Predators & Small Game
The Best Mast Tree for Deer
Is the American chestnut a better mast tree for deer than the white oak?
When you think mast trees for deer, what comes first? White oak? Persimmon? That is probably because you haven’t seen deer eat chestnuts. But wait, the American chestnut was killed off by a blight 100 years ago, wasn’t it?
While most of us can sing “chestnuts roasting on an open fire,” few today realize that the American chestnut was once the most common tree in eastern North America before the chestnut blight killed off 30 million acres of trees in the early 1900s. Chestnuts were the principle wildlife mast source in the entire Eastern hardwood forests. They produced more mast per acre than oaks or any other kind of tree. The loss of these incredible trees, during the Great Depression, drastically hurt game populations and the people who depended upon the game to eat, creating one of the greatest ecological disasters in American history.
Why were chestnuts better than oaks? They begin to bear in only two to four years – you don’t have to wait 20 years for them to start bearing like with many oaks. They are proven to bear 10 to 20 pounds of nuts per tree by 10 years old, before most oaks even start to bear. Plus, chestnuts bear every year without the on-year, off for two- to three-year cycles that many oaks have.
Chestnuts are sought out by deer because of the sweet-tasting nuts’ nutritional value – they are high in carbohydrates and protein, and they don’t have bitter tasting tannin like oaks. Chestnuts bear from September to early November. They can be grown throughout the eastern U.S., in Zones 4 to 9, from Michigan and Illinois, west to eastern Texas and south to central Florida. There is not a better, more widely adapted tree.
So how can you plant chestnuts today? In the 1950s, noted plant breeder Dr. R. T. Dunstan found a surviving American chestnut in Ohio, surrounded by dead trees. He took cuttings from that resistant tree, and crossed them with a Chinese chestnut. The blight was from China, so the Chinese chestnut was naturally resistant. He then crossed the seedlings from the first cross back to both parent trees. These second generation trees are known as Dunstan chestnuts. Now, 60 years later, not a single Dunstan chestnut tree has died of the blight. Hundreds of thousands of these trees have been planted all over the U.S. by commercial orchardists, which have created a commercial chestnut industry in the U.S., selling nuts to the grocery stores in the fall. The major problem the orchardists have had, all over the U.S., is that the deer were eating all of their harvest! Many commercial orchardists have had no choice but to fence their entire farm.
Realtree Nursery is the exclusive producer of Dunstan chestnuts. They are the best food plot tree for attracting deer and game. Dunstan chestnuts are the most widely planted chestnuts in America, and have been proven blight resistant and to bear the best quality nuts by commercial orchardists all over the U.S. for the past 30 years.
If you don’t have any chestnut trees on your property, you need to plant some. Young trees are available for shipping in spring, and larger sizes that are already in production are available for pickup at the farm. Call 855-386-7826, or visit www.realtreenursery.com for more information.