Food Sources and Fannypacks For Deer

Where to hunt and what to take with you during bow season.

Tim Knight | August 31, 2011


Tim Knight, of Dublin, killed two nice bucks while bowhunting near persimmons early last season. One of them, which is pending an official score, should be his eighth Pope & Young buck.

It is that time of the year again, time to check food sources and take inventory of your hunting pack. Knowing how to do both is vital for anyone to have a good hunt. In this article we will cover the different food sources worth hanging a stand near during bow season as well as what I carry with me in bow season.

Soft mast is what we will start with because that’s what the deer prefer and will have available in bow season. Persimmons, wild grapes, crabapples and browse is what we, and the deer, will be looking for.

Crabapples are easy, but a good pair of binoculars will be necessary to see grapes and persimmons in tall trees. I usually like to check my persimmon trees in the swamp in late August right after a strong thunderstorm when lots of wind has rolled through. Check the ground around these trees for green fruit blown out by the wind, and use your binoculars to check for the amount of fruit in those trees. Use the same technique for grapes.

During bow season, these fruits typically ripen at different times, and the deer will adjust their patterns accordingly. As a general rule, the wild grapes will be ready first, followed by crabapples and then persimmons.

The next natural food source hunters should consider is browse. It can be anything from greenbriar, to poke berry, to honeysuckle or American beautyberry, a favorite of whitetails. If you are not familiar with these food sources, I suggest you look them up at your local library or your computer, or make a trip to your local farm and garden supply and talk to the “plant guy.”

It can be tough to pattern deer that are feeding on browse, but hunters can judge the odds of hunting browse as a food source by determining how much is being eaten in a certain area. Look for clipped-off twigs and nibbled branches. It can be worth hunting browse in areas where it is the only food source, such as clearcuts.

Kudzu is an often overlooked browse. It grows very quickly and provides great cover for whitetails until the frost kills it back each fall.

Once you have located a good food source, leave that area alone until you are ready to hunt it. Your best chance of ambushing a good buck before the rut can be in early bow season, when they aren’t aware hunters are in the woods yet. You don’t want to alert them by stomping around and putting down a bunch of scent.

This is why I am such a big fan of my Lone Wolf climber. Food sources can and will change quickly this time of the year, and you need to be able to move with them. Not to mention the wind. I can’t tell you how many times I have heard a hunter say, “Can’t hunt my stand today, wind is wrong.” Permanent stands limit you to certain wind and weather conditions.

There will be times when you go back to hunt and the fruit is still not ripe or falling. This is a judgement call on your part on how much longer it will be before the mast is falling.

Hunting from a climber allows the hunter to make decisions in the field to relocate if the food source is not quite ready or if the wind is wrong. It also allows you to just stop and hunt if you come upon something that looks particularly good.

Today, trail cameras have become very popular with some hunters, almost to the point that some have given up scouting. It is a huge mistake to not get out and do your homework early so you can find the food source that the deer will be using later on. Too many hunters I know spend too much time going in and out of their hunting areas to check their trail cameras. Every time you do this you are only alerting the deer to your presence. I am a big fan of less is more when it comes to the areas you are actually going to hunt.

You should spend as much time as you can learning all the food sources available in your area. A little known food source is a honey locust tree. It has lots of thorns and long bean pods that grow high in the tree. These trees are not everywhere, but deer love the bean pods after they ripen and fall. Some years red oaks and water oaks will drop early enough to hunt in early bow season, especially if they are in a wet environment such as a swamp or creek bottom.

It may be hard to believe, but all the items on this table and mentioned in the article fit into one fannypack Tim carries to the woods. He keeps with him everything he needs to combat Murphy’s Law.

The last food source we will cover is a man-made source. Food plots can and do attract and hold deer in early season. Soybeans and peas of different varieties planted a few weeks before season are a great food source, but you better hunt them quickly after they sprout or the deer will wipe them out and move on.

With this year’s regulations changes, it will be interesting to see how many hunters will abandon scouting natural food sources in exchange for a try at baiting deer. Some hunters will undoubtedly opt to try corn this season. Just remember, no matter what your food source is, if you over-hunt it or put too much pressure on it, the deer will leave the area or go nocturnal on you.

