For bowhunters, who use a relatively short-range weapon, nothing is more important than being able to get a close-in shot. The best way to do that is to locate food sources that deer are using and then set up close by.
What will be the top food source this fall?
Many early season bowhunters search for that isolated, preferred food, like crabapples, muscadines or persimmons to pull deer in. Later in the season acorns, especially white-oak acorns, are often the No. 1 pick, and later still, as acorns begin to play out, food plots can become a key food source.
Here’s a look around the state at how the groceries for deer have fared this summer and what hunters are picking as their opening-weekend food source.
• Bleckley County
Wallace McLeod, 74, of Cochran was in the woods August 23 working on his deer stands. He said it is going to be a poor year for both hard and soft mast in the area where he hunts.
“It’s been dry,” he said. “According to the newspaper, we are 10 inches behind in rainfall. Anything that depends on moisture is doing poorly. Some of the dogwoods, which are shallow-rooted, are dying. The muscadines are already falling, and the crabapples are not coming on like they should. When it’s dry, they mature quickly trying to get the seed out for the next season.
“The mast crop is going to be poor. The squirrels are already cutting pine cones because the hickory nut and acorn crop is down.”
• DeKalb County
If you can find an isolated food source that deer are using, you may have a great opening-day hunt. In DeKalb County, for bowhunter Eric Bruce of Snellville, that something else is a patch of kudzu. Eric says he has been spying on a kudzu field in the evenings to see what deer show up, and he has seen a couple of 2 1/2-year-old 8-pointers. According to Eric, the early season bucks are often patternable, and his first hunt of the season will be on the kudzu patch.
“You don’t have to worry about planting or fertilizing kudzu,” he said. “There’s always plenty, and the deer love it.”
• Floyd County
Trevor McIntyre, who operates the Archery Shop in Plainville, says the Floyd-Gordon county area has fared pretty well this summer on afternoon thundershowers.
“I haven’t been out looking at oaks yet,” he said. “But the acorn crop should be good.”
Trevor is likely to be hunting over a persimmon tree on September 9.
“I have one of those old trees that produces every year,” he said. “I have checked that tree, and the limbs are breaking — it is absolutely loaded. The persimmons are still green, but judging from the sign, the deer are already coming by to check it.”
Crabapples are also in good shape in Floyd County with a great crop of apples, he said. If there is a missing element, it is muscadines, which seem to be in short supply.
• Habersham County
Robert Taylor of Clayton hunts both in Habersham and Rabun counties, and he expects the mast crop to be better than what a lot of people expect because of the drought.
“Mostly what I have seen is white oaks at low elevations and in the hollows,” said Robert. “The trees have a fairly decent load of acorns. They aren’t overloaded, but if a tree has any acorns at all, it’s got plenty.
“The red oaks seem to be spotty,” he said. “They have a few acorns, but they seem to be small.”
Robert’s hunting centers around finding deer and/or bear sign around white oaks.
“The bears will start climbing the white oaks and breaking them out in a couple of weeks as the acorns start to mature,” he said.
The persimmon trees Robert has checked in Habersham County also have a good crop of fruit that was still green in late August.
Opening day of bow season, however, Robert plans to be hunting over a small kudzu patch.
“Bow season starts early this year. The bucks will still be in bachelor groups, and they will still be coming to fields. It will be too early to kill a deer in the oaks because the acorns won’t be falling. Because of the heat, I’ll be in a creekbottom hunting over the kudzu and a small grassy area. The deer are in the kudzu already, but there are some white oaks about 400 yards away, and when the white oaks start dropping good, the deer transition over to them.”
• Hancock County
Matthew Gilbert of Monroe said his muscadines and persimmons will be attracting a few deer in bow season.
“Nothing is overloaded, we’ve just a pretty decent crop where we feel deer will be attracted,” said Matthew. “Some of the muscadines are already mature and falling, but we should have enough to last through the first two or three weeks of bow season.
“The persimmons really haven’t started to turn, but a few green ones are falling and then turning and the deer are eating them.”
Matthew said the water-oak crop is incredible.
“There’s millions of them — it’s going to make it pretty hard to hunt,” said Matthew.
• Harris County
Glenn Garner of Pine Mountain said his persimmon crop in Harris County is looking great.
“They’re pretty full,” said Glenn. “They’re actually starting to turn a little bit. Some trees will start dropping in the next few weeks. We always start shooting deer over persimmons the second or third week of bow season.”
