Food plots are an excellent idea for sustainability reasons. Deer need food to survive, like anything else on the planet. Offering nutritious food on land known for hunting is a great plan. But there are drawbacks too. Food plots and fields can require extensive maintenance. The work can often outweigh the benefits. Let’s take a look at what deers need during the hunting season and how you can meet the needs of the deer herd.
Why do deer need starches and sugars?
Like most wildlife species, deer prepare for harsh weather and sparse supplies by consuming foods with high sugar/starch contents in the more fruitful months – spring and fall. These include acorns, fruits, and other excellent sugar sources. Carbohydrates are essential for survival if you’re looking for a way to:
- Provide deer with an excellent source of food to fulfill this need
- Enhance the value of your land
- Save yourself labor each year
Learn more about the Best Deer Food Plots here
You can plant an orchard alongside food plots or instead of food plots altogether. Let’s take a look at six of the best fruit trees (and one shrub) for deer.
The American Chestnut tree has a glorious history. Beginning in the 1800s, it was once a dominant hardwood in the eastern USA and revered for its value. It was commonly used in the tanning trade and represented an important food source for people and wildlife. However, in the early 1900s, there was a blight involving an invasive fungus. Thankfully, the Chesnut has returned thanks to cross-breeding with varieties that have excellent disease resistance. The Dunstan Chestnut is a popular variety today. Once it reaches nut-bearing age, it will reliably produce heavy crops every fall.
When you think of deer orchards, pear trees probably don’t spring to mind. But deer are surprisingly drawn to pear trees, preferring them to the more popular apple trees. Deer find the sugar and starches offered in pear trees addictive. There are several common pear tree varieties that you can choose from, including:
The Bartlett, in particular, has excellent benefits, being one of the fastest-growing pear trees. They bloom early and bear fruit in the late summer. One drawback of the Bartlett is that it may need to be placed near another pear tree for pollination. A pear tree that avoids fireblight can produce fruit for decades.
There’s something unique and traditional about the sight of fresh apples in an orchard, too. Despite many deers preferring pears over apples, the apple tree remains a classic. From a real estate point of view, apple trees represent a strong selling point on hunting property. There are several varieties of apples that you could choose from, including:
- Dolgo crabapple
- Yellow delicious
- Red delicious
- Arkansas black
Before settling on a variety, you should consider your climate and unique needs; remember that not all apple varieties are as sweet or large as you’ll find in store. Just because they’re good for a deer doesn’t mean that you’d necessarily enjoy eating them.
Persimmons are tasty, but they’re not a universal option for whitetail deer. First of all, you’ll need a decent hybrid. One such is Chesnut Hill’s Deer Candy, but there are several. They’re not always compatible with all weather conditions, either. They only grow in 30 states. They are an excellent option if you can use them as they can produce a full crop in as little as two years. But remember not to use fertilizers with them; the trees can drop fruit prematurely if fertilized.
One of the slowest growing on this list – is the humble Oaktree. If you’re willing to wait a few years, oak should be on your list. Various hybrid varieties will produce acorns in a few years (usually white swamp oak varieties). Acorn production usually takes 5-10 years for most oak trees, but they are worth the wait. Acorns are the most important forage in the woods, without question. No property made for hunting could be complete without them. White oaks are a favorite of deer and maybe the fastest growing. But deer do love red oaks, and the sawtooth oak deserves consideration, too, even if only for wildlife protection.
Plum trees are an excellent addition to your orchard, as plums are a deer’s favorite fruit. The sugary, carb-heavy fruit packs a nutritious punch and guarantees that animals will show up for regular foraging. They also produce fruit much faster than many other fruit trees, and the foliage is also nutritious and edible. Some common varieties include:
High Bush Cranberry
While this isn’t a tree (it’s a shrub), it still deserves a spot on this list. It’s a catch-all plant that offers innumerable benefits to wildlife, providing excellent cover and a nutritious food source. They also grow berries that deer and turkey alike will enjoy. They thrive wherever you plant them, and it takes just a couple of years to get a bushy, tall, and thick plant.
Read more about our Top Deer Hunting Tips here
Wrapping upA deer orchard will attract animals to your property and increase property value.
There are many excellent options for your new deer orchard, but you should pick something that grows well with your climate and is resistant to disease while still attractive to local animals. In addition, you can also consider tree protection. There are many ways your new plants can become damaged before they can be established, such as by browsing or bucks rubbing antlers on trees (which can kill the new trees). You can use tree tubes to protect young trees but consider a wire cage for long-term use.
If you’ve planted a new orchard and taken steps to protect it, you’re well on your way to a glorious wildlife experience.