One important thing to keep in mind if you do bait with corn is to move your bait area around and don’t constantly place your feed in the same spot, especially if you also have hogs and turkeys on your property. The main reason for this is animals that feed for any amount of time in an area, is their droppings can and will get mixed with the feed, and the next critter to come to the corn might ingest these droppings or remnants of them, causing sickness and disease, especially bad for your turkeys when they scratch in the corn remnants. This is why elevated box feeders are a better choice, but are not fool proof due to raccoons and some very smart hogs.

One other food source that needs to be mentioned is good ol’ H2O, or water. With the hot dry summer we have had, a good water source could be a great place to set up. Let’s face it, all creatures must have water.

Do your pre-season scouting, then stay out of the areas you plan to hunt. Come opening day, slide within bow range of a good food source and be ready. But don’t hesitate to adjust if conditions call for it. The deer will be seeking out food sources as they become available, and so should you.

Other than his archery equipment, Tim’s climber is the most important tool he carries. It allows him to hunt wherever he wants and to move if conditions dictate. Notice the pruners and folding saw attached to the climber for easy access.

What’s In My Pack

After all your hard work and preseason scouting, planting and preparation, it is time to pack for your first hunt of the year. What should you take with you to the stand?

This is where the fannypack or backpack comes in handy. What you take with you on any given hunt can make a big difference between a good hunt and a bad one. I am sure everyone has their favorite items to take. I am going to share with you what I personally take with me. Maybe it will give you some ideas.

If you have hunted for very long, then you know about “Murphy’s Law.” It states that anything that can go wrong will, and usually does. Here is a list of items, and their uses.

Compass: No. 1 is a good quality compass, not a cheap one. A compass is great for navigation in the dark or on a cloudy day to and from your hunting area. It is used to take a reading on the direction of the last place you saw or heard the animal you just shot go or fall. Everything looks so different after you climb down to the base of your tree, especially in the dark. Also, you can reverse the reading in your head to navigate back to your stand. In the daylight it is easy to mark the last place you see an animal, but at dusk it’s a different ballgame.

Lights: The next items I carry are lights; you can’t have too many of them. My favorite is a Browning clip-on light that shines with more than 90 lumens and uses only one AA battery. It will burn constantly for more than two hours. The clip makes it hands free, which is needed so you can use both your hands.

I also carry several cheap little clip-on lights, the kind that run on watch batteries and which attach to the bill of your hat. But I don’t usually clip them to my hat; I mainly use them for marking a downed animal or the last blood on a trail after dark. Clip them to a branch at about eye level, and point them toward where you expect to be returning from. They can be seen from a long distance in the dark and make returning to a location much easier. A final note on lights, consider carrying a light with diodes instead of bulbs as a backup. Diodes don’t burn out like bulbs, and they last forever on just a little battery power. On that note, always carry a few extra batteries.

Fire: The next thing to go in the pack is a cigarette lighter. First off, a lighter makes an excellent tool for detecting wind direction on days when there is not much of a breeze. The second reason to carry a lighter is to burn the end of a new nocking loop if yours happens to break in the field. Always keep an extra piece of loop cord tied to your bow somewhere on the riser or carry a piece in your pack. The final reason to carry a lighter is to build a fire, just in case Mr. Murphy strikes.

Adhesive: I always keep a small bottle of super glue in my pack. My favorite kind is called Zap-a-Gap. You will find all kind of uses for this in the field: A loose fletching or serving on your bow string, maybe your moleskin is trying to come off of your riser, a loose nock or insert… you get the idea.

Snatch Hook: The next item in my bag is one of my favorites. It is a large treble or snatch hook with a lead weight molded to the shaft. I cut the hook tips off just below the barbs and tie 30 feet of parachute or similar cord to it. When I drop something or forget to tie my bow to my pull-up rope, I just drop the hook down and grab whatever it is I’m trying to retrieve from the ground and pull it up.

Another use for the hook is to clear your line of sight. If a limb you can’t reach from your stand is in the way, toss the hook over it, pull it to you and cut it off. Or if it is a big limb, just pull it out of your way and tie your cord off above you until you leave.

Lane Trimmers: Speaking of cutting something off, a Gerber ratchet pruner and a folding saw combo are the next items on my list. My combo is actually attached to my climber where it is easy to reach for use as I climb a tree. This way I don’t have to dig for it in my pack when I’m halfway up a tree.

