When I was a kid, my dad would turn me loose on our ranch with a scope sighted 22 rim fire and a pocket of shells. “Be careful, watch for snakes, hunt slowly along Spots Branch and look for squirrels. I’ll meet you at 10am at Chili Crossing.” Those were my marching orders. Looking back, my guess was I was between 6 and 9 years old. Alone with a permit to roam and learn. Self-taught hunting skills were honed at that early age. Perhaps this is where my curiosity took root regarding all things in nature. Quiet and alone allows a developing mind to swell.
This was in late September and October when the first crisp cool fronts were passing through. Still mornings were best because I could see limbs shaking in the distance giving away the location of a feeding squirrel. Walking slowly, eyes catching any flicker of movement, ears tuned to the sound of acorns or pecans hitting the wooded floor. Aahhh me……typing this brings back memories!
When climatic conditions had been perfect and there was a bumper crop of mast, squirrels would be scattered. Even under those conditions, there were a couple of hot-spots that were favorites of mine. I learned of these areas by watching squirrels travel a great distance, jumping from limb to limb, traveling to a specific tree to get acorns. I witnessed squirrels go through post oak, pecan, hickory, live oak, black-jack oak and water oak, all laden with nuts, and forage in one specific tree. That tree had bark that looked a lot like water oak which was pale and shredding but the leaves were larger and lobed. I also noticed the acorns were about 50% bigger than the other acorns. I would sit under that tree, not moving a muscle but only my eyes and wait for squirrels to come to me.
Later, when I proudly showed off the heavy load of squirrels to my dad and told him about the “Magic Tree”, he told me it was a white oak. He knew exactly where it was. He told me about others too.
So, being an observant squirrel hunter gave me my first impression of a white oak. Later in November, I noticed deer traveling like a magnet to that same tree. There were not many white oaks on our ranch but I quickly learned where most were.
Let’s roll the clock to the present. When there are deer seasons coinciding with a heavy acorn crop, you would swear all of the deer have died of anthrax of some other disaster. Corn feeders and oat/wheat patches sit unused. Deer will ALWAYS, take native forage over corn and food plots when available. On those years you can expect very tough conditions with few deer observations. Well, if deer are only eating acorns, why not give them something rare that they relish over all other acorns. On our family’s ranch, I’ve started to plant white oak trees. I’ve initiated this project by planting 2-3 trees near every deer blind.
Seedlings are hard to find in Southeast TX. Very few nurseries have them. I’ve picked up acorns and started them in pots then transplanted the seedlings. I’ve also located seedlings on the ranch, dug them up to pot them for later plantings. So far, I have 23 trees going. My goal is to eventually have 100.
I had a good friend, after seeing what I was doing, sarcastically ask me, “And how old are you?” I informed him this project is for my grandchildred.
The white oak (Quercus alba) tree is hailed as the classic king of the American oaks. Of all the oaks, white oak acorns have the least amount of tannins in their acorns, thus giving it the best or sweetest taste to wildlife. Although slow growing, it attains great size. One day in the future, my heirs will hopefully see a ranch with more white oak trees growing than any other property in the area and remember who was responsible for their existence. Our land lies about half-way between Houston and San Antonio, which is on the western edge of where white oaks naturally grow. It is a predominately eastern or southeastern tree. Keep that in mind.