What’s the Best Food Plot Tree to Plant for Deer?

By Brodie SwisherOctober 28, 20191 Comment
I recently spent some time looking into the best trees to plant at my home farm for deer. I’m continually opening up ground for food plots and to replace gum trees with more desirable and beneficial tree options. I spent a little time talking to the crew at Chestnut Hill Outdoors about the variety of trees they offer and what works best for feeding deer on our property. So what’s the best food plot tree? Read on.

What trees will you plant on the properties you hunt?

The Most Important Tree in American History

As the name implies, Chestnut Hill Outdoors is big on the Chestnut tree. But I wanted to know exactly why they believe this to be the best tree for food plots and deer. I discovered some interesting information, as well as the sad story on the rise and fall of the American Chestnut tree.
The American chestnut was the most important food and timber tree species in the Eastern hardwood forest. It was almost completely destroyed by a bark fungus accidentally introduced from the Orient in 1904. Within 40 years, over 30 million acres of chestnut trees were killed from Maine to Georgia and west to the Mississippi. This tragedy was the largest ecological disaster in American history.

Chestnut trees on the properties you hunt could be the single greatest draw to your deer herd.

The chestnut was an amazingly useful tree. Its plentiful high carbohydrate nuts were eaten by natives and European settlers of North America, and it was the primary mast crop for game and wildlife. Its beautiful, rot-resistant lumber was used for everything from furniture to fence posts, and its tannin was used in the tanning industry. The loss of the chestnut, at the time of the Great Depression, had a devastating effect on the people and wildlife of the Appalachian mountains. The economic loss from the chestnut’s demise amounted to untold millions of dollars.

The Original Food Plot Tree

The American Chestnut was the primary food source tree for wildlife – deer, bear, turkey, squirrel, and hogs. The chestnut forest could produce 2,000 pounds of mast or more per acre. That’s more carbohydrates than an acre of corn. Chestnuts were the favored food in the fall for game, because the sweet tasting nuts were high in protein, carbohydrate and had no bitter tasting tannins like acorns.
Chestnuts are chosen by deer over all other nuts because of their taste and nutrition. They are high in carbohydrates (40%), contain up to 10% high quality protein. This provides the critical easily usable energy source over all other available foods during the rut in the fall. Chestnuts have no bitter-tasting tannin. Deer prefer White Oak acorns over Red Oaks because they contain less tannin, and this is why deer prefer chestnuts over all acorns.

Better than a white oak acorn?

Even better, the sweet taste of chestnuts actually sweetens the meat of the animals that eat it. In Spain, hogs are raised on chestnuts because of the excellent flavored meat it produces – Estremaduran pork is an international delicacy. Venison from chestnut fed deer tastes like corn-fed venison, without the gamey taste of deer that feed on bitter-tasting acorns.
chestnut vs oak chart

What is the Best Chestnut Tree to Plant?

Chestnut Hill grows the Dunstan Chestnut, bred by noted plant breeder, Dr. Robert Dunstan, because of its resistance to blight and heavy annual crops of very large, sweet nuts. Dunstan Chestnuts have been grown for 35 years all over the US, from Maine to Michigan and Illinois and south to Florida.

chestnut in pot

In just 3-5 years, these Chestnut trees will be bearing nuts.

Dunstan Chestnuts grow faster and bear in only 3-5 years (trees planted in colder regions may bear between 5-7 years of age). This is much sooner than oaks which can take 10-20 years. Dunstans have wide soil adaptability, bear nuts every year (no skipped years like oak species) and excellent production – up to 2,000+ lbs/acre.

Best Food Plot Tree to Plant for Deer – Conclusion

When you stop to think about the fact that deer eat white oak acorns like candy, and then realize how much more attractive chestnuts are over even white oak, it seems like a no-brainer to add these trees to the property you’re deer hunting. They grow fast, bear quickly, produce more often, and the deer find them irresistible. What more can you want in food plot tree?

Check out www.chestnuthilloutdoors.com for a wealth of information on planting trees for the deer on your property.

Brodie Swisher
Brodie Swisher is a world champion game caller, outdoor writer, seminar speaker and Editor for Bowhunting.com. Brodie and his family live in the Kentucky Lake area of west Tennessee.
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