Rain Gear: A rain poncho is great if you get caught in downpour, not only to keep you dry but also your pack and your bow. Quart and gallon Zip Lock bags are super handy to have. Quart size is perfect for that Mother Nature call and takes up very little room. This size is also good to protect valuables in case of bad weather — cell phone, wallet, whatever it is you need to keep dry.

Gallon bags are great to keep your toilet tissue in. I suggest freezer bags and not storage bags; freezer bags are thicker and tougher. You can pick up a poncho for less than two bucks, along with most of these items at your local bait-and-tackle shop.

First Aid: A space-economized first-aid kit can be much appreciated in the field if Mr. Murphy rears his head. My kit consists of a roll of electrical tape, a few Band-aids, a small tube of antibiotic cream, a pain reliever like Tylenol or aspirin and tweezers and a needle for splinters or thorns.

Bug Repellent: Next in the bag, and this may be the most important group of items in the bug-infested woods of bow season, are your insect repellents. I pack a ThermaCell with extra butane and pads. I also throw in a back-up of 100 percent deet, either a pen or lotion; sometimes you need protection until your ThermaCell gets hot.

Reflector Tacks: I carry reflector tacks to mark new trails and to navigate in the dark. I’m not a big fan of ribbon. It gives up your location, and it looks bad hanging in the trees for years.

Archery Miscellany: A few small extra items would be extra broadhead blades, tips, ferrules, a diamond sharpener, arrow nocks and an old tooth brush, which is perfect for cleaning dirt off your broadheads, from the nocks in your arrows or off of the cams on your bow. An extra piece of moleskin is a good idea to quiet something noisy on your bow.

Rangefinder: A good rangefinder is a great tool to have, but mostly to range landmarks before the deer show up or for use in a food plot or field. As a general rule, you won’t have time to use a rangefinder in the woods on a moving deer. I like to determine my maximum shooting distance of 35 yards by ranging trees or stumps around my stand.

Water and Snacks: I like to freeze bottled water and throw one in my pack in the early season. I also love the little tuna or chicken salad kits, beef jerky, trail mix and some energy bars if it is going to be a long sit.

Whistle: A good whistle is nice to have. In an emergency, it can save your life, but it can also save your voice if you’re tracking and trying to tell a buddy where you are in the woods.

Tools: Obviously you’ll want to take your favorite hunting knife and a way to sharpen it and a few lengths and sizes of cordage. One little trick I use when needing to drag a doe or hog is to cut a small limb about 2 feet long. Tie it to your downed prize with cord to make a handle for dragging.

I always keep a Gerber multi-tool in my pack, and I’m amazed how many times I use it in a season. For your bow, you’ll need an Allen wrench set or wrenches to fit each and every screw on your bow. A small tube of bow-string wax and waxed dental floss are also good to have for quick repairs.

Gloves: Disposable gloves are a must for dressing game and also for keeping your scent down while making mock scrapes or handling dirt or licking branches around them.

Scent Lures: Your favorite lure, I personally use Bowhunters Fatal Obsession as it is an all season attractant for both sexes.

Toilet Paper: Last but not least is a roll of toilet paper. This is the most important item in your pack. I know I don’t have to list the most obvious use, but here are a few others. First remove the cardboard from the roll so it takes up less space.

Use it to mark a blood trail a square at a time, which also makes it easy to find your way back to your stand. Hang a length of TP from a limb to mark a spot in the daytime or use it to mark an emergency trail of a hot spot you just found. Use TP to clean blood off your knife or other equipment.

And here is a technique that I have used in the past. Let’s say you are like me and hunt clubs or public land. Say you find a great spot with a lot of sign that you’re worried someone else might stumble up on. Go to an obvious spot and rake back the leaves. Take a couple sheets of TP and rub them in the dirt. Place them where you raked the leaves back. Now the next guy who finds the sign will be disgusted that some idiot has ruined the area by having an emergency call from Mother Nature. Hopefully that hunter will move on to another spot.

I know this works. I had a fellow member tell me he saw where I had been (pun intended), and I killed a nice buck that season in that very spot.

Having a real knowledge of your food sources and learning their leaves, fruits or nuts is an invaluable tool to possess. Also, having the necessary basics in your pack can and will make the difference between a great hunt or a miserable one. Hopefully these tips will help put you in range of a good deer and keep you from meeting that Murphy guy this fall.

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