Adding some sweet spots to your hunting property can be particularly enticing. Most states offer an early bow hunting opportunity and Missouri is no exception. The opening here has been September 15th for the last several years, and is scheduled to continue in 2016. This early opening in Missouri is an awkward time for trying to find where deer concentrate. Most of the summer berries are gone, the fall crop of nuts is still a month away and persimmons don’t usually start dropping until the first hard frost. Deer have a sweet tooth and love any fruit that might be in their area. You can cater to their sweet tooth by planting a small orchard specifically for deer.
1. Pear Trees
I was fortunate to have two fruit producing pear trees on my property when I bought it. The old house place featured a very sweet edible pear tree, as well as one of the small hard varieties. It quickly became apparent these trees were a favorite of all the local wild life. Pear trees are extremely hardy and naturally disease resistant. Unlike apple trees, they are not disturbed by cedar apple blight and produce profusely most years with no effort on your part. Pears produce fruit at different times depending on the variety. My sweet pears start ripening by the end of August and the hard pears start dropping in October. However, nothing bothers these small pears for the first month. They hit the ground as hard as golf balls, lay there and gradually soften up from exposure to the elements. Once they soften up, the deer hit them with a vengeance and clean them up in a couple of evenings. Having this staggered availability helps keep the deer coming back daily for six weeks or so.
2. Apple Trees
Apple trees are a bit more finicky. There are many Eastern Red Cedar trees in the forest surrounding my place that make it difficult for growing most apple varieties. Some varieties are more susceptible than others to the common diseases, but there are a few that claim to be little bothered by cedar apple blight. Most trees aren’t killed by this fungus which passes between cedar trees and apple trees as the name implies. It just makes the fruit and leaves ugly and can stunt tree growth and decrease production. I don’t believe the deer really care about the ascetics of the fruit; they are only interested in the taste. As I consider adding more fruit trees to my place, my goal is to plant varieties that are as resistant as possible. I am actually looking at blight resistance ornamental crabapples. Some crabapple varieties are loaded with fruit and deer love them.
3. Persimmon Trees
Persimmons are a naturally occurring fruit tree in most of the eastern United States. Encouraging their growth and production is a goal worth pursuing. Believe it or not, all persimmons are not created equal. There is a big difference in taste that varies from tree to tree. I love ripe persimmons. I have one tree on my place that produces exceptionally sweet and mild fruits. I have planted a few of those seeds at various locations around my property. You can encourage existing persimmon growth by clearing surrounding trees to allow more sunlight and nutrients to reach the trees. A few fertilizer spikes around the drip line of the crown will increase growth and production as well.
Many types of easy to grow fruit attract deer throughout the year, but some produce only in early summer like cherry and mulberry. However, keeping the buffet line open from early summer to late fall will keep deer on your property longer.
A few words of caution: Deer like fruit and fruit trees! They love to browse on the tender leave, buds and of course, the fruit. In the fall, bucks really enjoy polishing their horns on fruit trees and can literally rub them to death. As an example: My home is situated on 5 acres in a subdivision surrounded by crop land. There are numerous deer all around. I have experienced considerable difficulty in saving my fruit trees from deer coming onto my 5 acres at night and eating all the fruit off my trees and then rubbing them bare. It has been necessary to replant several of them and some were actually severely damaged. It is necessary to protect your small orchard until the trees are large enough to withstand girdling by a buck deer marking his territory. A fence at least six feet tall or a protective cage around each tree can be very helpful. It can be a lot of work, but is well worth the effort in the end.