Gerald Almy: Hunt where the acorns are falling

Gerald Almy

With bow season set to open on Saturday, it’s important to predict where whitetails will be feeding when you head out.

Most Shenandoah Valley deer hunters think tactically in two broad categories: 1) hunting open country such as fields and food plots and 2) “hunting the woods.” And hunting the woods usually means hunting near oaks dropping acorns.

That’s a good starting point. But things get a little more complicated after that. There are many, many species of oaks. Some thrive in one habitat and not another. Some drop their nuts early and some late.

Acorn drop can occur anytime from August into December. So realistically if you have the right species present you could be hunting around trees shedding acorns almost any time during open deer seasons except the last few weeks.

The question becomes, where in the woods do you hunt? At any time, one oak species or another may be dropping the most acorns on different areas of the land where you hunt, whether it’s public or private. The key to knowing where to hunt is realizing that different oak species thrive in different habitats and shed their nuts at different times.

First, try to identify which oaks you have. The information at the end of this column highlights eight common oaks. Study their leaves, crowns, acorn shapes and bark in tree guidebooks or on the internet. Then do a survey with pen and paper or a large hand-drawn map of the property.

To a certain extent, the oaks may be intermixed. Usually, though, different species will be most common on different parts of the property, whether its dry uplands, bottomland, ridges, field edges, southerly slopes, etc.

Mark where you find the different oak species or use a color-coded system. Then redraw this back at camp or home on larger poster board with the oak species distribution plotted out.

Now you need data on when acorns drop. Dates given here are broad. Using them as a starting point, monitor the different species on the land you hunt so you can pin down the acorn fall more precisely, like “third week of October.” Then record that on the poster board map of the property.

By studying this map you can lay out a sequence of when to hunt each area based on where acorns are raining down heaviest. Hang your tree stands for each spot based on three factors: prevailing wind patterns, where the nearest thick bedding cover is, and how you can approach undetected.

The information below shows the species, habitat, a notable identifying feature, leaf and acorn size, plus acorn drop time frame for eight common oaks found in whitetail habitat.


* Dry uplands, ridges and especially alkaline soils.
* Very coarsely furrowed bark.
* Leaves 4-8 inches, 1-1 ¼ inch acorns.
* September-November.

* Moist soils with abundant sunlight.
Large striped acorn, grows to 100 feet.
Leaves 4-8 inches, ½-1 inch acorns.

• Wet heavy soil, bottomland.
• Symmetrical, attractive pyramid-shaped crown.
• Leaves 3-6 inches, 3/8-½ inch acorns.
• August-October.

• Drier soils, slopes with south-westerly exposures; also sandy flatlands.
• Whitish bark, large leathery leaves; often found near white pines.
• Leaves 5-9 inches, ½-2/3 inch acorns.
• Late August-October.

Northern Red
• Moist, loamy soils, river bottoms and swamps.
• Dark gray bark, leaf lobes end in bristles, leaves turn very dark red in fall.
• Leaves 4-6 inches, 5/8-1 1/8-inch acorns.
• September-October.

• Semi-open woods, field edges, fence rows.
• Small size, 40-60 feet typical, pyramid-shaped crown.
• Leaves 3-7 inches, 1-inch acorns.
• August-September.

• High slopes, ridges, dry soils with southerly exposures.
• Poorly formed crown, dead branches on trunk, swelled bulb shape at base.
• Leaves 4-7 inches, ½-1 inch acorns.
• October-December.

• Well-drained flats, ridges, slopes, dry areas.
• Leaves have rounded lobes, whitish bark.
• Leaves 4-9 inches, 3/8-1/4-inch acorns.
• August-October.

Award-winning outdoors writer Gerald Almy is a Maurertown resident.