Wild muscadine grapes

Wild muscadine grapes are a favorite food for deer early in the fall. (Courtesy photo: David Whitmire)

If you are an experienced bowhunter who is just learning the sport or enjoying watching wildlife, tree and plant identification is a necessary skill.

There are tons of gadgets on the market that offer hunters productive solutions to getting close to game, but good old fashioned woodsmanship is still the best bet.

For early season archery hunting, identifying food sources in late summer can be an archer’s best time to be in the woods.

While early November is always an exciting time of year to be bowhunting, early bow season in late summer can be magical.

Deer pattern their movements based on the seasons and summer offers deer plentiful food sources in an unpressured environment.

Watching deer in the summer months provides an opportunity to view them in routine and predictable patterns.

Once fall food sources appear on the landscape, the summer movement patterns change.

Bucks often are in bachelor groups where several of them are moving around together.

Throughout the summer their antlers are in the growing stages, or velvet, and during this phase bucks often stay in more open areas to protect their vulnerable head gear from damage.

Once the antlers are hardened, the deer will change their movements and separate the bachelor groups as the later season called rut nears.

One of my most memorable bachelor group encounters was an early season hunt where six bucks fed through my stand.

That encounter lasted over an hour before harvesting the largest of the group and it was an experience which will be long remembered.

Soft mast is the name given to fruits and berries found in the deer woods.

Deer are browsers and tend to like to walk and eat as they travel through their range. Within that range, they know when these food sources come and go.

While early summer offers many grasses and tender woody budding plants, mid and late summer offers soft mast.

Look for concentrations of plants that provide soft mast including black berries, blue berries, huckleberries, apple trees, persimmons trees, grapes and others including corn that might be within the deer’s range.

While several of these plants are within the deer’s reach, a hunter needs to be aware of when these plants start to drop their fruit to be able to take advantage of active feeding.

Often heavy rains or wind can accelerate this process and can make this food source available quickly.

Scouting and knowing the locations of these soft mast areas are crucial, but also watching the weather and how the availability occurs is just as important.

Hard mast is the name given to acorns and nuts. Depending on the season, weather and the cycles of the trees, hard mast can be present during the early season.

Often it is mid to late season before any hard mast falls and is available to deer.

Why it is so important to note this in early season? It is a major factor of changing the movement of deer from a late summer pattern to a fall pattern.

The fall mast provides much-needed proteins and fats that wildlife require for a long winter.

Once the mast starts to fall, wildlife will be drawn to these areas.

As a hunter in the woods during the early season, it is critical to watch what trees are bearing in your area.

Learn how to spot these heavy bearing trees and note what type they are.

Some helpful tips are carrying binoculars to view into the treetops and watch for squirrel activity to know what trees are bearing.

Knowing your plants and trees and how the deer relate to them is key to bowhunting as a close-range sport.

Being aware of the moment and using any time in the woods scouting or hunting to learn what is happening is so important.

Without knowledge of habitats and food sources, you can own the best gear and be great with it but not excel.

Woodsmanship and the knowledge of game you are hunting are your best assets.

Being a good bowhunter is viewing the woods through a lens most folks never see and that view is what connects us to both the sport and the game we pursue.

David Whitmire is co-owner of Headwaters Outfitters and is actively involved in local conservation efforts, such as the French Broad River cleanup and wildlife rehabilitation programs. He is also chair of the Fish and Wildlife Conservation Council.

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