Soft Mast Deer Foods

Last week, I discussed the idea of using deer droppings as sign posts to the presence of deer in the area whenever you are scouting.

Also, I discussed the idea of using the consistency of the droppings to help determine what types of foods they have been feeding on so that you can find the feeding areas and hunt the deer there.

In this article, I will examine in greater detail the types of Soft Mast that deer like to eat and how those foods relate to the consistency of their droppings because, once you know what they are feeding on at that particular time in that particular area, then you will have a much better idea of where to find them and when to find them there.

So, to start with, I should first explain that deer foods are divided into two categories that are called Mast and Browse.

Mast is defined as a fruit or nut the falls to the ground from above and Browse is defined as foods such as grass, leaves, and buds that are located at or near ground level.

In addition, there are some Mast foods called Soft Mast and some foods called Hard Mast. Nearly every avid deer hunter is aware that deer love to eat White Oak Acorns (which are in the Hard Mast category) but, many deer hunters overlook the various types of Soft Mast often available to the deer.

For instance, anyone who has ever tried to cultivate an orchard or an arbor knows that deer like to eat sweet fruits such as apples, pears, and grapes and thus, these fruits are commonly known as “deer candy”. Therefore, looking for these types of trees and vines around old homesteads, farms, and orchards and then determining when the fruit ripens and starts falling and then being there at that time will almost guarantee you the harvest of a deer and likely more than one.

Another favorite “deer candy” is wild grapes and their cousins Scuppernongs and Muscadines. Unfortunately for hunters, these fruits are only available for two or three weeks during the year but, when they are available, they are an absolute deer magnet and if you set your stand up near to a vine with ripe fruit, you will see deer. To locate this type of Soft Mast when scouting, look for thick vines with, rough, black, bark and then look up to see if they are bearing fruit.

Another favored “deer candy” is French Mulberries. This fruit grows in small, round, clusters and appears similar to a black berry but it is colored pinkish to crimson in color and grows on small branched trees of irregular form with rough, pinkish-brown, bark. In addition, the leaves are tooth edged with pointed tips and rough surfaces.

Also, there is Sumac which produces clusters of small, pear shaped, bright red fruit, on a small bush usually no more than head height.

Plus, there is Honey Locust which is one of the most unusual types of Soft Mast deer feed on. This food appears as an extra-long, curled, redish-brown, bean pod suspended from the tops of certain trees.

Last, there is the absolute king of all deer candies: the Persimmon fruit. Although this fruit gives new meaning to the phrase “pucker power” when it is not yet ripe, when it does ripen in late October or November, it is the number one choice of any deer in the area to the exclusion of all other food sources!

When deer are feeding on soft mast, their droppings will appear as one large clump consisting of many small, individual, pellets. Also, when the clump appears wet or moist, then the deer have been there very recently. However, if they appear dry, then they are at least several hours old.

Thus, you can extrapolate from the age of the droppings what time of day the deer are visiting and feeding in that area and this will give you some idea of when you need to be there to hunt and harvest them.


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