Although none of Glenn’s bowhunting efforts come over muscadines, the Harris County grapes he’s seen look great.
“They look pretty good up high, I imagine they look even better in the bottoms,” said Glenn.
For October, Glenn said the acorns should play a factor.
“About 75 percent of what I’ve checked has acorns — white and red oaks,” said Glenn.
• Laurens County
The lack of water in Laurens County has hurt the soft-mast crop, but it might actually help hunters, according to Jeff Shepard of Dublin.
“I haven’t seen many grapes,” said Jeff, “and the ones I have seen have been hard and green.”
Persimmon production is hit-or-miss and apparently linked to the availability of water.
“The trees around field edges that I have checked haven’t had many persimmons,” he said. “But the trees along creeks or around the edges of ponds seem to be all right.”
Crabapple production rates about a “fair” ranking.
“The crabapples seem to be okay, just a little spotty,” he said.
It is a little early to tell about acorns, but Jeff expects the acorn crop to be spotty, too.
“Some white oaks seem to have acorns and some don’t,” he said. “If you can find one that is loaded it will make the bowhunting better because it will concentrate the deer. When all the trees make, it’s hard to corner the deer.”
• Liberty County
Bill Henneman, owner of the Pooler Archery Shop in Pooler says the acorns in his area seem to be coming on fine, but they may be a couple of weeks later than usual.
“My best gauge is the trees in my back yard,” said Bill. “The water-oak acorns are small — like pea-sized — but we have been getting some good showers, and that should help fill them out. Last year they were marble sized by this time, so they may not be falling until late September.
Bill said he hunts in Liberty County, and he will focus on travel routes rather than a food source.
“I might hunt a transition area between a feeding area and a bedding area. We have some food plots, and I may set up on a trail that leads from a plot to a bedding area.”
• Oglethorpe County
You can expect that Mike Mayfield of Flowery Branch will be set up opening day over one particular persimmon tree on the Oglethorpe County tract where he hunts.
“We have a persimmon tree that is 48-inches in diameter,” said Mike. “It is the biggest persimmon I have ever seen. We fertilize it each spring after turkey season, and it is loaded, absolutely sagging, with persimmons. I have a lock-on in a tree next to it, and if you hunt the tree in the evening it is impossible not to kill a deer if you can make a 15- or 20-yard shot.”
Mike is confident he will ventilate a deer under the persimmon, and he’s hoping for a shot at a good buck.
“The trail camera has gotten three ‘Popes,’” said Mike.
Other satellite persimmon trees in the same area also have a good crop of fruit, although not as great as the fertilized tree.
The crabapple crop in Oglethorpe county will be average, says Mike.
Muscadines, on the other hand, are in short supply. The muscadines are few, small, ripe and falling early.
“I have not seen a lot of grapes,” said Mike. “There isn’t going to be a huntable supply.
“White-oak acorns should be good to phenomenal, but I don’t expect them to fall until late in bow season unless the wind blows them out or squirrels cut them out.”
• Talbot County
Gene Williams of Glennville said he would pick persimmons as his No. 1 bow-season food source.
“The persimmons are still green, but they seem to be coming along good,” said Gene. “We fertilize our trees, and that really seems to help. We will lime and fertilize, and if you will do that, you’ll get a dividend — the (persimmons and acorns) will be bigger and sweeter.”
After persimmons, Gene says black locust trees are an overlooked, but excellent bow-season food, and they have not been affected by the dry weather.
“The deer will feed on those pods in a heartbeat,” he said.
Gene say that most of the 650-acre club he hunts is planted pines, with oak trees in some of the heads. In places where there is a cluster of white oaks, they fertilize the bigger tree to boost acorn production. He said the white-oaks in his area have a good crop of acorns.
“The white-oak acorns look real good,” he said. “I was surprised because of the drought, but the early rain must have been enough.”
• Terrell County
Robbie Sifford, owner of Solo Archery in Albany, is expecting a good deer season.
“The acorn trees should be about like last year,” he said. “Some of the live oaks and water oaks are loaded, and others don’t have so many.”
Early in the season, hunting close to an irrigated agricultural field is a pretty good strategy for a south-Georgia bowhunter, and Robbie is betting on food plots to pull and hold deer, too.
“We doubled up and planted Tecomate Max-Attract and Tecomate Monster Mix, and it seems to be doing well. The problem with planting just peas in a plot is that the deer will wipe them out, and then they are gone. The mixtures seems to be standing up well to the grazing pressure. We are already seeing some nice, heavy-horned deer.”