you can use your knowledge of deer and acorns to your advantage during hunting season. I’ll also share some experiences hunting over acorn-laden oak trees. Let’s dive in!
Table Of Contents
Why Do Deer Love Acorns So Much?
There are several reasons why acorns are like candy to deer:
- Nutrition – Acorns are packed with protein, carbohydrates, fats, vitamins, and minerals that deer need to stay healthy and grow big.
- Abundance – In a good mast year, oak trees can produce tons of acorns, providing a bountiful food source.
- Palatability – Compared to other nuts and seeds, acorns tend to be more palatable and easier for deer to digest.
- Size – The large size of acorns makes them easy for deer to find and efficient to eat.
- Security – Acorns fall right where deer feel most secure – under the oak tree canopy.
During the autumn months when acorns start littering the forest floor, they can constitute up to 25% of a deer’s daily diet. It’s easy to see why deer flock to oak trees in the fall – the acorns are plentiful, tasty, and packed with the nutrients deer need to bulk up for winter. No wonder they go nuts for them!
White Oaks vs Red Oaks: Not All Acorns Are Created Equal
There are over 90 different species of oak trees in North America, but they mainly fall into two broad classifications – white oaks and red oaks. The most obvious difference is in the shape of their leaves. White oaks have rounded leaf lobes while red oaks have pointed tips on their leaves. But when it comes to acorns, the taste is what really matters to deer.
All acorns contain tannins which affect their palatability. White oak acorns contain fewer tannins, giving them a sweeter, more appealing taste. That’s why white oak acorns are hands down the preferred choice for deer. Red oak acorns have more tannins, making them more bitter. Deer will still eat red oak acorns, but usually only after the white oak supply has run out.
Here’s a quick overview of some common oak species and their acorn preference ranking for deer:
- White Oak – Lowest tannins, “candy” for deer!
- Pin Oak – Low to medium tannins, very palatable.
- Water Oak – Low to medium tannins, deer love them.
- Red Oak – Medium tannins, ok but not a top choice.
- Black Oak – Medium to high tannins, bitter taste.
- Bur Oak – Large acorn size helps make up for high tannins.
- Live Oak – High tannins, least preferred for deer.
The takeaway here is that if you can find white oaks in your hunting area, that’s where deer will head first when the acorns start falling. I’ve had my best luck hanging stands near productive white oak trees in the early season.
Why Do Deer Eat Acorns? Nutrition Facts
Now let’s take a look at why acorns are such an attractive food source by breaking down their nutritional value:
- Carbohydrates – Around 41% of carbs make acorns a great energy source.
- Fats – About 24% of fat content helps deer build up winter fat reserves.
- Protein – Although relatively low in protein at 6%, deer consume enough acorns to meet their protein needs.
- Vitamins and minerals – Acorns provide calcium, phosphorus, potassium, and niacin.
With their high fat and carbohydrate content, acorns provide deer with the calories they need to put on weight before winter. And even though the protein percentage is low, deer can easily meet their protein requirements by consuming large quantities of acorns.
In fact, wildlife biologists have found that deer living in areas with plentiful acorn production tend to be heavier than their counterparts in areas without abundant oak trees. During years when the acorns are raining down, deer can focus their feeding under oak trees and enter winter in prime shape thanks to all the fat reserves they’ve built up.
Boom and Bust: The Mastery Crop Cycle
If acorns are such an attractive food source, why don’t deer gorge on them every autumn? The answer lies in the natural cycles of mast production.
Mast refers to the fruits, seeds, or nuts produced by trees and shrubs that are eaten by wildlife. The amount of mast produced can fluctuate widely from year to year. When trees produce a bountiful mast crop, it’s referred to as a “mast year”. These boom years are usually followed by 1-3 years of lower mast production, known as “bust years”.
Oak trees exhibit alternate bearing cycles where they produce heavier crops every 2-3 years on average. Favorable spring weather conditions and adequate summer rainfall promote good acorn development. Drought stress and late spring frosts can ruin a crop. So in any given year, some oak trees in an area will be in production, while others are taking a break.
For deer, this means the location of the acorn buffet can change from one season to the next. That’s why it’s so important for hunters to scout regularly and stay on top of oak mast production trends in their hunting areas. When you locate those productive trees on your property, you can better predict deer movements in the fall.
How to Scout for Acorns
Now that you understand why deer love acorns and the mast cycle, let’s look at some practical tips for finding acorn hotspots on your property:
- Identify oak trees – Learn to recognize the different oak species in your area. Their leaves and bark are helpful ID tips.
- Check the branches – Scan upper branches with binoculars to spot clusters of developing acorns.
- Note fresh sign – Look for recent acorn caps and pieces of shells underneath oaks.
- Observe deer and wildlife activity – Fresh deer tracks and droppings around an oak are a good sign.
- Mark productive trees – Use mapping apps or trail cams to note which trees are dropping early.
- Follow up during season – Revisit marked trees to see which ones deer are honing in on.
Pay special attention to any white and pin oaks you locate, as they will likely be the trees deer frequent first. I like using the HuntStand app to scout and mark high producing trees from previous years so I can rotate stand locations as the acorn hotspots change.
Hunting Tactics Using Acorns
Once you’ve located some of the best acorn-producing trees on your land, here are some effective tactics for hunting over them:
- Set up lightweight hang-on stands to stay mobile as deer shift feeding patterns.
- Hunt during the early morning and right before dark when deer are most active in feeding.
- Watch the weather closely. Deer feed heavily right before and after frontal passages.
- Use scent control when accessing stands and be cautious not to bump deer.
- Pay attention to the deer sign near oak trees. Look for rubs/scrapes.
- Consider adding a game feeder to draw deer in during low mast years.
One of my favorite techniques is hanging a lock-on stand near a hot tree a day or two before the hunt and leaving my backpack hoisted up the tree. Then I can slip in quietly without extra scent or noise. Acorns draw deer like a magnet, so hunting oak trees can lead to some great close-range shot opportunities.
Should You Fertilize Oak Trees?
With all the benefits oak trees provide for deer hunting, some people wonder if fertilizing them will boost acorn production. There is some debate on this topic. Some arborists argue that fertilization won’t increase nut production significantly. However, my personal experience has shown improved yields on fertilized trees.
Here are a few tips if you want to try fertilizing oak trees:
- Select trees that are already producing well.
- Apply fertilizer in early spring before growth starts.
- Use a balanced slow-release fertilizer like 13-13-13.
- Spread fertilizer around the tree’s drip line to get maximum uptake by the roots.
- Water in nutrients if rainfall is lacking after application.
Fertilizing is certainly not a magic bullet, but it may help give your best oak trees a little boost. Just don’t overdo it with amounts or frequency. Moderation is key.
Do deer eat acorns? Absolutely! For deer, acorns provide the perfect combination of nutrients, abundance, and palatability. That’s why they go nuts for them every autumn. By learning how to identify productive oak trees and hunting near them during peak acorn drop, you can take advantage of this whitetail obsession to fill your tag. Applying some of the scouting and hunting tactics covered here will help you get in on the action. Never underestimate the attraction power of the almighty acorn!
You may also be interested in reading: