Gerald Almy: Hunt the fruit for whitetails
If crop fields and oak flats come up cold in your effort to harvest a deer this fall, here’s an alternative: hunt fruit. Fruit provides deer with nutrition, vital phosphorous, a sugar-packed energy boost, and sometimes security cover as well.
There are many ways you can incorporate fruit into a hunting strategy. But here are three ways I’ve used to capitalize on this often overlooked deer magnet.
Isolated fruit trees. Hunt these before the rut and also after it when deer are searching for the last few sweet morsels heading into winter. Focus on scattered wild fruit trees or ones that survived around old home sites such as pear, plum, apple, persimmon or crabapple.
Scout with a map or GPS unit and mark where you find these scattered fruit trees. Search semi-open fields, old home sites, woods edges, fencerows, grassy areas and brushy cover mixed with cedars.
Then plan your stalk. Usually there’s one route that will offer the best cover. Wait until the wind is perfect for that approach. If possible, choose a drizzly, damp day when ground cover won’t be noisy. Deer are also up feeding more on these days.
Alternately, choose crisp, clear cold-front weather when strong winds or frost have knocked fruits off trees overnight.
Hunting after a light snowfall can also be very productive. Deer show up well against the white background.
Glass as far ahead as you can. If you don’t see anything, ease slowly closer. You may find a buck directly under the tree or in adjacent cover. Pick apart nearby brush and blowdowns carefully before moving ahead to the next tree.
Orchard. The second fruit setup dictates stand hunting. Here you’ve located an orchard, vineyard or abandoned farm that has a large stand of pears, apples, plums or grapes. These become daily feeding sites for deer because they know the ripe fruits will be eaten quickly.
Because of that predictable feeding pattern your best bet is an ambush. Scout ahead and find where large fresh tracks, scrapes and rubs indicate a buck was feeding. Then study topos and aerial photographs to pinpoint the thickest nearby bedding cover where the deer is likely approaching from.
Pinpoint thinly-outlined trails heading that way from the fruit and hang two stands along that route. Put one close to the feeding destination for use on cool or rainy days, one near the bedding cover for use on hot days when the deer will likely move later.
Bramble thickets. Deer eat raspberry and blackberry fruits and also the plants’ leaves and stems. By fall, they’re attracted to the thick, impenetrable cover the brambles offer. Look for them near fences, woods edges, clearcuts and logging roads. The bigger the patch you find the more likely it will hold a good buck. Scout and locate as many as possible and plan the best approach that will get you within shooting range, taking wind and cover into consideration.
Anticipate a quick snap shot as you sneak in. Try to shoot as soon as the deer stands up or before it starts to run.
Another approach involves executing a mini-drive. Team up with a couple of hunting partners and position them near likely exit points where cover or brushy ditches offer potential escape routes. The third hunter then walks slowly toward the bramble thicket. He may get a shot, or the buck may move past the hunters waiting at exit points.
Be absolutely sure you know your safe shooting zones when trying this last method. And of course, it goes without saying that everyone should be wearing plenty of blaze orange clothing.
Good luck, and above all else, hunt safely this fall.
Award-winning outdoors writer Gerald Almy is a Maurertown resident.